“Modern cars are mechanical and technological wonders, which by all means is a good thing. On the other hand, the downside of being overly safe and reliable, is that we often forget to make sure everything is in fact—safe and reliable.”
Safe Summer Travels – The Do’s & Don’ts of Tire Safety
As a little kid, my Dad would pull me out of bed extra early the day before a road trip so I’d help him with his “safety checklist.” He’d make me pop the hood, get the tire pressure gauge, grab a shop rag, among other items. His goal was to catch any possible issues early, and have time to fix them before our trip, if necessary.
While checking the engine oil and other fluids were important, nothing was as crucial as checking tire condition and tire pressure. See, my Dad was a professional GT race car driver, which meant he often got a little excited behind the wheel, specially if our family road trip involved twisty country roads!
He knew first hand the consequences of driving with possible car or tire malfunctions; and those consequences could vary from a simple flat on a parking lot, to losing control and crashing at highway speeds. That’s why he gathered enough patience to teach me about this, instead of doing it on his own faster and probably more efficiently.
Here’s a little background that may shed some light on tires:
Tires look like simple rubber donuts, but they’re far from it. Tires are engineered from various rubber compounds that achieve different purposes. Whether it’s off-roading, ice and snow, or high-performance driving, different rubber compounds perform differently under certain scenarios or conditions.
The squiggly lines you see on the contact area of the tire (the part that touches the ground) are called the tread pattern. The tread design is crucial for the overall performance of the tire, as it will dictate how it repels water off the tire on a rainy day, how it deals with gravel, concrete, and even how well you brake and accelerate. You measure tread by its depth, as in how much rubber you have left until the tire is bald and unsafe.
The sidewall of the tire (where the lettering is) is also extremely important. When you make a turn at speed, the sidewall actually flexes as the tire grips to the road. Different tires have softer or stiffer sidewalls depending on their main purpose.
The Do’s & Don’ts
Don’t drive over debris – Potholes, debris, and other road imperfections can bruise tire surfaces and crack sidewalls. Damage may not be immediately noticeable, but they could detonate at a later time due to high-speed or high temperatures. Do your best to swerve around them safely.
Don’t park close to curbs – I’m guilty of parking my car on corner spots to try and avoid door dings or other situations, but parking too close to a curb could cause damage. Always make sure your sidewall doesn’t touch or rub any curbs, sidewalks, parking bumps, etc. This could deteriorate and weaken your sidewall and lead to a blowout.
Don’t abuse your tires – As with most things in life, tires are meant to serve one specific purpose only. Don’t overload your tire’s weight load rating, don’t out-brake or out-accelerate your tires. Don’t expect your summer-performance tires to perform well in the winter. Abusing the parameters of your tires is a no-no.
Maintain correct tire pressure: Notice how I didn’t say “Check tire pressure?” Because checking and maintaining are two different things. Maintaining means to regularly check for optimum tire pressure, instead of just doing it once a year. Weather and road conditions can affect tire pressures, so make sure to always check tire pressures when they’re cold. Remember that your car’s door-sill has a sticker with the correct cold tire pressures for your original stock tires. Also, use an accurate tire pressure gauge and not the one from the gas station.
Inspect tires for damage: Because we can’t always avoid all potholes or debris, it’s important to periodically check your tires for nails, screws, bruises (when the rubber is inflated and raised above the tread), cuts, etc. Catching any of these before they cause a blowout will not only keep you safer, but could save you money by being repaired instead of replaced.
Rotate your tires: This one is often overlooked by many. I can’t stress enough how important it is to rotate your tires every 5,000 miles or as directed by your vehicle’s or tire manufacturer. Tires are made out of rubber, and rubber wears out, which means that your front tires will start shaping up differently than the rears and lead to handling issues. Rotating them will keep all tires in proper shape and keep you rolling straight and smooth.
As you can see, tire safety isn’t rocket science, it’s actually pretty simple. With a little time, patience, and good driving habits, you can enjoy peace of mind on your next road trip. Remember, just because your car is equipped with ‘Tire Pressure Monitoring Sensors’ and other technologies, it can pay big to double check.
For more tire safety tips, visit Cooper Tires’s Safety page, and safe travels!