Tire safety is a vital part to keeping you and your passengers safe on the road. Tires have the power to affect your vehicle’s braking, handling, ride, and safety. It is important to check your tires regularly for correct air pressure, tread depth, balance, general condition, and alignment. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that “nearly 50 percent of the 11,500 cars, pickup trucks, vans, and sport-utility vehicles the agency checked had at least one tire with half-worn tread. Another 10 percent had at least one bald tire.”
Signs of Wear Include:
- Vibrations while driving: This can signify that one of your tires is out-of-balance or your wheels need to be aligned.
- Under or over inflation: Under inflation can cause wear on both edges of the tire tread, while over inflation can cause wear on the center of the tread. Both of these will cause your tires to wear out earlier and affect your vehicle’s handling.
- Noticeable wear to one edge of the tire: This may indicate that the wheels are out of alignment.
- A tug to one side: This usually signifies an underinflated tire. Check your tires when this happens to make sure all tires are properly inflated.
It is important to understand that tires can lose their footing before they are worn out. Worn tires are dangerous to drive on, especially on wet roads because of their inability to move water through their shallow grooves. Exercise caution when driving with worn tires on slippery, wet, icy, and snowy roads. According to the Consumer Reports, “Tires are considered bald when one or more of their grooves reaches 2/32 of an inch deep, compared with about 10/32 of an inch for new tires (tread wear is usually measured in 1/32-inch increments).” Moreover, having worn or bald tires can result in hydroplaning, where water keeps the tires from having traction with the surface, resulting in a loss of response between the vehicle and the steering wheel.
Most tires should travel approximately 20,000 to 30,000 miles prior to the tread reaching the halfway point. The Consumer Reports conduced an experiment to test wear of tires. For example, “we used a special tire lathe to shave approximately half the tread depth from three sets of tires, one set for each model. Next we logged 1,000 road miles, then compared the half-tread tires with identical sets of new tires in tests through wet, dry, and snowy conditions.” They noted that the difference between the half-tread and full-tread tires was significant. Their results showed that the half-tread tires began skimming over the water’s surface, or hydroplaning, at just 40 mph, only 3-4 mph slower when compared to the full-tread tires.
How to self-inspect your tires:
- Check for flaws in tires: This includes uneven wear, cracks, bulges, or nails.
- Measure tread depth: Purchase a simple tread depth gauge available at any auto store. Alternatively, you can use the traditional penny/quarter method*.
- Check for tire pressure: Use a quality gauge to measure your tire’s air pressure. If the pressure is too high or too low, adjust it to the recommended pressure levels.
*Penny/Quarter Method for measuring tread depth:
Place a penny or quarter into the groove of the tire, facing Washington’s head down. If the top of his head is hidden in the groove, your tires have at least 4/32” of tread and safe to use. If Washington’s head is visible, your tires need to be replaced.
Ultimately, many causes can lead to a decrease in tire safety. Improper inflation can be a leading factor to tire wear. According to Bridgestone, “Proper inflation pressure helps optimize distribution of vehicle load, acceleration, braking, and cornering forces in the tread. If the tire pressure is too low, or even too high, the contact patch of the tire tread is not optimized to handle the wide variety of jobs it is asked to do.” Another major cause of tire wear can be out-of-spec tire alignment. Moreover, improper alignment can cause tires to wear unevenly and before their time. Three types of improper alignment include: Heel/toe tire wear, feather edge tire wear, and one-sided shoulder wear tear.
Remember – If you think that your auto tires may be wearing down, schedule an appointment with your auto service. Make sure to check your auto’s tires every month. If you live in a rainy or snowy area, check your tires more often. Tires that are worn out can be dangerous to drive on, mostly if they do not pass the penny test. Spending time on tire safety can keep for you and your passengers safe and extend the life of your tires.
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