Maintaining your tires is one of the most important things you can do for your car.
Next to your brakes, tires are the most important safety feature your car has – yet many times we don’t give them a second thought. But tires affect the way your vehicle handles, the quality of your ride and your ability to brake – all of which are pretty important!
Whether you’re tooling around town or taking a cross-country road trip, you and your passengers depend on those four pieces of rubber to get you where you’re going, so tire safety needs to be at the top of your priority list.
Here are some things to check when it comes to caring for your tires:
- Air pressure: Having your tires properly inflated affects both their safety and lifespan. Under-inflation is the leading cause of tire failure. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently found underinflated tires are three times more likely to be involved in a crash than properly inflated tires – and they also run the risk of overheating. On the flip side, overinflated tires be easily damaged if they hit a pothole or debris. Know what your tire pressure should be and check it at least once a month – and more often in extreme heat or cold.
- Tread depth/wear: Worn tires are less effective, so make sure your tread is at least 2/32”. Invest in a tire tread depth gauge, and check your tires monthly, particularly if you’re logging a lot of miles. While checking tread depth, also look for tread wear on one edge of the tire, which usually means the wheels are out of alignment.
- Balance/alignment: Tires can get out of balance as they’re driven and the rubber wears away. Imbalanced tires can cause the car to “shimmy” and creates an unsafe situation. Experts advise getting tires balanced every 5,000 miles or every six months. It’s also important to have the alignment checked every time you get your oil changed, as tires that are improperly aligned won’t wear evenly and it can also compromise your steering and suspension parts.
Tools of the Trade
Ensuring you have the proper tools for your tires is crucial – particularly if you’re going to be driving an extended distance, or if you have a long daily commute. Among the items you’ll want to invest in are:
- Tire pressure gauge: These come in three types – stick, digital and dial. While the stick is simple and compact, it can also be inaccurate and difficult to read. Digital gauges require batteries, but the batteries last for years and these gauges are accurate and great for low-light conditions. Dial gauges are also accurate but they are bulkier, less convenient and typically more expensive.
- Portable air compressor: You don’t need to break the bank, all you need is a compressor that can re-inflate a low tire and keep you from getting stranded between gas stations with a flat tire.
- Tire tread depth gauge: It’s almost impossible to measure tire tread depth with a ruler, and while some people swear by the “coin method,” a better option is to buy a gauge. They can be purchased for a low price, and they can save you a fortune.
The Light On Your Dashboard
All cars sold after Sept. 1, 2007, are equipped with a TPMS, or tire pressure monitoring system. When one or more of the tires are improperly inflated, the TPMS light on your control panel is activated. This is one of the so-called “dummy lights” that should never be ignored.
Although the lights can occasionally malfunction, never assume that’s the case. Typically they are alerting you to a problem that needs to be addressed immediately.
If your light comes on, make your way to the nearest gas station and check your tires immediately. Remember, tires are one of the most important safety features your car has. It’s up to you to maintain them and keep yourself, and your passengers, out of harm’s way.
You may do all the right things to ensure your tires are in good shape but sometimes you’ll still end up on the side of the road with a flat. Ask your independent agent about roadside assistance options on your auto insurance.