Sometimes, no amount of care is going to help. Photo by author

Tires may be the most overlooked—and most misunderstood—component on your car. While modern tires are incredibly capable (even compared to those made a decade back), they still require some degree of care and feeding to maximize their lifespans.Reader Doug Higbee recently chimed in with a rather specific question about tire care, asking:

Tires age. ‘We’ know this to be the case. What would be Hemmings recommendation to preserve tires from age-related rot?  I cannot confirm what I was advised many years ago: Using a pure silicone spray on the tire will help replenish what has dried from the tire over time. I have witnessed this absorption to be extremely rapid after the spray contacts the tire, leading me to believe it benefits a ‘thirsty’ tire. What is your take on this?

First and foremost, we need to acknowledge that modern tire compounds have evolved at an incredibly fast pace. In some cases, they’ve become even more specialized, too: Modern summer-only performance tires offer a level of grip unimaginable in a street tire a few decades back, but the window in which they can be safely used has grown smaller. Both Pirelli and Michelin warn that summer-only tires may be subject to sidewall cracking in low temperatures, voiding any manufacturer’s warranty.With this in mind, the rubber compounds used in a modern tires differ from the rubber compounds used in tires years ago. What may have been good advice for a ’60s-era bias-ply, or an ’80s-era radial, may be harmful to tires today. For advice on proper tire care, we looked to Goodyear, which manufactured over 169 million tires (of all types) in 2021

Per the Akron, Ohio-based manufacturer, sidewall and tread weathering, often referred to as dry rot, is a result of the breakdown of compounds used to make the tire. Though a natural age-related process, several things can accelerate this, including UV exposure, environmental extremes (particularly a hot, dry climate), high ozone levels, underinflation, and lack of use. Tires benefit from regular exercise, and don’t like to remain stationary for extended lengths of time. According to South Bend, Indiana, (and online) vendor the Tire Rack, “The repeated stretching of the rubber compound actually helps deter cracks from forming.”To care for tires, Goodyear recommends cleaning them regularly with water and a mild dish soap, followed by a rinse with clean water. The manufacturer cautions against the use of some tire dressings, specifically those that contain petroleum distillates. While these products may temporarily enhance a tire’s appearance, in the long run petroleum products can prematurely age a tire. The Tire Rack backs this up, advising that excessive use of tire cleaners and dressings can remove anti-oxidants and ozone protectants from the tire’s rubber compounds.

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