Hot Tires: An Overlooked Safety Hazard
Noble McIntyre on July 9, 2013
With the temperatures reaching into triple digits right now, of course you’re taking care of yourself and your family. Did you know, though, that hot weather can cause a dangerous condition for your vehicle’s tires? If the weather is hot and your tires are either over- or under-inflated, the heat from the road can cause tire failure when a vehicle is being driven at highway speed. This is actually more common than you may think; the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that tire failure causes about 11,000 crashes each year from tread separations, blowouts, bald and under-inflated tires.
Tire pressure is the key to a well-performing tire. When a tire is under-inflated, it generates more heat because of excessive sidewall flexing (which has an adverse effect on handling and fuel economy). When the weather is hot, it exacerbates heat build-up and further weakens your tires. You may be riding comfortably inside your air-conditioned car on a 90-degree day, but the surface temperature on the highway beneath you could be in excess of 150 degrees. Likewise, if your tires are overinflated, when they get hotter, the pressure gets higher. If the pressure is too high, they will break apart.
Here are a few tips for keeping your tires properly maintained:
- Check inflation pressure. If your tires are cold, hot or have been sitting more than three hours, check each tire (and your spare).
- Find the correct pressure for your tires. Usually, there is a sticker or marking inside the driver’s door jamb on the car (if not, check your owner’s manual) that will tell you the appropriate tire pressure. Be sure that your tires’ pressure is congruous with the manufacturer’s specifications.
- Check your tires once a month. Changes in temperature, even just overnight, can cause tires to lose pressure. Get in the habit of checking them regularly. Sometimes, a tire can have a tiny puncture that causes a slow air leak, so if you find that one tire in particular has lower air pressure, have it checked at your service garage.
- Have a good tire gauge in your vehicle at all times.
- Replace your tires on time. Your vehicle’s owner’s manual will tell you the recommended life span for your tires; some have a life span of six years, others as many as ten. Be sure to replace all of your tires (including your spare) by the time you reach the end of their recommended performance time.
- Check the vehicle’s treadwear. Tires with tread that is worn down to 2/32 of an inch are not safe and need to be replaced. Tires have treadwear indicators, which are raised sections that are spaced throughout the bottom of tread grooves. If they appear, it means it’s time to get new tires. Another trick: the penny test. Place a penny in your tire tread with Lincoln’s head upside down and facing you. If the top of Lincoln’s head is visible, you have less than 2/32 of an inch of tread on your tire.
Remember, just like you keep your body running properly on hot days by staying hydrated and out of the blazing sun, you also have to be mindful of your vehicle’s performance. You pay some extra attention to staying cool and healthy, so be sure that you’re going to be safe on the road, too.