Tire safety is a lot bigger deal than most drivers seem to understand. Tires are the only things that connect your car to the road. If there is anything wrong with any of those four rubber doughnuts, you and your family are not going to as safe as you could or should be in your car.
Having safe tires is not hard. It doesn’t take an engineering degree, or mechanic’s training. It is not rocket science. But there is an easy, common sense checklist of a few things that you can do to insure safer tires – and safer motoring. Best of all, following these tips will NOT cost you any money!
Here are some tips:
1. Tread is your friend. Treads provide traction. Worn treads mean less traction. On wet roads, the treads help channel water away, and limit aquaplaning (a situation where your tires are actually floating on water and not making contact with the road). Check your tread by using a quarter to measure how much wear your tires are showing. If you can see the top of George Washington’s head when the coin is inserted into the tread, you have less than 4/32nds of an inch of tread remaining. Time to look for new tires. In most states, 2/32nds is the legal minimum.
2. Another tip about tread wear: Check the whole tire. Make sure it is wearing the same all across the face of the tread. If your tread is thinner on the inside or the outside of the tread, something is not right with your car’s suspension tuning. Don’t be afraid to have it checked or adjusted. Don’t wait for things to fall apart. Suspension alignment is cheaper than suspension repair. Cupping, or irregular patches of wear can point to worn out, damaged or defective shock absorbers; cupping also makes for a rough ride. Visual inspection of the tire is an important safety consideration, but don’t try to guesstimate whether your tires are road-worthy or not, just by noting that they are round.
3. Rotating your tires every 6,000-8,000 miles is another inexpensive way to maximize tire life, and minimize traction loss. If your car is front-wheel-drive, your front tires will work harder than your back ones; the same is true in reverse if your car is rear-wheel drive. Spread the workload around by swapping front tires to the back and vice versa (in an X pattern). A lot of tire retailers will do this for free, to try and win your business.
4. Do you own a tire pressure gauge? You should (if you don’t, you can also borrow one pretty easily; if you buy one, invest in a decent gauge, not a toy). It’s not hard to take the valve cap off and test your tire pressure . Your tires should all have the same air pressure. Even variations of a pound or two can make a big difference in handling, or whether your car goes down the road straight (if it doesn’t that’s a clue you have a problem to address).
5. Check your tire pressures when the tires are cold, or cool. Air pressure registers higher in a hot tire; not an accurate measurement!
6. Make sure each tire’s air stem has a valve cap, and that each cap is snugly tightened. A tire without a valve cap will lose air pretty quick, not matter how good, expensive or new the tire is. If you are missing a valve cap, just go to a tire store; they will probably give you one.
7. Air up. How do you know what is the right air pressure for your tires? Here’s a tip: Don’t go by what you see on the tire. On the sidewall of every tire (by law) is its maximum inflation pressure. You don’t want that. The inflation number you want is on a sticker on the doorjamb of the driver’s door, or inside your glove compartment door (or, as a backup, in your owner’s manual). Check tire pressure at least once a month – or before a long road trip, for sure. You know all those peeled tire treads you see along the road – especially during summer? Those are from tires that didn’t have enough air pressure in them; the tread came unglued (the technical term is “de-laminated”) from the belts underneath it and tore off. De-lamination is very dangerous, at highway speeds. (Bonus tip: Did you know that in a pinch, you can even use a bicycle pump to add air to your car tires? It works, although it is slow and some effort is involved!)
8. Also, make sure the tires on your car are right size. If you bought your car used, there is a chance they might not be – particularly if your car was customized at all.
9. Adjust your tire pressure if you are carrying extra weight – such as people and/or cargo – or pulling a trailer of some kind. Towing a boat or camper, adding a luggage rack to increase cargo capacity on a family vacation, or even hauling a full load of American-sized adults may require you to increase your tire pressure to accommodate the additional weight of the load. Check your owner’s manual for what they refer to as “alternate recommended pressures”. (Conversely, if you are driving a truck or 4×4 off-road, there may be a recommendation for a softer air pressure; if you take air out, though, remember to put air back in when you get back on the pavement!)
10. Check your spare tire too! Do you even know where your spare is, or how to change it in an emergency? Spare tires can easily lose a pound or two of air a month, even when they are sitting around doing nothing in your trunk! You don’t want to hear the language of someone who changes a flat tire, only to find the spare tire is also flat!
Sorry to sound like a know-it-all. I’m not, for sure. But these are some common sense tips that I’ve learned (some the hard way!) over decades of testing tires, for over two million miles!
Besides insuring your safety, taking care of your tires could make them last an additional 5,000 miles or more. Now that’s a free tip that could make you some money!
(Editor’s Note: A thanks to our friends at Michelin and TireRack.com for reminding us that the first week in June is National Tire Safety Week!)
June 13, 2014