Your tires are a crucial part of a well-functioning and safe vehicle, but they also tend to take the biggest beating over time. And because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates “about 700 people die on the road every year as the result of tire-related crashes,” you need to be aware of the quality of yours.
Understanding how to care for tires means understanding how to prevent blowouts, crashes and other dangerous situations. Here's what you should know about tire safety:
Under inflation is the leading cause of tire failure
According to the National Motor Crash Causation Survey, under inflation is the leading cause of tire failure and at least one-in-four cars are driving with one under-inflated tire. By using a Smart Tire Safety Monitor that works with your vehicle's tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), you can keep an eye on all four tires' air pressure level and prevent dangerous blowouts or flats. To be sure your tires are inflated to the correct levels, check the label on your driver's side door or in your owner's manual.
Tires with low tread are three times as likely to have problems
The tread on your tires is important for staying safe on the roads. Worn down tread can lead to flats, sliding and other dangerous accidents. You should check your tire's tread at least once a month and by looking at the built-in tread indicators that run in between the tire's tread. When the tread is worn down so that it's level with the tread indicator, it's time to replace your tires.
You can also check your tread by placing a penny in the tread with Lincoln's head upside down. If you can see the top of Lincoln's head, replace your tires. You can also use a quarter and look at George Washington’s head as a guide. If you can see the top of his head, your tires have 4/32nds of an inch or more left. For wet roads, you should replace your tires when they reach 4/32" of remaining tread depth to prevent hydroplaning. For snowy roads, replace when the remaining tread is at 5/32".
Properly balanced tires are safer and more comfortable
If you notice one of your tires is wearing quicker than the others, or that your vehicle is handling poorly and struggle to drive in a straight line, it might be time to get your tires balanced and aligned.
Tires should be balanced when they’re first installed and when a puncture is being fixed. When you purchase new tires, spring for the additional wheel alignment to ensure the tires wear evenly. Then, once you’re on the road, listen for any odd vibrations in the tires; if you hear anything, bring your vehicle in to have the tires rebalanced.
Check your owner's manual for the manufacturer's recommendation of how often you should get your tires re-balanced and re-aligned and for what your tire rotation pattern should look like.
Speeding and overloading can shorten the lifespan of tires
Every tire has its limits, and overloading it or speeding too often will shorten its lifespan significantly.
You can find the weight limit of a tire by looking on the tire's sidewall, or by consulting your owner's manual. If you still can't find it, simply monitor your car and note when it looks like the tires are starting to sink under the pressure of your vehicle.
As for speed, following the speed limit is your best bet to making a set of tires last as long as possible. For extra information, check your tires' sidewalls for the recommended speed limit.
Sidewalls tell — and show — you when a tire needs to be replaced
As mentioned above, your sidewalls will tell you almost everything you need to know to keep your tires in their best shape. Use your owner's manual to identify which numbers and letters stand for the size of the tire's sidewall, radius and wheel diameter. You can also find tread size, the year it was made, the model, its traction rating and its temperature rating. Speak the the tire manufacturer if you're unclear about anything.