One important safety function for vehicles that is often overlooked is proper tire maintenance. Poor tire maintenance— failing to rotate your tires, not having enough air in your tires along with other maintenance requirements—can lead to the tread coming off of your tire, a blowout or a flat tire. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are approximately 11,000 tire-related crashes a year and nearly 200 people will die in these crashes. So, proper tire maintenance cannot be emphasized enough.
The leading cause of tire failure is under inflation. Tires that are under inflated are not only prone to more damage and failure, but they can also increase fuel costs by as much as three to five cents per gallon. According to tiresafety.com, three out of four drivers will wash their car each month while only one out of seven will correctly check their tire pressure. That means that only 15 percent of all car drivers are making sure they are keeping their tires road safe.
At times, a tire can be 50 percent under inflated before it becomes visibly noticeable. This is why it is important to check the air pressure in all of your tires – including the spare – at least once a month, and before long trips, with a quality gauge. (Digital and dial gauges tend to be the most accurate and are easiest to read.) The “proper amount” of inflation, or recommended psi, for your tires is specified by the vehicle manufacturer. You can find it in your vehicle owner’s manual or possibly on the vehicle on the door edge or post, or in the fuel door or glove box door.
HOW TO CHECK THE AIR PRESSURE IN YOUR TIRES
The recommended tire pressure is for cold tires, which means that the tire pressure should be checked before the vehicle has been driven. When you check the pressure on warm tires it can result in a pressure reading of up to five psi higher than the recommended pressure. These are the steps you take to check the tire pressure according to AAA:
- Remove the tire’s valve cap.
- Place the gauge over the tire’s valve stem and press firmly so that no escaping air is heard. The tire gauge will indicate how much pressure is in the tire.
- Adjust the tire’s air pressure as needed. When adding air, push the air hose into the valve firmly, until the air stops escaping. Check the pressure every few seconds to help judge the amount of air going into the tire, until you reach the recommended air pressure. If the tire’s pressure is greater than it should be, use the nipple on the tire gauge to press the center of the tire valve stem and release air.
- Replace the valve cap.
- Repeat the process for the other tires. Don’t forget the spare tire.
HOW TO CHECK YOUR TIRE TREAD
The tread on the tire is what provides the traction, or gripping power, that prevents your vehicle from slipping or sliding. This is especially true when the road is wet or icy. You should have at least 1/8” of tread on your tires for continued use. When a tire gets down to 1/16 of an inch, it is no longer safe and should be replaced. Check the tread once a month, when you are checking your air pressure. According to safecar.gov, many tires have built in “tread-wear indicators.” These are raised sections that run in-between the tire’s tread. You will know it is time to replace your tires when the tread is worn down to the point that it is level with the tread indicator. You could also try the traditional quarter or penny tests.
Find a quarter and insert it into a tread groove with the top of Washington’s head facing down. If the top of his head is not visible, then you have at least 1/8” of tread and are good to go. If you can see above the top of Washington’s head, then you need to replace the tire. AAA suggests you take measurements in three locations across the tread: The outer edge, the center, and the inside edge.
You perform the penny test in the same way that you would the quarter test. The only difference is when you see above the top of Lincoln’s head there is less than 1/16” of tread- which is lower than the legal minimum and means you need to replace your tire immediately. If your tire tread is this low, the tire will usually have visible wear indicators such as thin bald strips running from side to side across two or more tread segments.
If your tire gets to the point that it fails the penny test, then you have already been driving on it too long. It may not seem like much of a difference between 1/8” and 1/16” of tread, but according to Tire Rack, the largest independent tire tester in the US, the difference is quite significant. As an example, if a pickup truck that passes the penny test is traveling at 70 miles per hour it can take up to 499.5 feet to stop on wet pavement. The same truck will stop at a distance of 122 feet shorter if it passes the quarter test instead, which is a 24 percent difference in stopping distance or the equivalent of six or more car lengths. Given these facts, it is probably best to use the quarter test.
When you are checking the tread and air pressure you should also look the tire over for any damage. Look for bald spots, glass, nails, screws, holes and anything else that may cause damage. T Tiresafety.com states that tread punctures or penetrations left unrepaired may cause irreversible tire damage. An improper repair can damage the tire and will void the warranty. It is probably best to leave tire repair to the professionals. They can help you determine if it is something that can be done safely, or if it is better to replace the tire entirely.
There are measures you can take to make sure keep your tires in good shape for longer. These procedures should probably be handled by a trusted automotive repair professional as they require special knowledge and tools.
The tires at the rear of the vehicle and the tires at the front of the vehicle will have unequal wear patterns due to the fact that they perform different steering and braking functions and operate at different loads. It is imperative that you rotate your tires to get the maximum performance and life out of them. It is generally recommended that you rotate your tires every 6,000 miles, however you should check your vehicle owner’s manual for your specific mileage recommendations. Some vehicles have front and rear tires that are different sizes and therefore cannot be rotated. In this case refer to your owner’s manual and mechanic for guidance.
A wheel alignment will prevent your car from veering to the left or right when driving on a straight, level road and help maximize the life of your tires. All vehicles have a specific wheel alignment setting. If any measurements fall outside of a specific range, it will result in uneven tire wear and vehicle handling can be affected. Any time you get new tires you should have your alignment checked as well as any time you feel your vehicle pulling to the right or left. When your wheels are properly aligned the car will drive down the road in a straight line without drifting or pulling to either side.
Making sure your tires are balanced properly will help to reduce uneven wear and extend their life. When the tires are balanced, small weights are attached to the wheels to limit the vibration of the tires as they turn. You should have newly installed tires balanced, and have them balanced any time after when you notice a vibration. Your tire should also be balanced any time it is removed from the wheel, such as after a puncture repair.
By taking only a few minutes a month with your tires you can not only prolong their life, but keep your family and other travelers safe on the road. When is the last time you took a look at your vehicle’s tires?