Vehicle Wheel Maintenance: When & How?

by Max Johnston - Gearhead

Most vehicle owners are pretty diligent about things like oil changes and tire pressure—but many neglect to check the status of their wheels on a regular basis. Wheels are pretty important, though; if they don’t turn properly, your car doesn’t move properly either. That’s why you need to know how to do some basic maintenance on the wheels of your car or truck, as well as when to do it.

Below, we explain why vehicle wheel maintenance is critical for safe and comfortable driving, then provide a list of different wheel parts to inspect and steps for checking each one. Read on so you can realize the full importance of these critical components and take proper care of them.

mechanics replacing ferrari brakesVia Pexels

Why Vehicle Wheel Maintenance Matters

Your wheels must handle the entire load of your vehicle, and rotate easily in order to keep your car or truck moving in the direction your steering wheel is turned. Problems with wheels can result in poor acceleration, less-responsive handling, increased wear and tear on the brakes (leading to longer braking times), and even transmission damage—all of which can compromise the safety of your vehicle and make an accident more likely.

But wheels aren’t single components—they’re made up of many smaller parts, all of which must work in conjunction for the wheels on your vehicle to turn. Here’s a list of each part you should check when assessing the health of your wheels, along with how and how often.

new tires off the shelfVia Pexels

Tires

When it comes to the tires on your vehicle, you’ll want to check two things: their tread, and their pressure. Pressure is easy enough to do—just unscrew the cap on each tire’s valve and use a pressure gauge, which can be found at most service stations or purchased at most hardware stores.

When checking the tread on your tires, the easiest way is to insert a quarter into the groove of the rubber. If it comes up past the edge of the figurehead on the coin, you’ve got enough tread to drive safely. But you should also check to see that the amount of tread on your tires is roughly the same, since uneven wear on tires is often a sign of wheel bearing failure. Having less traction on one side of your vehicle can also create dangerous handling problems.

How Often to Check 

Once a month for both pressure and tread.

Balance

You’ll also want to make sure your wheels are balanced properly on a regular basis. Balancing the wheels ensures that the tires rotate properly and reduces runout (which is when your wheels or tires are no longer perfectly round).

Wheel balancing is performed by mounting your car on a machine that spins the wheels and records the discrepancy between them. Small weights are then affixed to the tires to compensate for these irregularities and make sure all wheels are rotating consistently with each other again.

How Often to Check

For best results, have your wheels balanced every 5000 to 7500 miles (approximately 8000 to 12000 kilometers).

ferarri wheels and red brakesVia Pexels

Rims

Rims provide the base on which your vehicle’s tires are mounted. They’re built to be pretty resilient, but they can become bent over time—and when they do, you’ll need to replace them to avoid steering problems. Bent rims can also cause the wheels attached to them to deflate faster, since the bent portion can puncture the rubber.

To check a rim for damage, you’ll need to take off the lug nuts and remove your hubcap. Then you’ll be able to conduct a visual inspection of the rim and look for any significantly warped areas. Minor warping may be correctable via wheel balancing, but majorly deformed rims will need to be replaced completely.

How Often to Check 

Whenever you notice your vehicle handling poorly or one specific tire deflating repeatedly.

wheel hub & bearing assembly Via carparts.com

Wheel Bearings

Your wheel bearings are responsible for transferring force from the axle into the rest of the wheel assembly. Wheel bearings reduce the friction placed on your wheels during this process, allowing them to turn more easily.

However, wheel bearings can rust over time, or deteriorate when the lubricant around them becomes contaminated from dirt or other debris entering the seal in your hub assembly. When this happens, you may start to hear a grinding noise and experience more friction when accelerating or braking. Driving with worn-out wheel bearings can eventually cause damage to your brakes, transmission system, and other vital parts of your vehicle—so you need to replace your worn-out bearings quickly.

To check the status of your bearings, jack up your vehicle and try to rock the wheel back and forth—you shouldn’t feel much movement. Then, take the car out of gear (or put it in neutral if it’s an automatic transmission) and rotate the wheels, looking for strange noises or a rough feeling as they turn. Always put the vehicle back in gear (or park) before lowering it back to the ground, and never get under the vehicle when it’s jacked up.

How Often to Check

Whenever you notice grinding noises or handling problems, or once every 25,000 miles (approximately 40,000 kilometers)—whichever is sooner.

Suspension

The shocks and springs that make up your vehicle’s suspension aren’t just about making your ride smooth and comfortable—they also play a role in helping your vehicle turn and come to a stop effectively. Worn out shocks can cause the nose of your vehicle to dip towards the ground when applying the brakes, and won’t be able to stabilize the vehicle effectively during turns because they’ll be unable to resist the centrifugal force.

Check your suspension quickly and easily by putting your vehicle in park and pressing down on the hood with your entire body weight before letting go quickly. Then do the same on the rear trunk. If the vehicle rocks back and forth more than two or three times, your suspension may need to be replaced.

How Often to Check 

Every 50,000 miles (approximately 80,000 kilometers) or sooner if you notice any of the issues above.


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