Road Ranger driver Eugene Smith picks up a large part of a tire from the median of I-95 at the 92 mile marker, three miles south of Hobe Sound, after a Ford Clubwagon loaded with 15 migrant workers blew its right rear tire and rolled over Tuesday, April 2, 2002. Although numerous occupants were ejected from the vehicle, none sustained life-threatening injuries. Staff photo by Chris Matula
Photo: Chris Matula
Photo: Chris Matula

Summer’s high heat and hot roadways contribute to tire failure

Summer can do a number on your tires.

A simple once-a-month check of your vehicle’s tires will save you money, and could save your life by preventing a blowout, which could more easily occur in the summer heat.

“Driving on worn tires can be deadly for motorists,” said Montrae Waiters, AAA spokeswoman, The Auto Club Group. “It’s important to check your tires at least once a month to ensure your safety, as well as that of other motorists around you.”

Look no further than the horrific and tragic accident April 30 on Interstate 95 in Jupiter, Florida. Tire age is suspected to have been a cause of an accident left six people dead, including four children from a Stuart family.

Beyond safety, there are also pocketbook considerations.

Properly inflated tires last longer and result in better fuel economy, handling and braking. Check tire pressure and look for uneven wear patterns on the tread, cracks, foreign objects or other signs of wear or trauma, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advises.

As AAA explains, hot weather causes the air inside your tires to expand, which can lead to a blowout in well-worn wheels.

In Florida and other Sunbelt states, tire failures caused by aging tend to appear in the summer months, during the day, while the vehicle is running at highway speeds, a 2014 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report found. Heat accelerates the breakdown of the rubber in your tires.

Since a requirement that new vehicles be equipped with a tire-pressure monitoring system took effect in 2007, the number of tire-related crashes per year has decreased by 50 percent, from an average of 17,019 per year to 11,047, the NHTSA said.

Markus Hockenson, senior vice president of retail operations at Palm Beach Gardens-based TBC Corp., said over or under-inflation of tires is the most common problem its sees when customers bring in their vehicles.

“If a tire is under-inflated, especially in summer with the heat buildup on the road and the friction between the road and the tire, it puts your tire in a more susceptible position to have a blowout or sidewall blowout,” Hockenson said.

Tires typically lose a pound of air per month, and if your tires are losing more than that, it could be due to a slow leak, Hockenson said.

“Especially in the summer travel season, before you go on a road trip, get your tires fully checked out,” Hockenson said.

More than half the vehicles on the road were found to have at least one under-inflated tire, according to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, and 85 percent of motorists do not know how to properly inflate their tires.

Tires should be checked when the car has not been driven recently, and they should be inflated to the pressure recommended by the vehicle manufacturer -- not the number molded into the tire sidewall. Recommended tire pressures can be found in the owner’s manual or on a sticker normally located on the driver’s door jamb.

The most accurate tread depth measurements are made with a simple tread depth gauge available at any parts store. Or you can use the traditional quarter and penny tests, AAA says.

Insert a quarter into a tread groove with the top of Washington’s head facing down. If the top of his head is not visible, your tires have at least 4/32 of an inch of tread and are fine for continued use. If you can see above the top of Washington’s head, it is time to start shopping for new tires. Take measurements in three locations across the tire’s tread: outer edge, center, and inside edge.

The penny test is done in the same way, except that if you can see above the top of Lincoln’s head your tires have less than 2/32 of an inch of tread, which is below the legal minimum and cause for immediate replacement. Tires worn to this level will also have visible wear indicators (thin bald strips) running from side to side across two or more tread segments.

The difference between 4/32 of an inch and 2/32 of an inch of tread depth might not seem like much, but based on research by the Tire Rack, America’s largest independent tire tester, the difference is significant. For example, a pickup truck traveling at 70 miles per hour that passes the penny test can take up to 499.5 feet to stop on wet pavement. However, the same truck has a stopping distance 122 feet shorter if it passes the quarter test instead.

The Tire Rack also reported that tires passing the quarter test exhibited better grip on the road under other driving conditions as well. Given these facts, AAA suggests you put that penny back in your piggy bank and instead use a quarter to check tire wear and determine when it is time for replacement.

If you need new tires, you’ll probably want to replace them with similar tires, Consumer Reports said in its 2016 Tires Buying Guide.

Comparison shopping can be done on websites such as tirekingdom.com, costco.com, sears.com and tirerack.com.

When getting quotes, don’t forget that the cost of the tire is just the beginning. Ask about fees for mounting, balancing having a valve stem installed and disposal fees for the old tires. There’s also sales tax.

“Today more than ever, most consumers are going to our website or online in general to educate themselves. It is not a purchase you make very frequently, and it is a big purchase,” Hockenson said.

For more information about tire safety, go to safercar.gov/tires/index.html

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