Every day, we hear more about high-tech gizmos being added to autos to make them safer: radar directed accident avoidance systems, rear-view cameras, heads-up displays, automatic parallel parking systems and all sorts of black boxes. But if you look all the way down to the ground, you’ll find one of the most humdrum but critical safety devices on your vehicle: the tires.
Tires are one of the most important and overlooked safety devices on our vehicles, yet monitoring and maintaining them can make all the difference between making it from Point A to Point B unscathed and becoming another statistic. Follow these tips to get the most out of the rubber that meets the road.
Keep the Pressure On
Today’s tires hold in air by making a tight seal with the metal rim of your vehicle’s wheels. The only way they can keep that seal from leaking is by being filled to the prescribed tire pressure: too high and they can burst on a nasty bump; too low, and another bump can break the seal. In addition, the proper pressure provides more predictable handling, which is especially important in emergency situations.
So, the best idea is to check the pressure in all four of your tires at least once a month. Keep a pressure gauge handy in your vehicle, or take advantage of the built-in gauges at pressure pumps at many service stations.
What’s the correct pressure? It’s NOT the numbers printed on your tire. The correct pressure is defined by your vehicle’s manufacturer, and you can find it in your owner’s manual or on a sticker on the inside panel of the driver-side door or door frame.
Four of a Kind
It’s best if you don’t mix and match your tires. That means all four should be of the same size, load-bearing capacity and speed rating in order for them to provide the same handling results. Differing tires could make emergency situations more dangerous.
Bald or Balding?
Tires keep their grip in slippery conditions by virtue of their treads. Over time, the treads get increasingly shallow as the rubber wears away due to friction with the road. According to most traffic codes, tires must have a tread depth of between 2/32 and 3/32 of an inch, but many safety experts advise replacing your tires when the treads are less than 4/32 of an inch deep, and less than 6/32 of an inch for snow tires.
Tires must be replaced when the tread has worn even with the tread wear indicator, now a required feature of all tires sold in the U.S. and Canada. The tread wear indicator is a small raised bar that runs across the grooves of the tire tread, marking the minimum allowable tread depth. Normally, there are six tread wear indicators spaced evenly around the tire. For optimum traction in wet or snow conditions, replace your tires before they reach the minimum tread depth.
It’s also time to replace your tires if they’re wearing out unevenly. Shallower treads in the middle or either edge of your tires mean you’ve been driving with the wrong air pressure and they’re not giving the right amount of safety protection in all road conditions.
No Nicks, Scrapes and Gouges
Tire side walls have to be completely intact for maximum safety. If any of your tires have a gouge or tear, that’s a sign that you should replace them as soon as possible.
Hey Now, What’s That Sound?
Most tires sold today are built with belts made of strands of steel or synthetic fabric embedded in their circumference. These provide the tires’ strength, but can break in a high-speed collision with a pot-hole or object on the roadway. Broken belts are difficult to see, but make themselves known by a rhythmic bumping sound or whirring from your tires. If you hear those kinds of sounds, especially coming from only one tire, you should have the tire inspected by an experienced service technician.
Good tires are the humble heroes of traffic safety. Make sure you take care of them, so they can take care of you.