Kennedy: Why I never get tired of tires

Staff Photo by Mark Kennedy / Columnist Mark Kennedy says he thinks too much about tires, a malady he calls tread dread.

I think too much about automobile tires. If this mental malady had a name, it would be called "tread dread."

At any given time, I can tell you the condition of the tires on all our family's vehicles.

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My Ford sedan, for example, has borderline tread disorder. The front wheels spin in the rain, a sure sign that replacement time is nigh.

Our younger son's Toyota truck has uneven treadwear that hints at a bad — or nonexistent —wheel alignment. I can see the problem from 10 yards away, like a bad haircut.

Our older son needs new tires before winter on his Toyota FJ Cruiser. The front passenger side tire has a periodic slow leak. (Which is funny, because I do, too.)

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My wife's SUV has the best tires. They are only about 6 months old, but they are due for a rotation.

I could also tell you to within a couple of millimeters the depth of the tire tread on all these vehicles. (Trust me, this is not normal. I've been in auto parts stores where they didn't even know they sold tire-tread gauges.)

It also makes me judgmental. Whenever I see a luxury car with bald tires, I want to scream: "If you can't afford new tires, you can't afford that Mercedes-Benz!"

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are about 11,000 auto crashes related to tires each year. If someone in my family got hurt because of bad tires on their car, I would curl up in a ball.

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I blame family history for my obsession. My father, rest his soul, also had tread dread. That's back when it didn't have a name, and if it did, it would have been considered untreatable.

I remember when I would come home from college, I would see him outside, kneeling beside my Datsun B210 with an air-pressure gauge and a tread-depth gauge. I was the only kid at MTSU in the 1970s with studded snow tires, a place where the average snowfall for the whole year is about 7 inches. Meanwhile, my car sounded like a snowplow.

Sometimes I think if I won the lottery I would blow it all on tires. I would probably put new tires on all our cars once a year whether they needed them or not. (When you come from lower-middle-class beginnings, it doesn't take much to make you happy.)

I can kill a whole Sunday afternoon looking wistfully at the Tire Rack, a customer-direct tire website. The fact that I know my Ford Fusion takes 225/50 R17 tires is part of my illness. I even know what each of those numbers means, which is extra troubling.

Getting a new set of tires is like Christmas morning to me. I like the new tires look on a car: the improved stance, the visibly deep tread, the clean sidewalls. On a day I get new tires, I will walk around the car several times admiring the merchandise.

Simple pleasures for simple people, I guess.

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More likely, it's all just a security thing. When the people I love have good tires, I feel like I'm exercising my fatherly duty to protect them. I've never felt any physical prowess, so perhaps this is the way my brain compensates.

Also, I associate these yearnings with my dad. It embarrassed me at the time, but now I know that his preoccupation with my tires was a demonstration of love in an era when it was hard for adult men to verbalize their emotions.

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Someday, I imagine our sons checking their children's tires and the kids wondering out loud: "What's wrong with Dad, anyway?"

Just wait.

Contact Mark Kennedy at or 423-886-7667.