Are Your Tires Tired? Tire Safety Tips

Proper inflation, tread and alignment will keep you cruising safely.

If you can’t remember when you last inspected your car’s tires, it’s time to put it at the top of your to-do list. Not following basic tire-safety practices such as keeping proper inflation/tread depth is responsible for 33,000 injuries every year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Fortunately, it’s easy to keep your tires in tip-top shape. Here’s how:

Assess the inflation situation. Regular inflation checks can save you headaches down the road. Under-inflation leads to excessive stress and irregular wear. “Consult with your owner’s manual or vehicle placard for the proper tire inflation pressure,” says Jonathan Thomas, a winter tire manager for Cooper Tire. “The tire pressure listed on the sidewall isn’t the optimal one for your car; it’s a maximum pressure for the tire. When you check your air pressure, make sure the tires are cool for an accurate reading.”

Watch out for trouble signs. If you notice bulges on tires or discover that they’re losing air pressure more quickly than in the past, you should give them a closer look with the time-tested tread test. This involves taking a penny out of your pocket and placing the coin with the top of the Lincoln’s head facing down on the grooves. “If you can see the very top of Lincoln’s head, then your tire’s tread is low, and it should be replaced,” says Jenn Hoyt, tire-relations specialist at RightTurn.com, a consumer-information site produced by Dealer Tire. “Tread is the most important part of the tire. It’s what comes in contact with the driving surface as the tire rolls. It will wear down. We recommend getting new tires when the tread is at 332 inches or below. At 232 inches, most states declare them illegal.” Tread is most crucial in inclement weather. “When it rains, grooves help channel water out from beneath the tire,” says Hoys. “If those grooves aren’t deep enough, water on the road may cause your vehicle to hydroplane. Even in climates with predominantly dry roads, tires with uneven tread depth can cause performance and safety issues.”

Get aligned. Have alignment inspected on a schedule specified by the owner’s manual. “You should also get an inspection if your vehicle is pulling to one side, vibrating or if you notice rapid wearing of the tire,” Thomas says. “Also, if you rotate your tires regularly, you’ll extend product life. If your manual doesn’t indicate how often, the general rule of thumb is every 6,000 miles.”

Enjoy the cost benefits of good tires. Old tires with slow leaks will lead to constant under-inflation. That hurts your fuel economy. With gas prices being what they are, is this something you want to keep paying for? “Keeping your tires at the proper inflation pressure is one of the easiest ways to maximize fuel economy,” Hoyt says.

Don’t procrastinate. You literally may be putting your life and the safety of your loved ones at risk by riding out tires that must be replaced. With old tires on your car, you’ll require more distance to stop when driving. According to Hoyt, “That can mean the difference between a close call and a collision.”

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