Tire Safety: Smart Purchasing and Regular Maintenance

December 2, 2013 • Previsor

MEM has long advocated the use of seatbelts as a motor vehicle’s most important safety device. Arguably, an equally important safety device on a vehicle is the tires. Whether it be for business or personal use, nobody enjoys buying tires—they are expensive and take time to install and maintain. However, these four small patches of contact with the road are truly the first line of defense against accidents.

“Where the rubber meets the road” is more than a cliché used in business—the size, type, and condition of your tires makes a huge difference in how your vehicle performs, especially in inclement weather or emergency scenarios. Some of MEM’s most serious claims have involved single-vehicle motor accidents caused by tires which blew out due to neglectful condition or inappropriate use. Many of these claims resulted in fatalities and/or serious injury, all of which could have been avoided through regular inspection or replacement.

There are differences in the driving requirements of passenger cars, light trucks, and heavy-duty trucks. Accordingly, tires for these vehicles vary in purpose, particularly for vehicles used for towing or hauling heavy loads. A specialist can answer technical questions, but here are a few things to consider prior to purchase.

Buy the right tires for your vehicle

The manufacturer of your vehicle chose the size of its tires for a reason and many important components and systems were designed around the tires. Steering, braking, ride quality and handling can all be majorly impacted by changing the size of the tire on the vehicle. Different sized tires can fit improperly on your factory wheels causing irregular wear or a poor seal leading to issues with air pressure. Even with the correct size, there may also be slight variances among tire manufacturers as some may run big or run small in spite of the stated size. Going up or down a tire size can cause changes in speedometer and odometer readings. More importantly, different sized tires can adversely affect braking systems, particularly those which use electronically controlled anti-lock brakes (ABS), traction control and/or stability control systems. Although there is some safe degree of allowance in changing tire size, please refer to the manufacturer or a tire specialist before doing so.

Long wear, dry traction, wet or winter traction, ride comfort, low noise and low are all basic characteristics of tires. Consider carefully the type of environment for which your vehicle will be used. A vehicle used by a sales representative for interstate or urban travel will encounter much different conditions than a work truck used to carry workers and equipment to muddy worksites. Summer tires are generally made with a softer compound focused on handling and road holding at the expense of longevity and inclement weather performance. Likewise, snow and mud tires provide inclement weather traction at the expense of longevity and reduced road noise. Before purchasing tires, do your research. Many retailer websites have consumer feedback which can be filtered to show reviews of tires used on your particular vehicle.

Passenger vehicle tires are not trailer tires

There is an even bigger difference in the tires used on trailers versus those used on passenger vehicles. A vehicle used to tow a trailer is a leader, which means traction is the primary purpose for its tires—traction in acceleration, pulling the load, handling and in braking. In addition, tires for passenger vehicles whether they be cars or trucks must produce a comfortable ride and thus allow for varying degrees of flex in the sidewalls.

Trailers, on the other hand, are followers designed to be pulled by a lead vehicle and carry heavy loads. This means that traction and ride comfort are not design considerations. Trailer tires are designed with stiffer sidewalls to carry heavy loads and reduce trailer sway. Although there are some tires which can be used in light trucks or trailers, consider carefully how much weight you plan to carry on the trailer. The number of axels on the trailer also make a difference in the type of tire. In addition, trailer tires generally require significantly higher air pressures to operate safely.

Replacement and maintenance

After purchasing tires, it is your responsibility to inspect the tires regularly for wear. Most manufacturers recommend replacing tires every 6 to 10 years regardless of mileage or condition due to the degradation of the rubber compound. Towing heavy loads, driving on rough roads or environmental conditions (sun exposure, inclement weather, etc.) may reduce safe tire life significantly. Rotating your tires and having your vehicle aligned regularly will greatly increase the longevity of your tires.

Safety checklist

Regardless of the type of vehicle you drive, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends the following as a safety checklist:

  • Check tire pressure regularly (at least once a month), including the spare,
  • Inspect tires for uneven wear patterns on the tread, cracks, foreign objects or other signs of wear or trauma. Remove bits of glass and other foreign objects wedged in the tread,
  • Make sure your tire valves have valve caps,
  • Check tire pressure before going on a long trip,
  • Do not overload your vehicle. Check the tire information placard or owner’s manual for the maximum recommended load for the vehicle, and
  • If you are towing a trailer, remember that some of the weight of the loaded trailer is transferred to the towing vehicle.
December 2, 2013
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