Did you know that your car’s tires are one of its most important safety features? Most of us would never dream of sliding behind the wheel and taking a cross country trip without strapping ourselves down with our seat belts. And in many cases, people make buying decisions based on the availability of front- and side-impact airbags. So why wouldn’t you take every precaution necessary to ensure your tires – the very things that serve to keep you on the road in the first place – aren’t in tip-top condition?
Here’s a list of 5 things you probably didn’t know about your tires. Knowing them and adhering to them could be the difference between arriving at your destination safe and sound, or spending the night waiting for a tow truck to pull you out of a ditch.
- The leading cause of tires coming apart or blowing out while you’re driving is under-inflation. Tires are tough and can take a lot of abuse, but when you drive on a tire that’s got too little air in it, this can have serious and potentially life threatening implications. When your tires are under-inflated, the sidewalls become weak. Since the integrity of your tire’s sidewalls are critical, driving on under-inflated tires can put you and your car in serious jeopardy.
- Another leading cause of tire failure is over-inflation. Think of your tires as big, strong, rubber balloons. If you pump too much air into them, they run the risk of popping – only when a tire pops, it’s more like a mini explosion that can have grave consequences if you’re driving when it happens. Pumping too much air into your tires can cause them to wear out prematurely and can even damage your car’s suspension.
- Appearances can be deceiving. Sometimes it’s impossible to tell just by looking at a tire if it’s got too much air or too little air. For this reason, swinging by a gas station and pumping air into your tires is ill advised unless the air compressor you’re using has a built-in pressure gauge. To be on the safe side, get your hands on a tire pressure gauge and keep it in your glove compartment. They’re inexpensive and convenient, about the size of a pen. By having one on hand, you’ll be prepared in the event the gas station air pump’s gauge gives you a false reading, which is always a possibility. Every time you fill your tires with air, you should double check the pressure with your own gauge for safety’s sake.
- The way a tire wears can tell you if there’s something wrong with your car. For example, if your see that your car’s front tires are wearing unevenly, this could be an indication that your alignment is out of whack and should be repaired. To save yourself the money you might otherwise spend to replace tires that have worn unevenly, have your alignment checked once a year at your local auto repair service center. And if you live and drive in a city environment and subject to riding over pot-holes, you may want to have your alignment checked more than once a year.
- Mini-spares should only be used to get you from point A to point B. Never leave a mini-spare on your car any longer than is absolutely necessary, as they aren’t built for long distance traveling. Most importantly, it’s unsafe to drive on a mini-spare any faster than 50 miles per hour. If you do, you run the risk of having the spare blow out or losing control of your car, since the safe motion of your car is greatly dependent on tires with matching tread widths.
Be on the safe side and check the air pressure of your tires at least once per month. Before driving off, always give your tires a once-over. If one of them looks significantly lower than the rest, this is clear indication that you’ve got a slow leak that should be taken care of immediately. Always refer to your owner’s manual for the proper air pressure, and never inflate a tire past the maximum capacity indicated on the sidewall of the tire itself.