by Amy Mattinat, Author of How To Buy A Great Used Car
Vehicles today, with all their technical enhancements, still need four healthy hunks of round rubber on the wheels to compliment the fuel injected, computer controlled engine under the hood. Whether you have a slow leak or blowout, it is very inconvenient when a tire flattens your day. Luckily, it is easy to monitor your tires and identify potential problems before they ruin your day or, even worse, cause damage to you, loved ones or to your vehicle.
Obviously, the tires are the only parts of the car that physically touch the ground. For that reason, they are the essential factors affecting your vehicle’s handling while driving, and stopping while braking. So you will be an educated driver, I want you to get acquainted with your tires so you know their appearance, make, model number and proper inflation level.
I recommend that you visually inspect your tires on a weekly basis. If you see any early warning signs, without further ado ask your mechanic to inspect them! He or she will be able to check and correct any problems that are brewing. In some situations, you may need to replace one or more tires.
What should you be looking for during your visual inspection?
• Air Pressure. If any tire looks almost flat, check the air pressure before driving!
• Uneven tread wear. This can be caused by improper inflation, misaligned wheels, damaged tires or problems with suspension parts.
• Cracking or cuts in the sidewalls.
• Worn tread. Most modern tires have tread-wear indicator bars running across the tread. These signal the minimum allowable tread depth of 1/16-inch. When the tread is worn down to these bars, it's time for new tires. You could purchase an inexpensive tread wear gauge at an auto-part or tire stores, or you could use the penny test! You can use a Lincoln-head penny as a tread-wear indicator. Insert the penny into a tire groove with Lincoln's head toward the tire. If you can see the top of Abe's head, the tread is too worn, and you need new tires.
• Bulges or blisters. If you see a bulge or blister on the sidewall, replace the tire at once. These signal potential weak spots that could lead to tire failure.
• Excessive vibration. Tire vibration may be a sign a wheel is misaligned, unbalanced or bent. It could also signify internal tire damage. Have the vehicle serviced by a professional at once.
You should check your tire inflation pressure (including the spare) at least once a month and definitely before every long trip. Unfortunately, you can’t tell if the tires are “low” by eyeballing the tires and can’t count on the air meters at gas stations to let you know if your tires have the right pressure in the tire either, they tend to be inaccurate due to overuse. You should have your own personal tire gauge, so you can be sure!
Changes in outdoor temperature affect the rate at which your tires lose
air. It is not uncommon for a tire to lose one or two pounds of air per
month in cool weather, and even more in warmer weather.
By keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure, they will wear longer and can improve your gas mileage by about 3.3%. The correct tire size and air pressure for your vehicle can be found on the tire information sticker attached to the vehicles door edge, door post, glove box door or fuel door. Don’t be confused with the pressure rating stamped on the side of the tire. This is not the correct pressure rating for you car, it is the maximum allowed for that tire.
If you can’t find the sticker, check the owner’s manual or ask your friendly mechanic to tell you what the proper inflation should be. It is best to test the tire pressure when the tires are cold or before they’ve been driven more than two miles. As the vehicle is driven, the tires heat up and the pressure rises and you will get an incorrect reading.
If any of your tires continually needs more air, this means you have a slow leak. Take it to your mechanic ASAP. Could be you ran over a nail, or it is leaking at the rim or valve stem. All of these problems are quick, easy and inexpensive to solve. But, if you ignore it and you drive on a low tire, you will ruin the tire and have to pay for a replacement. This can be especially costly for four wheel drive owners… where all four tires need to be alike in make & wear.
If you ruin one tire, you could be forced to replace all of them. If you do have the unfortunate experience of getting a flat tire and if this happens to you while you are driving don’t panic. Take your foot off the gas, don’t slam on the brakes, and let the car glide over to the closest safe area out of traffic.
If you use fix a flat, make sure you let the mechanic who is repairing your tire know this before they do any work! The aerosol sealants and inflators used to seal the tire can make it dangerous for the mechanic to take the rubber off the rim. They need to know ahead of time so they can use special care in this repair. If you have a donut tire to put on as a spare, before you mount it, look on the sidewall of the spare to see the proper air pressure for your donut and what the maximum speed you should be driving. Check the air pressure before mounting, if the donut is not within 5 psi of the rating, do not use the tire! Also look in your owner’s manual for instruction on proper use of a temporary spare.
Amy Mattinat is the author of How To Buy A Great Used Car