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Maintaining Your Car Tires

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Proper tire care and safety is simple and easy. The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) recommends taking five minutes every month and before every long trip to check your tires, including the spare. Just remember to "Be Tire Smart - Play Your PART: Tire Pressure, Wheel Alignment, Tire Rotation, Tire Tread."

Your Tire Maintenance Checklist

  • Tire Pressure - Underinflation is the leading cause of tire failure. It results in unnecessary tire stress, irregular wear, loss of control and accidents. A tire can lose up to half of its air pressure and not appear to be flat!
  • Wheel Alignment - A bad jolt from hitting a curb or pothole can throw your front end out of alignment and damage your tires. Have a tire dealer check the alignment periodically to ensure that your car is properly aligned.
  • Tire Rotation - Regularly rotating your vehicle's tires will help you achieve more uniform wear. Unless your vehicle's owners manual has a specific recommendation, the guideline for tire rotation is approximately every 6,000 miles.
  • Tire Tread - Advanced and unusual wear can reduce the ability of tread to grip the road in adverse conditions. Visually check your tires for uneven wear, looking for high and low areas or unusually smooth areas. Also check for signs of damage.

How to Check Air Pressure

  • Refer to your vehicle's owners manual for the proper level of inflation; it may also be posted on the door post or in the glove box.
  • When you check the air pressure, make sure the tires are cool - meaning they are not hot from driving even a mile. (Note: If you have to drive a distance to get air, check and record the tire pressure first and add the appropriate air pressure when you get to the pump. It is normal for tires to heat up and the air pressure inside to go up as you drive. Never "bleed" or reduce air pressure when tires are hot.)
  • Remove the cap from the tire valve, firmly press a tire gauge onto the valve and note the reading.
  • Add air to achieve recommended air pressure.
  • If you overfill the tire, you can release air by pushing on the metal stem in the center of the valve with a fingernail or the tip of a pen. Then recheck the pressure with your tire gauge.
  • Replace the valve cap.
  • Repeat with each tire, including the spare (Note: Some spare tires require higher inflation pressure).

Why Check Your Alignment?

  • If your car's suspension system is out of alignment, your tires will wear unevenly and you may experience handling problems. Potholes and rough roads can contribute to problems with alignment.
  • Front-wheel drive vehicles, and those with independent rear suspension, require alignment of all four wheels.
  • Have a tire dealer check your alignment periodically as specified by your vehicle's owners manual or if handling problems develop, such as "pulling" or vibration.
  • Also have your tire balance checked periodically. An unbalanced tire and wheel assembly may result in irregular wear.

Why Rotate Your Tires?

  • Each tire on your car supports a different amount of weight; this unequal weight distribution causes your tires to wear at different rates. By rotating your tires, you can extend their useful life.
  • If your tires show uneven wear, ask your tire dealer to check for and correct any misalignment, imbalance or other mechanical problem involved before rotation.
  • Refer to your vehicle's owners manual for rotation recommendations. If no rotation period is specified, tires should be rotated approximately every 6,000 miles.
  • Sometimes front and rear tires use different pressures. After rotation, adjust individual tire air pressure to the figures recommended for each wheel position by the vehicle manufacturer.

How to Check Tire Tread

  • When the tread is worn down to 1/16 of an inch, tires must be replaced.
  • All tires have "wear bars," which are small, raised bars of rubber in the groove that indicate when tires are worn out. If your tread is worn down to the wear bars, it's time for a new tire.
  • A penny is a reliable tool to check tire tread.
  • Take a penny and put Abe's head into one of the grooves of the tire tread. If part of his head is covered by the tread, you're driving with the legal amount of tread.
  • If you can see all of Abe's head, it's time to replace the tire.
  • Visually check your tires for signs of uneven wear. You may have irregular tread wear if there are high and low areas or unusually smooth areas. Also make sure no nails or other objects are embedded in the tire. Consult your tire dealer as soon as possible if you see problems.

Tire and Auto Safety Facts

  • Number of tires on the road in America in 1999 on non-commercial vehicles (cars and light trucks, including SUVs): 822 million
  • Number of tires shipped in 1999: 316 million
  • Miles driven by non-commercial vehicles in 1998: 2.4 trillion
  • Occupant fatalities in 1999 in cars and light trucks: 35,806
  • Number of fatalities in 1999 that involved "tire related factors": 647, or 1.8 percent
  • Leading cause of tire failure: underinflation (reduces tread life and generates excessive heat due to increased flexing)
  • Recommended frequency for visual inspection and air pressure check of all four tires and the spare: once a month and before every long trip.

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