A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

With spring’s rains on the horizon, now is the good time to check that tires are safe and road-ready

With President’s Day upon us and April’s showers right around the corner, now is the time to check your tires to minimize risk in wet weather.

Research reveals that driving on relatively worn tires at highway speeds in wet conditions can increase average stopping distances by a staggering 43 percent, or an additional 87 feet — more than the length of a semi-trailer truck — when compared to new tires.

With nearly 800,000 crashes occurring on wet roads each year, and Americans now holding on to their cars longer than ever before, this is cause for concern.

“Tires are what keep a car connected to the road,” says Lori Weaver Hawkins, public affairs manager, AAA Blue Grass. “Even the most advanced safety systems rely on a tire’s basic ability to maintain traction to avoid a crash.”

Spring may be right around the corner, but right now motorists are experiencing pothole season. Potholes are a common sight this time of year, littering roadways and, in many cases, hitting wallets hard. Every year, Americans spend billions of dollars to repair damages caused by potholes, with an average price tag of nearly $600 per repair.

Everyday wear and tear, as well as the damage from potholes, can spell tire trouble for vehicle owners — and result in a safety risk. Research indicates that not only do worn tires increase stopping distance, they also reduce handling ability by about 30%. ADrivers are urged to check tread depth, monitor tire pressure, visibly inspect tires and replace tires proactively.

Checking your tires with a Washington Quarter

On Washington’s birthday, it’s a good reminder of a tire tread test that’s tried and true. Slip an upside-down Washington quarter between your tire grooves and look at Washington’s head. If you can see the top of his head, it’s time to start shopping for new tires.

If any portion of the top of Washington’s head is covered, your tires should have adequate tread. It’s a good idea, however, to still look for any bulges or other issues with a quick visual inspection.

Checking tire pressure

Checking tire pressure more frequently is advised when temperatures are fluctuating. Not only is it safer to have adequate tire pressure, but it can also help your vehicle get the best gas mileage.

Here’s how:

• Use a quality gauge to check tire pressure.

• For proper results, make sure tires are cold.

• Look for the recommended air pressure in the vehicle’s owner’s manual or on the tire information decal located inside the driver’s side door or in the glove compartment.

The number molded into the tire sidewall is not recommended for normal operating condition; this specification is for a tire that is carrying its maximum rated payload. Use the owner’s manual or tire information decal only.

Motorists are reminded to periodically check the air in their spare tire so it’s road ready in case of an emergency.

“Many new cars do not come with spare tires, so it is critical that drivers check to make sure they have the additional road-ready tire before they find themselves in need,” Weaver Hawkins said. “This is also important information to have should you need AAA roadside assistance for a tire issue because it tells AAA whether to send a light-duty truck to change a tire or a tow vehicle.”

Tire Maintenance Tips

The following maintenance tips can help extend the life of your tires:

• Recognize Noises/Vibrations – February is pothole season. A hard pothole impact can dislodge wheel weights, damage a tire or wheel, and bend or even break suspension components. Any new or unusual noises or vibrations that appear after hitting a pothole should be inspected immediately by a certified technician.

• Alignment – Check the alignment every six months. Potholes and road imperfections can cause alignment adjustments to change. Large potholes are also known for damaging tires and rims.

• Rotation – A four-wheel tire rotation is recommended by most tire manufacturers after every 6,000 miles. Rotating tires every other oil change is an easy way to keep track of this service.

• Inspection – Inspect tires when checking tire pressure. Inspect tire tread for wear, damage, or heavy cracking. Inspect sidewalls for cracks, cuts, bulges, bubbles, and slices. Any damage to the sidewall would render the tire unsafe. Blemishes from tire manufacturing, one or more indentations in the sidewall from tire assembly, or scrapes/bruises from light curb rubs are not major issues. Have any noticeable damage to the tire inspected by a trained professional as soon as possible.

Shopping for tires

While research found that tire performance does vary by brand, price is not necessarily an indicator of quality. In fact, worn tire performance deteriorated significantly for all tires tested, including those at a higher price point. Shoppers are advised to research options carefully before selecting a replacement tire for their vehicle, and never choose one based on price alone.

Tips for Driving in Wet Weather

In wet conditions, tires can completely lose contact with the road and skid, also known as hydroplaning. The depth of a tire’s tread plays a significant role: the lower the tread depth, the more likely a car will hydroplane. The following precautions can help drivers while navigating rain soaked roads:

• Avoid the use of cruise control in order to respond quickly if the car loses traction with the road.

• Reduce speed and avoid hard braking and making sharp turns.

• Increase following distance to allow for ample space if a sudden stop occurs.

• If the vehicle begins to hydroplane, gently ease off the accelerator and steer in the direction the vehicle should go until traction is regained. Do not brake forcefully as this can cause the vehicle to skid.

AAA Blue Grass

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