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How Safe Are Your Tires?

Watching out for the other guy is key to staying safe when driving. So is checking the air pressure and overall condition of your vehicle’s tires before you hit the road.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), tire failure causes approximately 11,000 crashes every year. Serious injuries and death often result. Under-inflation is the leading cause of tire failure.

Tires that are under-inflated don’t wear properly, increasing the likelihood for blowouts and tread separations. These failures can cause the driver to lose control. Under-inflated tires can also affect steering ability, stopping, traction and load carrying capability, any of which can lead to a crash. Hydroplaning on wet pavement is more likely when tires are under-inflated. In addition, vehicles don’t run as efficiently. As a result, drivers spend more money at the gas pump because they have to gas up more often. They also have to buy replacement tires sooner than they would otherwise because under-inflated tires wear out faster.

Under-inflation often happens due to leaks, but it also occurs naturally and slowly over time. One pound of pressure lost per month is normal. (It can be more during very hot weather.) This can start affecting tire and vehicle performance immediately, but because the loss is gradual, it is usually not obvious and its effects, at least initially, are subtle. A tire can lose up to half of its air pressure before it appears flat.

Prevent tire failure by keeping your tires properly inflated. Follow these safety recommendations from NHTSA:

  • Follow the recommended tire pressure in pounds-per-square-inch (PSI) for your vehicle. This information is found on the vehicle placard – typically inside the car door and in the owner’s manual.
  • Purchase a tire pressure gauge and check tires monthly to ensure proper inflation.
  • If your vehicle is equipped with a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), know where the TPMS warning is on your dashboard and take action if you receive a warning.
  • Check your owner’s manual for specific recommendations for tire replacement on your vehicle.
  • Monitor tread. Look for treadwear indicators – raised sections spaced throughout the bottom of the tread grooves. When they appear, it is time to replace your tires.
  • Try the penny test. Place a penny in the tread of your tires with Lincoln’s head upside down and facing you. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, your tire has less than 2/32 of an inch of tread and you are ready for new tires.

It’s also important to make sure your tires stay balanced and are rotated every 6,000-8,000 miles. This will help extend the life of your tires and improve your vehicle’s performance. However, if your car or truck is pulling to the left or right, it may be out of alignment, and this will cause tires to wear unevenly. Driving over a curb, a pothole or uneven pavement can throw a vehicle out of alignment. It can also damage tires. Have the alignment checked if you notice a difference in your vehicle’s handling or in how your tires are wearing.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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