The tires are the only thing between the vehicle and the road. When they are properly inflated and in good condition, the handling, stability and safety of the vehicle will be maximized. Conversely, when the tires are under inflated, worn out or damaged, all of the safety systems on the vehicle cannot overcome the loss of control that comes with a blow-out or hydroplaning situation. Air pressure in a tire is like oil in an engine; when it is low, the resulting internal damage is unseen until it is too late. Tires naturally lose 1-2 psi per month, so ongoing neglect will eventually result in a tire that cannot support the weight of the vehicle and the occupants. When this happens, the resulting blowout can result in the loss of control and an accident.
It’s also important to rotate the tires on the vehicle every 5-7,000 miles. Today’s front-wheel-drive vehicles cause the steer tires to wear at a much faster rate than the tires on the rear axle. By periodically rotating the front tires to the back and the back tires to the front, motorists can achieve even tread wear on all four tires and increase the mileage and performance. Failing to rotate the tires often results in the front tires wearing out faster while the rear tires develop irregular tread wear patterns that cause vibrations. The same can be said for alignments. When the vehicle is not properly aligned, the tires will wear out faster which leads to increase operating costs.
Roger Marble, consultant, spent four decades in the tire industry, working for a major manufacturer developing tires for applications in North, Central, and South America. In that time, he came across a handful of tire safety myths that have never ever been true:
Myth #1: You can check air pressure by just looking at your tires or kicking the tires. According to Marble, this method is usually off by 10-20 percent or more.
Myth #2: A plug-type repair or using flat fixer fluid injected through the valve is OK. Neither tire companies nor the U.S. Department of Transportation accept this practice, and it will void the tire warranty.
Myth #3: Re-inflating a tire that has been run more than 10 percent low will make it A-OK. “This is like believing that putting the potato salad back in the refrigerator after it sat all day out in the sun will make it OK to eat,” Marble noted.
Myth #4: As long as there is tread design left, the tire is safe to use. Certain applications do not put a lot of miles on a tire, so the tire rubber can get too old to properly stretch, causing it to crack. “Tires should be inspected by a tire dealer and a written report issued after five years of use and every year thereafter, and replaced at 10 years, no matter how much tread is left,” Marble said.
Myth #5: It is OK to ignore the warning from tire pressure monitor system (TPMS), as you can probably drive for hundreds of miles before service is needed. As with any vehicle warning system, drivers need to take them seriously — ignoring them could cause damage to the vehicle or possibly an accident.
Kurt Berger, manager, consumer sales engineering for tire manufacturer Bridgestone Americas, offered a trio of tips to help fleet drivers ride on road-ready rubber:
• Inflate: The most important aspect of tire maintenance is proper tire inflation. “Tires can lose one pound per square inch per month under normal conditions,” Berger explained.
• Rotate: Regular tire rotations also will help prevent irregular and premature wear. According to Berger, as many as 40 percent of drivers have not rotated their tires within the recommended distance of 5,000-7,500 miles.
• Evaluate: Routinely look for signs of tread wear or damage. “The ‘penny test’ is a simple way to check tread wear,” said Berger. “Place a penny in the tread. If Lincoln’s head is visible, the treads are too worn and need replacing.”
Cutting corners is the last way to keep you safe on the road, according to Brian Remsberg, a spokesperson for Michelin North America. Whether its inspection, inflation, or repair, fleet departments need to take the safest route instead of the quickest one.
“Do not inflate tires to the maximum pressure molded onto the tire’s sidewall,” Remsberg explained. “The optimum tire pressure required for your vehicle can be found on a sticker in the door jamb, on the inside of the glove compartment door, or in the owner’s manual.”
The time of day can affect the tire’s pressure reading, which is why Remsberg suggested checking the pressure when the tires are cold, usually first thing in the morning.
When it comes to repairing a flat, it is best to take extra time to ensure that your tire doesn’t suffer the same fate soon after.
“The proper way to have a tire repaired is to patch the tire from the inside and fill the puncture hole. Do not have your tire plugged,” Remsberg advised.
All four tires need to be checked monthly, since keeping the tires inflated to optimum pressure allows for maximum fuel efficiency and longevity.
Finally, drivers should perform a visual inspection of their tires on a regular basis, especially after hitting a pothole, curb or any type of road debris. Bulges, cuts and other visible damage weaken the internal components of the tire, which can lead to a blowout. Regular visual inspections will often identify any potential problems before they result in an accident. It’s also a good idea to have the tires inspected by a professional before any long road trips to ensure there are no obvious out-of-service conditions that must be addressed.