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Six tips for keeping your tires in shape so you can be safe

Posted by Scott Stueber on Oct 1, 2013 9:45:00 AM

tire tread with pennyI recently visited Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI to watch a race. Between races, I was able to go out on the race track as a passenger in a ZR1 Corvette. The speed and power of the Corvette was awesome. The four mile long race track was beautiful and thrilling.

As we headed down the back straight away, I asked the driver how fast we were going. His answer was 135 mph! He also told me, as we approached turn five, that this is the part of the racetrack where most cars go off the track. At that instant, it dawned on me how important tires are.

Think about it. Driving is one of the most dangerous things we do in our lives. We rely on four tires with a contact patch the size of our hands to keep us travelling down the road safely. So keeping our tires in good shape is important!

Here are some tips to help you do that:

1. Check your tire pressure monthly.  Tires can lose approximately one pound per square inch of air (PSI) per month. A tire can lose even more in cold weather climates. So if you rely on your mechanic to check your tire pressure only at oil changes or tire rotations, you could be putting you and your family at risk.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the leading cause of tire-related crashes is under inflated tires. Underinflated tires decrease vehicle handling and gas mileage, and can lead to premature tread wear and a catastrophic blowout. Tires are expensive, but by checking your tire pressure regularly, you can extend their life. To find the appropriate tire pressures for your car, check your owner’s manual or the placard on your car’s door frame.

To learn more about the affects of over-and under-inflated tires, click on the video.

2. Inspect tires regularly, especially before long road trips. At the time you’re checking tire pressure or washing your car, do a physical inspection of your tires. Don’t be afraid to get down on your hands and knees to do your inspection. Things to look for include cracks, bulges, and objects that may have punctured the tire, such as nails, screws, glass, or stones. If one of these objects punctures the sidewall of your tire, your tire will need to be replaced.

If you’re going on a long road trip, check your tire pressure and inspect your tires before you leave home. It’s much easier to inspect your tires in the safety and comfort of your own garage or driveway than on the side of the freeway with cars zipping by at 65mph or faster.

If you do experience a tire failure while traveling, consider calling a tire professional in that area to help you change or replace your tire.

3. Rotate, rotate, rotate. In order to maintain even tread wear and to get the maximum life out of your tires, it’s recommended that you rotate your tires every 6,000 to 8,000 miles. If you buy a set of tires from your local tire store, they may provide free tire rotation. If they don’t, tire rotations are fairly inexpensive.

4. Don’t overload your vehicle. Located on the placard on your door frame is information on how much weight your vehicle can safely handle. Overloading a vehicle can also cause tire failure.

When I was in high school, I overloaded my parents’ Cutlass Supreme station wagon. While the tires didn’t blow, the way the car handled was definitely affected.

5. Don’t wait until your tires are on their death bed to replace. Back in my early married life, I drove my car around with the steel radials coming through the tire; yes, even on the highway.  

Tires are expensive and not particularly fun to buy; however, driving on your tires past their useful life puts you and your family in danger.

Most tires have a wear bar between the treads of the tire. If the tire tread depth is at or below this bar, it’s time for new tires. Another trick I learned is to use a penny to check tread wear. Turn the penny upside down so Abraham Lincoln’s head is between the tread. If you can see the top of Honest Abe’s head, then it’s time for new tires.

6. Don’t install mismatched tires. My wife recently bought one new tire for her all-wheel drive car after a screw punctured the tire’s sidewall. After doing some research, I learned that having mismatched tires can negatively impact the handling of your car and cause unusual wear and tear on the rest of your tires, as well as other components of your car. Since her other tires needed to be replaced as well, I bought three more tires a week later.

I learned that the rule of thumb for buying tires is that you should always buy at least two and put them on the rear of the car no matter what type of car you own. While I was taught you should always put new tires on the front of the car, the benefit of putting the new tires on the rear is better handling under wet conditions. If there are poor tires on the rear of your car, it could cause a spin-out.

Do you have any tips or information on tires you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them; please share them in the box below.

Topics: Auto Safety, Auto Repair

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