Auto mechanics and public safety officials stress the importance of tire maintenance, but not all drivers take the time to routinely inspect tires and practice good tire safety. Here are some of the best suggestions for keeping your tires in good shape to limit hazards and costs over time.
- Routinely Check Tire Tread. To keep you firmly on the road and protect you in all types of weather conditions, your tires need adequate tread. That's why a number of U.S. states include tire tread in annual or biennial safety inspections. To legally stay on the roads, states advise drivers to have tires with at least one-sixteenth of an inch of tread. But is one-sixteenth of an inch enough?
To check the depth of a tire's tread, use a tread gauge. If you don't have one, put a quarter into some of the tire's grooves. If George Washington's head is covered by tread in those areas, you have one-eighth of an inch of tread on your tires; use a penny in the same manner to check for one-sixteenth of an inch tread depth. Also, look for tell-tale signs of irregular wear, such as rounded tire edges and diagonal wear marks; if you don't know how to spot poor wear patterns, have a shop do it for you. Look out for bald tires -- when the interior wires on bald tires start to show through, you've been driving on worn-out tires for way too long.
- Adjust Tire Pressure. Improper tire pressure can lead to high fuel use and accidents, according to AAA. If you have a newer vehicle, a built-in tire pressure monitor will 'inspect' tires for you. Don't ignore those warnings. Owners of older vehicles should check tire pressure at regular intervals, including as seasons change -- fluctuating temperatures can cause major pressure loss.
- Know When Tires Are Fixable. If you fix your own flats, you need to understand when a hole can be patched (i.e., when there's under one-quarter of an inch tread) and when a tire needs to be replaced. Professional shops replace tires with gouges in the sidewall because they can't be safely repaired.
- Invest in Tire Rotation and Alignment. Proper tire alignment and rotation will keep you safe and help preserve your tire warranty (tire retailers may void a warranty when uneven wear is present). Going without this type of maintenance can lead to the kinds of wear that make tires unsafe. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that tire failure results in 11,000 accidents per year, most caused by insufficient tire maintenance.
- Research Your State's Laws on Winter Tires. The Unites States is a geographically diverse country with many different climates and weather patterns. In some states, putting snow chains or studs on tires will help keep you safer. In other states, doing that can not only be illegal, but also less safe due to the damage chains and studs can cause to roads and your tires. AAA's state-by state Studded Tires resource page will put you in the know and help you make the best decision about how to prepare your tires for changes in the seasons.
Do you practice these tire safety habits? Let us know your thoughts on good tire maintenance tips for summer and all year round.
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