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Tire Safety Tips - Tread Maintenance

Tire safety is an often neglected area of car maintenance. There are many factors that come into play when it comes to tire safety. One of the simplest and most often neglected variables is tire pressure.

An under-inflated tire can pose a serious hazard to safe driving. When a tire is under-inflated, a shallow valley forms in the middle of the tread so that only the edges on the tire are in direct contact with the road. This greatly reduces the traction of a tire, particularly in adverse weather conditions such as snow or rain. In addition, the stresses on the outside edges of the tire are increased, as it now must bear the weight that is normally evenly distributed across the entire tread. This stress can lead to overheating, and failure, particularly if compounded by a heavily laden car, or a car that is towing a trailer. An under-inflated tire is a clear risk to driver safety. Conversely, an over-inflated tire can have the reverse effect of putting too much weight on a narrow ridge of rubber created in the middle of the tire tread. This can also result in traction loss and heat-related failure.

A simple visual inspection of a modern radial tire often doesn’t reveal whether a tire is under or over-inflated. Since all radial tires have a tendency to visually ‘sag’ at the road contact point, it is necessary to periodically verify the air pressure in your tires with a manometer, or tire pressure gauge. Tire pressure is typically measured in pounds per square inch, or ‘PSI’ for short. To determine how much air pressure should be in your tire, don’t look at the sidewall of the tire itself. A tire’s sidewall will have an air pressure marked on it in PSI, but this measurement refers to the maximum air pressure for that specific tire. The required air pressure for your car will be written either in the owner’s manual or on a sticker located in the door jamb of your vehicle. It is very important from a safety perspective to adhere to the recommendations of the manufacturer. The owner’s manual will typically list one air pressure for a normally loaded vehicle, and another, higher air pressure for a heavily loaded vehicle, or for towing.

If this all sounds too complicated, then perhaps the best option is an automatic tire pressure reader. This small device, which comes in a package of four, screws onto the tire valve in place of the normal valve cap. Typically, the top of the reader changes color depending on the tire pressure in each tire: green for safe, yellow for check, and red to indicate a tire that immediately needs air. This convenient solution allows a driver to perform a simple visual inspection of a vehicle’s tire pressure without the necessity of getting down on hands and knees to do a manual verification.

With a little preventative tire maintenance, drivers can make a significant contribution to their own safety, and the safety of others who share the road with them.