Checking tire pressure regularly has long been advice given to every new driver. It’s such a simple thing to do, yet many Bellingham residents forget to do it. I hope this study will inspire you to make it a priority: a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) discovered that vehicles driving on tires underinflated by more than 25 percent are three times more likely to be involved in a crash related to tire problems than vehicles with proper inflation. And tires underinflated up to 25 percent run the risk of overheating, leading to failure, and at the very least adversely affecting handling and tread life.

Add rainy roads or other poor weather conditions to the mix, and you dramatically increase your risk of a wreck. 

How do poor tires lead to wrecks, you may wonder. 

When a tire blows, drivers must do their best to prevent a rollover or spin out of control. Yet even the best-trained driver may not be able to handle the forces involved. Many drivers don’t prepare for this circumstance, and can freeze up or do something they shouldn’t, such as slam on the brakes. Please brush up on some tips on how to handle a blown tire.

Here is a list of no-nos regarding tire safety and maintenance:

  • Bald or under-inflated spare tires
  • Installing the wrong size tires for the vehicle
  • Tires that are over or under-inflated
  • Poorly recapped tire tread
  • Defective or badly designed tires
  • Tire pressure

Nowadays cars have gotten smarter in that there are maintenance warning systems mandated since 2008 to alert drivers to tire issues. However, as we all know, electronic systems can fail, so it’s a safe bet to continue to manually check tire pressure each month. 

There’s a stark contrast between accident rates and tire tread, the NHTSA study also found. Not surprisingly, the balder the tires, the higher the likelihood of a crash. And what a difference: accident rates for tires with ample tread depth were at 2.4 percent compared to 26 percent for worn out tires (0 – 2 /32″ depth). The more tire between you and the road, the more separation between potholes, nails, or other objects that can damage the tire.  Drivers who try to extend their tires’ lives beyond the penny rule may be betting against those variables no one can control.

In sum, a few stitches in time can save your hide. Here are a few simple steps to take to err on the side of tire safety:

  • Keep a tire pressure gauge handy in your car, and check your tire pressure monthly. Re-inflate to manufacturer recommended levels.
  • Check for tire wear. Once your tires have reached 4/32″ tread depth it is time to start shopping for new tires before they wear down any further.
  • Have your tires rotated every 10,000 miles so that the front and back set wear evenly.

I’d like to leave you with another bite of food for thought. It’s not just about accident prevention, but conservation. Properly inflated tires save gas. You may remember back a few years when former President Barack Obama said that we wouldn’t have to drill the US for oil if every American driver drove on properly inflated tires. From this article fact-checking that quote from Popular Mechanics

How many cars have underinflated tires? A Department of Transportation study dating back to 2001 says that 60 to 80 percent of cars on the road are running tires underinflated by as much as 10 percent. Worse yet, they say that 20 to 50 percent of them are driving with tires down in pressure by as much as 20 percent. Want more? Well, 10 to 30 percent of these cars have tires with pressure as low as 30 percent of the recommended pressure. That’s bad, folks. And it means we’re costing ourselves much more than a few miles per gallon. It means we’re wearing out a lot of tires prematurely. And more important, it means there are quite a few cars on the road that have less-than-optimal control on wet pavement, under heavy braking or during evasive maneuvers. So underinflated tires may be causing untold accidents.

That’s a lot of tires. Here’s how it impacts oil usage:

According to the Department of Energy, 1.25 billion gallons annually are burned up due to underinflated tires. That’s gas that wouldn’t be needed to power cars that drove sluggishly compared to having proper tire inflation. That giant number is still only 1% of America’s 142 billion gallon total yearly consumption. But green-lighting offshore drilling along American shores would only increase domestic production of crude oil by about… 1%. 

Further reading:

Lots of Rain? Don’t Hydroplane. Tips for Driving on Wet Roads


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