When is the last time you took a good look at your car’s tires? Proper tire maintenance is a very important safety measure, yet it is often overlooked. Just take a minute to think about it, tires are the only contact between your vehicle and the road. You wouldn’t wear shoes that are worn so thin that they offer no protection for your feet, the same concept should be applied to cars and their tires.
Proper tire maintenance is crucial to keeping your tires in good shape for a longer period of time. Failing to care for your tires properly could result in a flat tire, the tread coming off of your tire, or a blowout. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that there are approximately 11,000 tire-related crashes a year, and nearly 200 people die in these crashes.
Proper tire maintenance includes: making sure your tires are properly inflated, checking the tire tread, tire rotation, wheel alignment, and tire balancing.
Under inflation is the leading cause of tire failure. According to tiresafety.com, only about 15 percent, or one out of seven drivers, correctly check their tire pressure each month.
Did you know that a tire can be 50 percent under inflated before it becomes noticeably visible? For this reason, it is important that you check all of your tires – including your spare – once a month and before any long road trips. Always check your tire pressure with a quality gauge. Dial and digital gauges are usually the easiest to read, as well as the most accurate. In order to determine the “proper amount” of inflation, or recommended psi, you should refer to vehicle owner’s manual. The recommended psi is also often found on your vehicles door edge or post, glove box door, or in the fuel door. Remember that the recommended psi is for “cool tires,” or tires that have not been recently driven on. Checking the tire pressure on warm, recently driven tires could result in a reading of up to five psi higher than is recommended.
According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), these are the steps you take to properly check your tire pressure:
- 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.
The tire tread is what prevents your car from slipping and sliding all over the road by providing traction. When the tread gets too low, it cannot “grip” the road properly and proves to be dangerous. This becomes even more true when the roads are wet or icy. Like your tire pressure, you should check your tire tread on all tires once a month. To make things easy on yourself, check them at the same time. If you have at least 1/8 of an inch of tread, then you are safe to continue using the tire. When your tire gets down to 1/16 of an inch, it is considered no longer safe to drive and should be replaced. Safecar.gov states that many tires have built in tread-wear indicators, raised sections that run in-between the tire’s tread. When the tire is worn down to the point that it is level with the tread indicator, it is time to replace it. You could also run the penny or quarter test to check the tread on your tires.
Insert a quarter into the tread groove with the top of Washington’s head facing down. According to the AAA, you should take measurements in three locations across the tread: The outer edge, the center, and the inside edge. If you cannot see the top of Washington’s head, then your tread has at least 1/8 of an inch on it, and your tire is safe to drive on. If the top of Washington’s head is visible, then the tread is too low and your tire should be replaced as soon as possible.
The penny test is done the same as the quarter test. Only, when the top of Lincoln’s head is visible then your tread has dropped below 1/16 of an inch. This means the tread is below the legal minimum and the tire needs to be replaced immediately. Usually a tire that is this low will show signs of wear such as bald strips running from side to side across tread segments. If your tire fails the penny test, you have been driving on it for too long.
The safest bet would be to use the quarter test. Though it may not seem like it, the difference between 1/8 of an inch and 1/16 of an inch is actually quite significant. Tire Rack, the largest independent tire distributer in the US, offers this 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. That same truck will stop at a distance of 122 feet shorter if it passes the quarter test instead. This is a 24 percent difference in stopping distance, which is the equivalent of six or more car lengths.
The tires at the rear of the vehicle and the tires at the front of the vehicle operate at different loads and perform different steering and braking functions. As a result, the tires will have unequal wear patterns. To get the best performance and longest life out of your tires, rotation is a must. It is usually recommended that you rotate your tires every 6,000 miles, but it is best to refer to your owner’s manual for your vehicles specific recommendations. There are some vehicles that have front and rear tires that are different sizes. If this is the case, then the tires cannot be rotated, refer to your owner’s manual and mechanic for guidance.
All types of vehicles have their own specific wheel alignment settings. When a measurement falls outside of their specific range, vehicle handling can be affected, and it could result in uneven tire wear. A proper wheel alignment will maximize the life of your tires. Proper wheel alignment will also keep you driving down the road in a straight line without veering to the left or right. You should have your alignment checked every time you get new tires.
Proper tire balance will extend your tires life by reducing uneven wear. How are tires balanced? Small weights are attached to the wheels to help limit the vibrations of the tires as they spin. Every time you have new tires installed, you should have them balanced. If at any time you notice a vibration in the tires while driving, you should look into having them balanced. If at some point you have a tire repaired and it is removed from the wheel, you should have it balanced.
When you properly maintain your tires you are keeping yourself and other travelers safe on the road. Remember to check your tread and pressure once a month. If you ever have any questions or concerns about your tires, Automotive Technology of West Islip is happy to be of service. You can call us at (631) 321-5209 or request an appointment online.