Tire safety is not something you should ignore. Even before starting your vehicle, you should ensure that your tires are properly maintained and in good working condition to ensure your safety. There are four main factors to tire health: tread depth, tire age, tire inflation load and routine maintenance.
Always consult the owner’s manual of your vehicle and your tire manufacturer’s included literature for specific information about your vehicle/tire performance. The intent of this article is to supplement and not to supersede this material. In the event of a conflict, always rely on the recommendations of your vehicle and tire manufacturer.
Your tires connect your vehicle to the pavement and so play a major role in your safety on the road. Their health and condition are affected by a number of factors that you should know to keep as safe as possible. The following are also important in improving the length of your tire’s life span.
TREAD DEPTH SAFETY
Tread depth refers to the amount of tread remaining on a tire. It is calculated by measuring the distance between the top of the tread block to the bottom of the tread void. This number is normally displayed in 32nds of an inch but can also be displayed in millimeters.
Tread depth affects handling, traction and stopping distance. As a tire wears and tread depth is reduced, these capabilities are reduced. Reduced tread depth causes even more severe diminished performance in adverse conditions like wet or slick roads and surfaces.
As you can see in the wet stopping distance chart above, tread depth affects how well your vehicle can stop, especially on wet roads. Keeping an eye on your tire’s tread depth is the first step in driving and operating your vehicle safely.
TIRE AGING SAFETY
Older tires have a higher risk for failure. Tires are made of rubber which begins to break down over time.
A publication released in 2008 from the Rubber Division of the American Chemical Society entitled, “Rubber Oxidation and Tire Aging – A Review,” goes into detail how an aged tire has reduced crack resistance, which can lead to an increased rate of tire failure. As tires age, oxygen penetrates the rubber causing it to start breaking down on a molecular level. The rubber begins to harden and become brittle, losing its elasticity and strength.
After a certain point, the tire’s ability to carry weight is reduced and could potentially fail. Even if a tire has never seen service or has been used very little, it has still been exposed to time and the elements leading to compromised integrity.
You can determine the age of a tire by the DOT number stamped on the sidewall of every tire produced for street use. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has also conducted studies on tire aging and released findings showing a link between tire aging and the increased chance for tire failure.
Most tire and auto manufacturers recommend replacing your tires between 6-10 years. We change ours at six years.
TIRE INFLATION SAFETY AND LOAD CAPACITY
Properly inflated tires are also important for tire safety. The NHTSA has documented that an under-inflated tire increases the chance of tire failure. A tire must be abl eto hold the weight of not only the vehicle, but also any additional load the vehicle might carry such as fuel, passengers and payload. A tire alone does not have the strength to support this. A tire’s sidewall gains strength as air pressure builds inside the tire, meaning that with proper air pressure, a tire can support a vehicle safely.
Overloading a vehicle with underinflated tires is a recipe for blow outs and tire failure.
Under-inflated tires cannot support the vehicle and quickly become compromised. Driving on an under-inflated tire generates excess heat, causing the rubber to break down. Eventually, a tire will not be able to withstand the excess load and fail.
Check your air pressure often to prevent driving on under-inflated tires. Refer to your owner’s manual or vehicle placard to find the correct tire air pressure for your vehicle.
All vehicles manufactured from 2008 and beyond are equipped with a tire pressure monitor system (TPMS) to help monitor air pressure. The TPMS will alert the driver if pressure falls below 25% or more below the manufacturer’s recommended inflation.
You must check your air pressure often to prevent driving on under-inflated tires. Refer to your owner’s manual or vehicle placard to find the correct tire inflation for your vehicle.
ROUTINE TIRE MAINTENANCE
Proper and timely tire maintenance is crucial to safety. All tires on your vehicle should be inspected, inflated and rotated on a routine basis.
- Inspect your tires every month. This will help you identify any damage or conditions that could interfere with safety. This is an important preventative step to eliminate risks that could potentially lead to an accident.
- Check your air pressure every month. Properly inflated tires will sustain the weight of your vehicle and lessen the chance of tire failure due to improper inflation.
- Rotate your tires every 6,000-8,000 miles. Regular tire rotations prolong tread life, maximizing handling, traction and stopping capabilities of your tires. This also requires removing the tire from the vehicle, allowing a more thorough tire inspection.
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