11,000 auto accidents each year are caused by tire failure…damaged, worn out and otherwise unsafe tires…says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Tires are the connection between your car and keeping it on the pavement…literally, where the rubber meets the road. Making sure your tires are safe by checking them regularly can be compared to the health of your teeth and visiting your dentist. As former Indy 500 race car driver Johnny Unser puts it…”It’s something we don’t do often enough…and we put off until we absolutely have to.”
- Tread wear – “Wear bars” are molded right into the tire by most manufacturers these days. When the tire wears down to a specific depth…you can see the wear bars laid out perpendicular to the tire treads. If the tires are worn down to the point where the wear bar is visible…it’s time to replace your tire. If somehow that’s too new and confusing, try the old-timer penny test method: With Lincoln’s head pointing down…put a penny into the tread. If the top of his head is visible, your tire tread is worn way too low…and definitely dangerous. While you’re down there, look for these other obvious tire problems…
- Cracks, Bulges & Gouges – Bulges at the sides is a tell-tale sign of low tire pressure. Your tires can lose pressure for a variety of reasons…ranging from a slow air leak that accumulates over time from changing tire temperatures…to a nail stuck in your tire to the odd crack or gouge. If you notice anything unusual…a quick second opinion from your local tire dealer or service station is far better than getting stranded later…or worse yet…an accident caused by damaged tires.
- Tire pressure & Temperature – Even without wild swings in temperatures, tires naturally deflate at a rate of about one pound per square inch (PSI) per month. Obviously, one month of air loss isn’t much to lose sleep over…but as little as 2 or 3 months of loss begins to have a bad effect on tire wear…which in turn affects your family’s safety. “You’re not going to wear your tires down in a month,” Unser says, “but you should check that you have the right inflation pressure.” And when seasons change…larger temperature changes tend to compound the tire pressure challenge of keeping it correctly inflated.
- Vibration – Another of those warning signs to keep vigilant for when you’re driving. Vibration can result from a variety of factors, but the key here is that it may be a sign that your rear tires may be out of balance. Vibration that seems to originate beneath your seat may rear tires being out of balance…steering wheel vibration often indicate suspension issues. In either event, get it checked by someone trained to properly diagnose.
When tire replacement time finally arrives…doing so in pairs or all four at once is better for your vehicle’s performance, traction and most importantly…your family’s safety.