Cargo Van Pro: Tire Tips

By: Jeff Jensen, Editor
Posted: Jun 24th 2006 8:28AM

cargotire.jpgTires are one of the most important components on a vehicle, yet are quite often one of the least-maintained components on a vehicle. 

That's too bad, because basic tire maintenance is simple and takes only a few minutes to perform.  When you think about it, your tires are the only part of your vehicle that contacts the road (hopefully), so your very safety is riding on them. 

By giving those tires a little TLC, it will pay dividends in a safer, more comfortable ride, improve the handling of your van, give you better fuel economy and increase the life of your tires.  Those are some pretty good reasons to take care of your tires.

The light-duty truck tires that are installed on your cargo van also have work to do - hauling heavier loads than a passenger vehicle tire was ever intended for.  In addition to the typical hazards and dangers your tires experience in normal driving, a load of 1,000 to 2,000 lbs. in the back of the van adds to the mix - the tires' load rating, which will be addressed later.

Regular Tire Maintenance

Suppose we start at the beginning - proper tire inflation.  And, when you're going to check the air in the tires, the first thing to check is the valve stem.  The valve stem on every tire should have a cap.  Without a cap, the spring-loaded valve stem core can become clogged with dirt and mud, which can erode the stem seal or block the stem in a partially open position and cause a leak. A plugged stem can also make it difficult to take a pressure reading.

Check the body of the valve stem itself for cracks.  These can result from contact with curbs, debris in the roadway, etc. and age/deterioration.  Any of these can cause a leak.

Check the air pressure when the tire is cold - tires can warm up even after driving just a short distance - as short as a mile - so check your air pressure before driving.  Keep in mind that air pressure changes 1-2 pounds for every 10 degrees of temperature change. You probably remember from science class that air pressure goes up in warm weather and down when it's cold.

Tire pressure must be the same on the tires of each axle, but may be different on the front and rear axle.

Light-duty truck tires have minimum pressures of about 30-40 pounds per square inch (psi). Obviously, air pressure enables a tire to support its load, so proper inflation is critical. It's difficult to determine whether tires are properly inflated just by looking at them. That's why it's important to check your tires using an accurate tire gauge.

If you use a tire "thumper" instead of a pressure gauge, be sure to double check the pressure with a gauge occasionally to make sure your ear is still calibrated.

How often should tire pressure be checked?  Some would say once a month is often enough, but since it's a relatively easy, simple task, once a week can't hurt, can it?
If you don't maintain correct inflation pressures it may result in rapid and uneven tread wear, poor handling and excessive heat buildup which could result in tire failure. 
Tire damage
Tires should be inspected for damage. Look at both the tread area and the inner and outer sidewalls.  The tread inspection will sometimes reveal those pesky nails, screws and other foreign objects that seem to find their way into that new tire you just purchased.  If you find a puncture, it's time for a trip to the professionals at the tire shop.

The proper repair of a punctured tire requires a plug for the hole and a patch for the inside of the tire.  Punctures through the tread can be repaired if they are not too large, but punctures to the sidewall should not be repaired. Tires must be removed from the rim to be properly inspected before being plugged and patched.
Tire wear
Always remove tires from service when they reach a remaining tread depth of two thirty-seconds of an inch (2/32"). It's not a bad idea to have your own tread depth indicator (an inexpensive item).

Or, replace the tires as soon as the tread wear indicators - "wear bars," which look like narrow strips of smooth rubber across the tread - appear on the tire when that point of wear is reached.

Learn to recognize the signs of uneven or excessive tire wear. This can be caused by improper wheel alignment, improper axle alignment, improper tire and wheel imbalance.  It's best to let the tire shop pro's handle these issues.

Tire Rotation
Sometimes irregular tire wear can be corrected by rotating your tires. Check with your owner's manual or your tire dealer for the appropriate pattern and rotation intervals (mileage) for your vehicle.

Sidewall info
There's a world of information about your tires available to you right there on the sidewall of the tire itself: 

*From the Rubber Manufacturers Association:
Federal law requires tire manufacturers to place standardized information on the sidewall of all tires. This information identifies and describes the fundamental characteristics of the tire and also provides a tire identification number for safety standard certification and in case of a recall.

Included in the sidewall information on a typical Light Truck Tire:
*"LT" stands for Light Truck;
*LT235/85R16 is the size designation for a metric light truck tire;
*"M+S" with the mountain/snowflake symbol is the designation that the tire meets the RMA definition for use in severe snow conditions;
*LOAD RANGE D identifies the load and inflation limits;
*RADIAL indicates that the tire has a radial construction;
*MAX LOAD SINGLE 1192 kg (2623 lbs) AT 1470 kPa (65 psi) COLD" indicates the maximum load rating of the tire and corresponding minimum cold inflation pressure for that load when used as a single. For normal operation, follow pressure recommendations in owner's manual or on vehicle placard;
*MAX LOAD DUAL 1082 kg (2381 lbs) AT 1470 kPa (65 psi) COLD indicates the maximum load rating of the tire and corresponding minimum cold inflation pressure when used in a dual configuration.

For more detailed sidewall legends (with illustrations), visit this page of the Rubber Manufacturers Association website.

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