Because your tires are the only part of your car constantly in contact with the road, they’re also one of the most important…and vulnerable. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), flats and blowouts are often a cause of highway traffic accidents. Some flat tires are the result of plain bad luck, but many flats and blowouts could have been avoided with just a little knowledge and minimal routine maintenance.
Underinflated tires with too little air pressure—are one of the most common causes of blowouts and flats. Underinflated tires produce more friction, which in turn causes excessive heating that could lead to a blowout. They also make driving more expensive, because they hurt your fuel economy. Overinflated tires, on the other hand, are more prone to damage from bumpy roads and potholes.
But these are easy problems to fix. To help prevent flat tires, check your air pressure on a regular schedule, preferably once a month. Your car’s owners manual has air pressure information for the tires that came standard on your car. If you replace your tires, make sure you have the recommended pressure ratings. If your tire pressure falls below the minimum number recommended by your car manufacturer, simply add some air.
A few things to remember about checking your tire pressure:
Even tires with half their tread may be risky. There are two ways to determine if your treads are worn out. The first is to pay attention to the wear bars on your tire. Wear bars are indicator marks located between the tread pattern of your tires. When the wear bar is level with your treads-when the tires have worn down and become even with the wear bar—you know it’s time to get new tires.
The second method is the quarter trick. Place a quarter between the grooves of your tire. If the tread doesn’t reach past the top of Washington’s head, it’s probably time to change your tires.
Visually inspect your tires for uneven wear patterns since they can cause your car to have handling problems too. Look for excessive wear at the center and sides of the tire. Most of the time, uneven wear patterns are caused by improper inflation, but uneven wear can also be caused by alignment issues. You may want to take your car to a professional mechanic to determine what’s causing the uneven wear on your tires.
Because your vehicle’s weight is distributed unevenly, it places a different amount of stress on each wheel. In order to avoid uneven wear patterns and tread failure, you should regularly rotate your tires. The NHTSA recommends you rotate every 5,000 miles. If you don’t already regularly rotate your tires, get in the habit of doing so every time you change your oil. Take a look at the NHTSA Tire Safety Brochure for a tire rotation pattern diagram and instructions.
Though sometimes it’s unavoidable, try to take alternate routes if you know you’ll be driving near active construction zones or roads that are not well maintained. Sharp rocks, nails, metal shards, glass, and large potholes can all cause punctures and flats. Whenever possible, avoid driving on the highway shoulder, which can be full of sharp rocks and debris from car accidents.
Take a look at the sidewall of your tire. There should be a maximum load rating printed near the center. Keep this number in mind while you’re loading your car or truck, and never exceed it. Overloaded tires undergo more heat and friction and are far more likely to fail.
Tire defects are relatively uncommon, but tires with defects can cause tread separation, where the tread becomes separated from the tire base. Faulty, contaminated, or old manufacturing materials may be to blame. According to the NHTSA, they receive 20 tire recalls per year, on average. A good way to avoid becoming the victim of a recalled tire accident is to sign up for NHTSA’s Tire and Vehicle Recall Information email alerts.