Tire Safety 101: How to Inspect Your Car's Tires

Date: Sep 09, 2016

When was the last time that you inspected your car's tires? The truth is that most drivers rarely, if ever, look at their tires. In doing so (or not doing so), they place themselves at risk a greater risk of collision.

According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study cited by Consumer Reports, driving with your tires just 25% overinflated increases the risk of an accident by 300%. And driving with your tires 25% underinflated increases the risk of your engine overheating, which can lead to a whole new world of problems.

Checking Tire Pressure

Before checking your tires' air pressure, you'll first need to determine the automaker's recommended inflation. Measured in pounds per square inch (PSI), you can find this information either in your vehicle's manual or driver's-side door jamb decal. Do NOT use the PSI listed on the tire itself, as this is the maximum amount of air pressure it can safely hold.

Because cars weigh different amounts, there's no single "universal" PSI for tires. A heavy car, for instance, will likely require tires with more air pressure than a lighter car. The increased weight places additional stress on the tires, so the automaker recommends a higher PSI inflation to counteract this phenomenon.

There are three different tools that you can use to check your tires' air pressure: a digital PSI reader, a dial PSI reader, and a pen PSI reader. Although it's more expensive, the digital ones offer the most accurate reading. Some gas stations and convenience stores may also have on-site pressure gauges, although they are prone to failure due to heavy use.

To check your tires' air pressure, remove twist off the valve cap and place the gauge over the stem, holding in firmly in place so no air escapes. Now, look at the gauge to identify your tire's PSI, cross-referencing this number with your automaker's recommended PSI. If your tires are underinflated, allow some of the air to escape by removing the gauge. If they are overinflated, increase the PSI to the automaker's recommended level by using an air machine.

Checking Tread Wear

In addition to checking tire pressure, drivers should also check tread wear on a regular basis. These grooves play an important role in the function of a vehicle's tires, improving traction while also reducing the risk of hydroplaning in wet conditions. Furthermore, driving a car with worn-out tires could result in a hefty fine, as most states have laws requiring vehicles on the road to have a minimum amount of tread on their tires.

Most auto experts recommend checking tread wear at least once a month, more frequently if you commute long distances to and from work. You can check your tire's tread with a special tread-depth tool (sold at most auto parts stores). Alternatively, you can use a penny to check your tire's tread.

For the penny test, simply place a penny head-down into the tread. Can you see Abe's head? If you can see any piece or even an outline of Abraham Lincoln's head from the penny, your tires lack the necessary amount of tread for safe use.

Tires depend on good tread condition depth to maintain traction and to shed water on wet roads. The tread should be checked at least once a month for excessive and uneven wear. 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. Abe's head stops at the 2/32" mark, meaning if you can see any of his head your tires have less than 2/32" of tread.

For the best rates on home, personal and auto insurance, contact us today. AAA New Jersey is the Garden State's premier insurance provider.

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