With summer in full swing and gas prices remaining relatively stable, millions of Americans will be taking to the roads from now through the Labor Day weekend.
Unfortunately for some, their vacations will be less enjoyable and cost more than if they had performed some simple, affordable auto maintenance beforehand.
One of the easiest and most effective ways to improve your gas mileage and avoid trouble is by performing a pre-trip tire inspection. Even if your tires are relatively new, it’s a good idea to check the pressure and make a visual inspection to ensure the tread is in good shape and your tires are wearing evenly.
The pressure in your tires fluctuates with changes in ambient air temperature. A change in pressure of about two pounds per square inch (PSI) can be expected for every ten-degree increase in outside air temperature. The pressure in your tires also increases as the result of road friction when driving at high speeds for extended periods of time.
In addition to reducing your gas mileage, under-inflated tires tend to bulge outward and create increased pressure on the sidewalls of the tires. It’s normal for radial tires to bulge slightly even when properly inflated. Driving with severely under-inflated tires can, over time, cause the heat and pressure inside your tires to rise to the point where the sidewall will blow.
Over-inflated tires can be equally dangerous as they allow no room for the air inside the tires to expand as it heats up. Over inflated tires make less contact with the highway surface which can cause the driver to have less control of the vehicle and can result in longer braking times and cause hydroplaning when driving in wet conditions.
Tire pressure gages come in all varieties including stick (also known as pen gauges) dial and digital gauges. Although the more expensive dial and digital gauges will provide more accurate readings, stick tire gauges are also reliable. Stick tire gauges are also inexpensive and can be purchased at virtually any gas station, convenience store and even in many grocery stores and pharmacies.
You can check your owner’s manual or the tire sidewall to determine the correct inflation level for your tires. Some manufacturers also include this information on tags posted on the edge of the driver’s door, door post or inside the glove box.
Be sure to check the tire treads to make sure they are wearing evenly. Most tire manufacturers recommend having your tires rotated every 5,000 to 6,000 miles. If you drive a four-wheel drive vehicle you should have your tires rotated every four months. It’s always a good idea to check your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendation on rotation schedules.
The minimum legal tread depth is 3/32 of an inch which is, conveniently, the exact distance between the top of Abraham Lincoln’s head and the rim of a penny. The easiest way to check tread wear is the “penny test” in which you insert a penny into the tread groove and check to see if any part of Lincoln’s head disappears into the groove. If so, the tread is sufficient. If, on the other hand, no part of Lincoln’s head is obscured by the tire, it’s time to buy a replacement tire.
Uneven tire wear can result from a failure to regularly rotate the tires or wheels that are out of alignment. This problem typically results in a vibration or shimmy in the steering wheel when driving. Vibration in the steering wheel, however, can also be the sign of a problem with the steering or suspension system and should be inspected by a qualified automotive mechanic as soon as possible.
Don’t forget to inspect your spare tire and get acquainted with the location of your tire jack and lug wrench and the necessary procedures involved in removing a bad tire and installing your spare. Finally, make sure you have warning flares or markers in case you’re forced to change a tire on a narrow shoulder or other area directly adjacent to traffic lanes.
Taking these simple steps before beginning your trip can help you avoid unnecessary expense and aggravation down the road.