Where the Rubber Meets the Road – Spring Tire Care

So you and your vehicle have survived another winter season. By the way, how are your tires? Extremes in temperature, friction, heat and wear are a constant assault on the four tires that are the only thing between you and the road – or the ditch if they malfunction. When was the last time you performed any of the following on your tires:

Checked the Pressure – While vehicles built in the last ten plus years are equipped with a tire pressure monitoring system, not all systems are created equal. In many, you only get a warning light that at least one tire (NOT INCLUDING THE SPARE) has low pressure. It is a known fact that tires that are underinflated (have less pressure than the owner’s manual specifies) are prone to premature wear and potential failure. Remember the issues with the Ford Explorer and Firestone tires about 15 years ago? Those problems led to the tire pressure monitors that are standard in cars and light trucks today. But they DON’T address OVERinflation, which can also be deadly. Every aspect of today’s vehicles are closely and precisely engineered. Tire overinflation can affect vehicle control and handling in a negative way also.

Checked the Tread Wear – There is no audible sound when tires are worn down to the point of being unsafe. If they are bald, chances are they have been unsafe for quite sometime. It’s important that the tires on your vehicle have adequate tread depth so they can maintain grip on the road in a variety of conditions. Using tires that still have enough tread is so important that tires are required to have tire wear bars-also called tire wear indicators or just wear bars-to make it easy for you to know if your tires need to be replaced just by looking at the tread. Tread depth is measured in 32nds of an inch. A typical tire starts out with a tread depth of around 10/32″. If a tire’s tread is worn down to 2/32″, it could put you in a dangerous situation and must be replaced immediately. In fact, 2/32″ is the legal minimum tread depth in most states and any tires worn more than that are illegal. When you visually inspect one of your tires, find a tire wear bar and see if it is flush with the rest of the tire’s tread. If so, your tire is worn to 2/32″, and you need to replace it as soon as possible.

Checked the Spare – Often ignored, most cars, crossovers and minivans have what is known as a “compact spare” tire. Smaller than the regular tires on the vehicle, it is designed to be temporary in nature – to get you to a repair shop in the case of a blowout. This spare is NOT part of the tire pressure monitoring system, so it’s a good thing to check to make sure you have one and that its inflated in accordance to your owner’s manual. You need to know that a recent development is the move by automakers to get rid of even the compact spare tire. Make sure you know what you have – in place the automaker has offered a tire repair kit and compact air compressor, in other cases, the tires on the vehicle are “run flats” which are designed to run even when punctured a limited distance without having to change the tire. Checking out your spare situation (including WHERE it is) may help you avoid problems later on.

Checked the Balance/Alignment – Despite all the advances in tires, suspension and technology, tires STILL need to be balanced, with the set of four in alignment on the vehicle. Typically you should occasionally get a “four-wheel alignment” done. Rough roads, potholes and misadventures with curbing may knock your vehicle out of alignment. This is also a good time to check the tire rims. They can be bent or damaged during harsh weather or rough roads. These taken together could impair vehicle control and handling – and is often overlooked in the extreme. A good tire shop can be a valuable resource in giving your tires and rims the once over. If you have a full-size spare tire, you should check the rim on it as well.

Checked Suspension components – This is not one thing that you might consider when talking about the condition of your tires. However, worn control hardware components like shocks and struts negatively affect the tire’s ability to come in contact with the road surface. This in turn may lead to irregular tire wear and reduced vehicle control.

Ken Chester, Jr. is President & CEO of Motor News Media Corporation – an automotive news service founded in 1989 as The AutoBuyer Plus Corporation. Featured on numerous television and radio programs, viewers, listeners and readers alike relate to Ken's friendly manner and wealth of information about the many vehicles currently for sale in today's complex automotive marketplace.

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