New Series! Car Story: Get A Grip on Tire Care

By: Marko Salopek, reporter

If you want to make it to your next destination, learn to take care of your tires.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), improperly maintained tires accounted for 19,000 vehicle accidents and over 500 deaths in 2015.

In states like Colorado, where there are no mandatory safety inspections, the responsibility of checking and maintaining vehicles fall solely on car owners. It is recommended by the NHTSA to inspect your vehicle’s tires monthly.

If you don’t know the first thing about working on cars, let alone the intricacies of tire care, don’t worry, maintaining your vehicle’s most important safety system is quite simple.

The only tools you need to ensure your tires are in tip top shape are a simple pressure gauge and your eyes.

The most common tire maintenance issue is improper inflation. According to the NTSB, approximately 69 percent of vehicles have at least one under-inflated tire. This greatly reduces the tire’s ability to grip the road, and increases the chance of impact damage to the wheel assembly.

In addition, under-inflated tires can reduce your gas mileage by 11 cents per gallon.

To find the correct tire pressure for your vehicle, reference the owner’s manual. You can also typically find this information on the tire information sticker located on the driver’s side door sill or rear of the door.

The next item to consider is tread depth. Maintaining adequate depth ensures that the tire can clear water and slush from under the tire, or grip the snow once it gets cold. The NHTSA considers tires to be unsafe when they have a tread depth below 2/32 of an inch.

The easiest way to test tread depth is the Penny Test. Simply place a penny in between the tread upside down with the top of Lincoln’s head facing the tire. If the tread does not touch the top of Lincoln’s head, the tires need to be replaced.

The final items that can be inspected by the vehicle operator are damage and age. Visible signs of damage include cuts, cracks, or bulges in the sidewall of the tire. Damage can also include objects impaled in the tread area of the tire.

Age can be harder to spot, as many times it occurs as an internal degradation of the tire’s components. While most drivers will not keep tires long enough for age to become an issue, as a general rule, tires should be replaced once they are ten years old. If you are not sure how old your tires are, the last four digits of the tire identification number located on the sidewall list the week and year of manufacture.

Some additional tire care considerations that can be handled by your mechanic or tire sales center of choice include balance, alignment, and rotation.

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