Tire Safety and Maintenance Guide for New Drivers


Did you know that more than one in four automobiles in the US have at least one underinflated tire? The same goes for about one in three light trucks, including SUVs, vans, and pick-ups.

Unfortunately, incorrect tire pressure can result in or contribute to motor vehicle accidents. What’s more, over 700 traffic fatalities that occurred in 2017 had something to do with tires.

The figures above should be enough reason for you always to follow tire safety practices.

Keep in mind that your tires are the only things separating your ride from the ground. They carry the vehicle’s entire weight, and they get exposed to a lot of force and friction. Therefore, a lack of tire maintenance can cause early wear and tear, giving rise to safety hazards.

Don’t worry, though, as we’re here to enlighten you on the most crucial tire maintenance tips. Read on to discover the whats, whens, and hows of keeping your ride’s tires safe and in tip-top condition.

Master the Basics of Tire Tread and Tread Patterns

The tread is the rubber part of the tire’s circumference that comes into contact with the ground. The tread grooves or tread voids are the valleys between each tread section (or “tread block”). Tread grooves are also often referred to as “tread patterns.”

The tread grooves are responsible for giving tires their traction. They do so by allowing the tread blocks to flex and expand as the tires touch the ground. The voids also displace water on damp or wet roads.

Tread grooves also enable tires to dig into “softer” grounds, such as dirt, mud, or sand-covered paths. This is why truck or ATV tires have larger-spaced and deeper grooves than regular car tires.

Either way, the more you use your tires, the more friction they get exposed to. All that friction exposure wears away the tread, reducing the depth of the tread patterns. If you let the grooves disappear, your tires may no longer be able to provide enough traction and grip.

Note that smoothened tires are at a huge risk of “aquaplaning” or “hydroplaning.” This happens when tires get exposed to a lot of water that they can’t displace fast enough. This can then result in the loss of vehicle control.

Perform Tread Checks Once a Month

Most states require 1/16 or 2/32 inch (about 1.6 mm) of tread depth. However, studies found this depth no longer prevents significant friction loss on highways. For this reason, they recommend raising the minimum legal tread depth requirements.

Either way, you don’t want to reach such a shallow tread depth, so it’s best to check your tires at least once a month. A tread depth gauge provides the most accurate measurement. If you don’t have one yet, you can use the “penny test” as a temporary alternative.

Insert a penny headfirst into several tread grooves. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head from several or all voids, this means you have worn tread. It would be best to get your tires replaced at this point.

If the tread blocks still cover part of the head, it means you still have about 2/32 of an inch of tread depth.

Always Monitor Your Wheels’ Alignment

Properly aligned wheels are straight, vertical, and parallel to each other. Correct wheel alignment makes it easy to steer and cruise in the right direction. It also prevents accidents, as it keeps your tires pointed straight ahead.  

On the other hand, misaligned wheels can cause the vehicle to pull to the left or right. They can also cause uneven tire wear and a crooked steering wheel even if you drive straight.

Hitting a curb, driving over potholes, and huge dents in wheels can cause misalignment. So, park only within 12 inches from a curb, and do your best to avoid potholes. To keep your wheels dent-free, consider going for powder coating treatment.

Note that some form of wheel misalignment occurs in all cars over time, though. That’s why wheel alignment inspection is advisable after every 6,000 miles or so. If you always drive on rough roads, have your wheels checked at least once every six months.

Take Monthly Tire Pressure Gauges

Tire pressure is in a pounds-per square inch (psi) measurement. In passenger cars, the recommended tire pressure is usually between 32 psi and 35 psi. This is a reading you should take at least once a month, and only when your tires are cold.

For starters, a tire with 1 psi lower than its recommended tire pressure can cut gas mileage by at least 0.2%. Under-inflation also increases friction since it causes more tread to touch the road. From here, your tires can overheat, develop premature wear, or even suffer from a blowout.

Overinflation can also cause problems like tire stiffness, inflexibility, and uneven tread wear. Overinflated tires also amplify the feeling of every bump and dip you hit. Moreover, the excess pressure can distort your tires and cut their traction and grip.

So, invest in an accurate tire pressure safety gauge so that you can take readings at least once a month. Get your tires pumped if they lose air, but be sure not to introduce too much air pressure, either.

Keep Cruising Safely With This Tire Safety Checklist

Tire safety isn’t just for you and your passengers; it’s also for every one you share the roads with. So, make sure you don’t let your tires lose too much depth and that they always have the right amount of air pressure. If their alignment goes out of whack, be sure to have your trusty mechanic bring it back.

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Author: Brandon Park