Tires: Your first line of defense On the Road Weekly Publication

Safe Winter Driving starts with your tires

For most people, their car is their lifeblood. It might be tempting to neglect regular maintenance tasks in the name of saving money, but that could cost you even more in the long run. And with winter starting today, keeping your car in good shape is even more important.

Maintaining your tires is the most important thing you can do to keep your car on the road. But according to the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), an alarming number of consumers don't pay attention to their tires, and the results can be costly -- and dangerous. Underinflated tires pose a serious safety risk:

* The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) acknowledges that underinflated tires contribute to many accidents throughout the year

* Fifty percent of vehicles have at least one underinflated tire. Only 9 percent have four properly inflated tires.

But tire care is simple. Continental Tire recommends getting in the habit of taking five minutes every month to check your tires, including the spare.

"Your tires are the only part of your vehicle that actually touch the road when you drive," says Joerg Burfien, director of R & D at Continental Tire. "It only takes a couple of minutes of maintenance each month to keep your tires working at their best, and the resulting safety benefits far outweigh the time it takes."

The RMA's "PART" campaign gives consumers an easy way to remember the basics of monthly tire maintenance:

Pressure: According to the RMA, under inflation is a tire's no. 1 enemy. It results in unnecessary tire stress, irregular wear, loss of control, and accidents. A tire can lose up to half of its air pressure and not appear to be flat.

And the air pressure listed on the side of your tire isn't the correct air pressure for your vehicle. That number is the maximum air pressure for the tire. The correct tire pressure can be found in the car's owner manual, on the gas tank lid, on the driver's side door edge, and on the door post.

Alignment: A bad jolt from hitting a curb or pothole can throw your front end out of alignment and damage your tires. Misalignment of wheels in the front or rear can cause uneven and rapid treadwear.

Rotation: Regularly rotating your vehicle's tires will help achieve more uniform wear. Unless your vehicle owner's manual has a specific recommendation, the guideline for tire rotation is approximately every 6,000-8,000 miles.

Tread: To prevent hydroplaning and skidding, your tires must have proper tread depth. The minimum tread depth is 2/32 of an inch (1.6 mm).

The easiest way to check your tread depth is the penny test. Take a penny and place it in the tread of your tire. If part of Lincoln's head is covered by the tread, your tires have enough tread. If you can see Lincoln's entire head, you should buy a new tire.

In regions with harsh winters, Continental recommends that drivers switch to winter tires when the temperature dips below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Colder weather brings on a whole new set of driving challenges --slush, ice and hard-packed snow -- and once the temperature drops below that 45-degree mark, so does an all-season tire's ability to grip the road. 

Many cars in the U.S. have all-season tires, but they just aren't built to hold the road in the same way that winter tires do. Winter tires provide safety and control in cold weather as well as snow and ice, because they are specifically engineered to deliver a 25 to 50 percent increase in traction over all-season radials. That's enough added traction and braking power to avoid a severe weather-related accident, Burfien says.

-Metro Creative Connection


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