When sitting behind the wheel of a car, there are two things that most drivers want: to reach their destination, and to do so as safely as possible. This means having a car that is in good condition, and that includes its tires. Tires are a part of a car's foundation. Without them, a vehicle cannot move or otherwise do what it was designed to do. However, not just any tire is sufficient. When getting tires, they must be appropriate for the vehicle type and in good shape to support and transport it.
When buying tires, there are several things to consider prior to making a purchase, such as the type of vehicle, the road and weather conditions they will be used in, and one's driving style. Popular tire choices include all-season, all-terrain, winter, and performance tires. All-season tires are good for cars and minivans and are suitable for both wet and dry conditions, although they are best for areas that do not regularly go below freezing. Winter tires are designed to handle the cold conditions that are associated with the winter months and can handle freezing temperatures. Both all-season and winter tires are also available as performance tires. The performance version of these tires offers a bit more than the standard versions. For example, performance winter tires have improved grip, while performance all-season tires have a higher speed rating and offer better handling and braking. For people who drive trucks or SUVs, there are also truck versions available that can handle the heavier loads associated with these types of vehicles. All-terrain tires are also ideally suited for SUVs and trucks and are designed with a more rugged tread for both paved roads and mild off-road driving.
Providing one's car with the right auto care is also crucial. A part of that care is regularly inspecting and maintaining the tires to ensure that they are roadworthy and safe. People can do part of this important maintenance themselves with little more than their observational skills, a penny, and a tire pressure gauge. To start, inspect each tire for cracks, bulges, separation of tread, or anything that may be embedded in the tires. A puncture by a sharp object can cause a slow leak, even if it is still embedded. Look at the tread of the tires to ensure that the depth is adequate enough to provide the proper amount of traction, which is necessary for safe driving. To check wear, take a penny and insert it upside-down into the groove of the tread. When looking at the penny, the top of President Lincoln's head should not be visible. If it is visible, the tread is low. Tires also have built-in wear bars that will show when the tread is worn down enough to be replaced. If the tread seems to be wearing down on the outer edges of the tire, it could be a sign that the alignment of the car should be checked or that the tires should be rotated. Failure to properly inspect tires can result in a blow-out or hydroplaning or otherwise cause an accident that could result in serious injury to oneself or others.
While performing an auto maintenance check on the vehicle's tires, one of the most important steps is checking their inflation. Under-inflated tires are problematic in several ways: they reduce a vehicle's gas mileage, cause additional wear on the tires, and most importantly, they are one of the leading causes of accidents on the road. Because tires lose roughly one pound per square inch of pressure a month, it is crucial that they are checked at least monthly even if they appear well-inflated. To check tire pressure, start by checking the recommended pounds per square inch (PSI) that the manufacturer gives in the car's manual. If the vehicle manual cannot be located, the necessary information may also be found on a placard or sticker that is inside the door frame of most cars. The ideal time to check the pressure is in the mornings when the tires are cold. If this is not possible and the car has been driven, wait until they cool down, at least a half-hour, as pressure cannot accurately be checked on a hot tire. When ready, remove the valve cap, place it in a safe location, and firmly press the tire gauge to the stem of the valve. If using a digital gauge, a reading will show within a few minutes; with a standard gauge, a small bar will push out to display the results. Compare the information on the gauge to the manufacturer's recommended amount and add air as necessary. Recheck the pressure after adding air, and replace the cap when done.
For more information about tire safety, review the following resources:
- Types of Tire
- Tires Buying Guide
- How to Check Your Car's Tire Pressure and Inflate Tires
- How to Check Tire Pressure
- How to Check the Age of Your Tires (video)
- Maintaining Proper Tire Pressure
- Tire Maintenance Tips
- Tire Safety: Everything Rides on it
- Check Your Tire Tread: The Three-Step Penny Check (PDF)
- Safety in Ten: Tire Pressure and Wear (PDF)
- Tire Care Minute: The Penny Test (video)
- Study: Underinflated Tires a Widespread Hazard
- Study Finds Low Pressure a Factor in Many Crashes
- Many Drivers Have Underinflated Tires
- Keeping Your Vehicle in Shape
- Those Underinflated Tires Could Kill You
- Five Tips to Get the Most Out of Tires (and Stay Safe on the Road)
- The Spin on Tires and Fuel Economy
- Tips for Tire Safety (video)
- Maintaining Properly Inflated Tires
- How to Extend Tire Life by 5,000 Miles and Other Life-Saving Tire Tips
- Be Tire Wise: Save Money at the Pump, Increase Efficiency, and Protect Your Safety (PDF)
- Tires: Staying Safe on the Road
- Snow Tires vs. All-Season Tires
- Do I Really Need Winter Tires? Winter vs. All Season Tires
- Every Tire Has its Season
- Car and Driver: A Tire for All Seasons
- Tire Safety (PDF)
- Tire Pressure Awareness Campaign (PDF)
- Easy Ways to Ensure Your Tires Are Safe
- Check Tires Regularly for Safety Wear Clues
- How Safe Are Your Tires?