Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Safe driving isn’t accomplished by a driver alone. Safe driving is the result of a symbiotic relationship between a conscientious driver and a well-maintained car.
No matter how defensively you drive, car accidents can happen when your car does not respond the way you intend it to. And one of the reasons a car may not respond to your directions (given via the steering wheel) is because of poorly maintained tires and/or wheel alignment.
Tire tread is not Michelin’s or Goodyear’s artistic expressions cast in vulcanized rubber. Tire tread exists for a purpose: to keep your tires in contact with the road. Tire tread aids this purpose by channeling water away from the tread to prevent hydroplaning, allowing you to maintain control of your car’s direction on slick roads.
Tire tread cannot effectively channel water if it is 2/32” or less deep. In most states, 2/32” deep tread is considered a “bald tire,” which, according to rules of the road, must be changed to maintain a vehicle that is safe to drive. However, recentstrongly advocates for changing tires when tread is 4/32” deep because there is already significant loss of traction, especially at higher speeds.
You can measure your tire’s tread depth using coins:
- Using a penny: if the top of the Lincoln Memorial is covered (the “tails” side) –> ≥6/32” tread.
- Using a quarter: if part of George Washington’s head is covered (the “heads” side upside down) –> ≥4/32” tread.
- Using a penny: if part of Abraham Lincoln’s head is covered (the “heads” side upside down) –> ≥2/32” tread.
But measuring your own tire’s tread depth isn’t always enough to ensure safe tires. Tires can wear on the inside edge where you can’t see the wear. Tire tread can be worn down so far as to show the steel belt in places. At this point, you’re dangerously close to a blowout, which nearly eliminates your ability to control your car on the road.
Inside edge tread wear is usually the result of poor wheel alignment, and can only be checked when your car is up on a lift. If you’re having any routine maintenance done, ask the technician to visually inspect the tires to check for signs of unbalanced wear.
To ensure that adequately tread tires respond to steering wheel commands, your tires must be properly inflated as well. An underinflated tire has more surface area in contact with the road at any given time, which sounds like it would improve traction, but it doesn’t.
Because more of the tire surface is in contact with the road, it turns more slowly, sometimes noticeably slower than all the other tires, resulting in a pull in the direction of the underinflated tire. This pull may cause drifting within (or beyond) your lane.
Proper tire inflation is marked on each vehicle. A panel indicated adequate psi is affixed inside the driver’s side door. However, because roads are hotter in the summer and air expands as temperature rises, inflating your tires 1-2 pounds less than the indicated psi will prevent over inflation.
Properly maintained tires aren’t the only factor in maintaining control of your car’s direction while you’re at the helm. Tires are bolted to wheels. If those wheels aren’t exactly straight, your car may drift to the left or right, and/or your tires may wear unevenly, potentially causing “invisible” wear on the inside edge.
Wheel alignment is very sensitive; if wheel bases are minute fractions of an inch off center, it can create problems. Quanz Advanced Auto Care uses Chief® alignment technology, which uses lasers to measure wheel alignment. A computerized system then adjusts the wheel bases as needed. With this technology, wheel alignment is precise, measured to the ten thousandths of an inch!
To ensure your safety, you should regularly check your tires and wheel alignment to detect any issues before they become safety hazards.
- Tire tread wear will vary on road conditions, driving patterns (e.g. quick vs. smooth stops and starts) and number of miles covered. Check your tire tread at least once a quarter. This will also give you the opportunity to spot any small holes or leaks that can be patched.
- Tire inflation should be checked once a month. Invest in a tire gauge, and find a gas station with an air compressor. The entire process takes less than 5 minutes.
- Wheel alignment should be checked once a year and after any event that may throw your alignment—hitting a speed bump too hard, driving on poorly maintained roads, an accident, etc.
Safety starts from the bottom up. Call Quanz Advanced Auto Care for help with any issue where your car’s rubber meets the road!