Many of us drive cars, trucks, and SUV’s that have a tire pressure monitoring system to alert us when the air in the tires is low, but if you drive a car older than 2008, your vehicle will likely not have this feature. Driving a car with under-inflated, over-inflated, worn, or bald tires is extremely dangerous, and with so many challenges on the road today with distracted drivers looking down at their phones, the last thing we need is something else to put our lives in danger as we take to the nation’s roadways.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 738 people died in tire-related traffic accidents; it’s estimated that over 19,000 are injured in tire-related car accidents each year, and many of these are preventable. By paying attention to your TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) and walking around your car before heading to school or work in the morning, you will do your part to ensure your tires are inflated to a safe pressure and that you’re not driving on excessively worn or bald tires that could lead to a blow out and a fatality accident.
The Importance of Proper Tire Inflation
Overinflated tires are rigid and stiff causing the tire’s contact patch (the amount of rubber that meets the road) to be smaller than it should be, which leads to a harder ride and uneven tread wear. The most common type of uneven tread wear due to over-inflation is referred to as “center wear,” which means the center of the tire is smooth and worn down while there is more tread on the sides of the tire. Due to the rigidity of an overinflated tire, it can be more easily damaged by common road hazards such as potholes.
Underinflated tires don’t hold their shape and are flatter to the ground, allowing more of the tire to come in contact with the road. Therefore, more of the tire comes in contact with the road, causing the shoulders of the tire to wear too soon. “Shoulder wear” is indicated by a strip of normal tread down the center of the tire while the shoulders of the tire are smooth and worn down. Underinflated tires are more flexible when they roll, leading to increased rolling resistance and reduced fuel efficiency.
The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that about five million gallons of gas per day—two billion gallons a year—are wasted because of low tire pressure. You cannot tell if a radial tire needs air just by looking at it, so you need to actually check the air pressure using a tire pressure gauge. Even with most cars having tire pressure monitoring systems, it’s helpful to know how to check your tire pressure using a gauge.
If you don’t have a tire gauge handy, you can use the penny test to check your tire’s tread until you can get an official reading. Simply take a penny and insert it into your tire tread with Abraham Lincoln’s head facing down. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, your tread is too low, and your tires need to be replaced. It’s that easy.
The 411 on Tire Damage
Many different factors can lead to tire damage, but the most common cause of tire damage is a tie between under-inflation and bad driving habits. There are three main types of tire damage: sidewall damage, bead damage, and tread damage, and each of them can lead to serious problems if not fixed.
The purpose of a tire is, of course, to keep its grip on the road and keep the car in motion by always maintaining a sound grip; the grip on the road is crucial to provide the necessary traction to accelerate or brake. Tread damage occurs when tire treads are either balding or punctured, resulting in instability of your vehicle.
Another common type of tire damage occurs within the sidewalls, where cracks can form due to many different things including chemicals, overheating, and hitting potholes while driving. By maintaining the proper tire pressure, driving carefully and avoiding the use of chemicals not designed for tires, you can help to eliminate cracks in your sidewalls.
The area between the tire and the rim is important when it comes to tire damage. If the rim and the tire fail to link properly at the beading, there will likely be damage that could result in a rapid drop of tire pressure, causing an explosion. Making sure the tires are kept within the recommended alignment and the correct tire size is fitted to the rim helps to prevent bead damage.
The monitoring of tire pressure is easy, only takes a little bit of time, and can really save lives. Even if your car has a tire pressure monitoring system, be sure to check your tires on a weekly basis.