What Does a Red or Yellow Dot on Your Tires Mean?

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If you had new tires installed recently, red and yellow paint dots on the sidewall are perfectly normal. Here's why they're there.

Do those red and yellow paint dots on tires mean the tires are on sale? Is there something wrong with tires marked with these dots? Do the dots indicate where or when the tires were made?

Nope, nope and nope. They aren’t just weird car features, either. Here’s what’s really going on with these dots: Because it’s nearly impossible to manufacture a perfectly balanced, perfectly round tire, manufacturers identify any irregularities with these dots of paint. The dots then help service technicians correctly install and balance the tire. Properly balanced tires and wheels are critical to driving comfort and safety, and those paint dots help make that happen.

Note: When a tire (the black rubber part that wears out) is mounted onto a wheel (the round metal part the tire is attached to), it’s referred to as a tire/wheel assembly.

Where are the paint dots placed?

The yellow dots identify where a tire weighs the least—the lightest point on a tire. The yellow dot should be lined up and directly next to the valve stem, which is the wheel’s heaviest point.

The red dots identify where the tire is flattest—the lowest point on a tire. The red dot should be directly across from the highest point of the wheel, which is usually indicated by a colored dot or a notch on the wheel.

If a tire has a yellow and a red dot, the red dot takes precedence when balancing the tire. This is what the numbers on a tire mean, by the way.

Why are these tire dots important?

The yellow and red dots indicate inconsistencies in a tire’s weight, construction and structure, which can cause them to vibrate when spinning. Vibrating, unbalanced tires can negatively affect ride quality, fuel economy and braking effectiveness, among other things. A vibrating tire/wheel assembly makes controlling your vehicle more difficult, especially at high speeds, and can increase stopping distance.

A hopping tire/wheel loses full contact with the road surface, generating less friction when braking. Keep in mind, the section of tire that actually touches the road, called the contact patch or footprint, isn’t much larger than the palm of your hand.

What does wheel balancing do?

Wheel balancing spins a tire/wheel assembly to identify the location(s) where weights need to be placed to eliminate vibrations and help tires roll smoothly. Out-of-balance tires may develop dangerous bald spots, which negatively affect tread wear and shorten tire life. Out-of-balance tires can also cause premature suspension component failures.

The two most common types of wheel balancing are dynamic and match-balancing. During dynamic balancing, wheel weights are added to counteract tire imbalance that results in tire hop. Match-balancing matches the tire’s low point to its wheel’s high point, providing a smooth ride.

Tires are expensive. When having your new tires mounted and balanced, ask your tire installation professional if their wheel balancing equipment can match-balance tires. This is especially important if your wheels lack any markings.

What causes a tire to get out of balance?

Tires become unbalanced when the weight around the tires and wheels is no longer evenly distributed. These are some possible causes:

  • Tire/wheel assembly becomes lighter as tires wear.
  • Tires are over- or under-inflated.
  • Improper alignment results in abnormal tire wear.
  • A wheel weight has fallen off.
  • An improper wheel or tire repair.
  • Leaky valve stem replacement.
  • Cold mornings cause “flat-spots.”
  • The car has been sitting in one place too long.
  • The wheel is damaged from hitting a pothole or bouncing into a curb.

To extend tire life and even out wear, check tire pressure and rotate tire/wheels every 5,000 to 8,000 miles. However, if you notice vibration while driving, you’ll need to have the pros balance the tires.

Next, learn what those black dots on your car window are and what it means if you see an orange tag on a car.

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Robert Lacivita
Bob Lacivita is an award-winning auto technician and career and technical educator and freelance writer who has written about DYI car repairs and vehicle maintenance topics, as well as writing state, federal and organizational foundation grants, and helped design a unique curriculum delivery model that integrates rigorous, relevant academic standards seamless into technical/vocational training for more than 20 years. His work has been featured in The Family Handyman, a Readers Digest book, and Classic Bike Rider Magazine among others. Bob and his wife lived through 20 years' worth of DIY home remodeling while parenting two (now grown) boys and now relax by watching their three fabulous granddaughters.