Five tips to keep your tires in top shapeWed, 08 Jun 2011 00:00:00 -0700
Tire safety isn't exactly the sexiest topic in the car universe, but it's National Tire Safety Week. This is a good reminder to those of us who are generally more concerned with fun stuff like horsepower to spend a moment thinking about where the rubber meets the road.
“Ten years ago, NHTSA and AAA helped Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) launch National Tire Safety Week,” said Charles Cannon, RMA president and CEO. “Our partnership and efforts continue today because our job is not finished. Too many drivers fail to do one simple task every month that will reduce their safety risk and help our nation conserve valuable natural resources. Checking tire pressure takes just five minutes, and it's worth every second.”
There is a lot to be learned about tire safety. An RMA survey shows that 85 percent of motorists don't know how to properly inflate their tires, and only 20 percent of drivers check their tire pressure each month.
AAA anticipates that it will assist 1.2 million stranded motorists with tire-related issues this summer, many of which could be avoided. Follow our tire-safety checklist to make sure AAA doesn't have to come to your rescue.
1. Check tire pressure. Do this at least once a month and before and after any long trips. Automakers often suggest a cold tire pressure in the neighborhood of 30 psi, but you should check your owner's manual to see what your car needs. Be sure to use the automaker's recommended pressure and not the maximum pressure indicated on the tires. That number represents the absolute max psi a given tire can hold, not what it should be rolling on day in and day out.
According to Goodyear, a tire that is underinflated doesn't roll as easily and the increased rolling resistance requires more energy, robbing the vehicle of fuel efficiency. Optimal inflation can improve fuel economy by 3.3 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Keep a gauge in your glovebox, and visit your neighborhood gas station to get air if your pressure is too low.
2. Rotate your tires. Michelin says this should be done every 6,000 to 8,000 miles. Every tire will wear differently. On front-wheel-drive cars, the front wheels wear at almost twice the rate of the rear wheels. Some specialists say that in left-hand-drive countries, the left tire may wear faster than the right, so keep an eye out for that. Regularly rotating tires helps achieve more uniform wear, which means consistent performance and longer tire life. Have your tires rotated at a shop for about $15 or buy a hydraulic floor jack and do it yourself.
3. Examine your treads. The old wisdom was that tires should have at least 2/32 inch of tread depth, and laws agree. But new information from Tirerack.com shows that greater depth is preferred. In their tests, a new tire with 10/32 inch of depth took 195.2 feet to stop in the rain, while tires with 4/32 inch took 290 feet and tires with 2/32 inch depth took 378.8 feet to stop.
To make sure your tires have a tread depth of at least 4/32 inch, stick a quarter, Washington's head facing down, into one of the tire-tread grooves. If any part of Washington's head is obscured, you have at least that amount of tread. Prefer to stick with the legal 2/32-inch tread depth? Perform the same check, but use a penny and, of course, Lincoln's head.
4. Align your wheels. Improperly aligned wheels can create rapid and uneven wear, says the Rubber Manufacturers Association. Misaligned wheels can also create steering and tracking problems. Take you car to a service station for alignment and the technicians will adjust the steering and suspension components to manufacturer specifications, making sure that the wheels are perpendicular to the ground and parallel to each other. According to Midas, a basic four-wheel alignment on an average sedan will cost about $80.
5. Keep the deepest treads in the rear. Though this may seem counterintuitive, since the front tires do the braking and steering, if you have two newer tires and two older tires, keep the newer rubber on the rear wheels. Deeper treads grip the road and channel water better, making the rear of the car less likely to hydroplane and fishtail. The result is that, while your shabby front tires may result in understeer, it's easier for a driver to correct from such a condition than from oversteer resulting from worn rear tires.
By Julie Alvin