Talking tire safety

Dear Street Smarts, Q: Good points [in Monday's column on wet weather driving tips]. One of the most critical points was missed -- tires. Tires without sufficient tread or tires that are too old and have become hard will easily hydroplane or skid on wet roads and water. I see vehicles everywhere with worn out tires. Thanks, Steven Taty, Santa Cruz A: You are so right. Here's more on the subject of tire safety from AAA, found at Make sure your tires have adequate air pressure. Over-inflated tires ride rough and wear prematurely wear in the center of their tread while under-inflated tires decrease fuel economy, impact handling, prematurely wear out at the edge of their tread, and can overheat and shred at highway speeds. Once monthly, check tire pressure. Tires normally lose about a pound of pressure each month. Also know that during the cold months, tires lose a pound of pressure for every 10 degree change in temperature. Conversely, they gain one pound of pressure in warm weather. Always follow the inflation instructions in your vehicle owner's manual or the tire label on the driver's door jamb or in the glove box. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, under-inflated tires contribute to more than 600 fatalities and 33,000 injuries annually. Plus, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates those sagging tires waste more than 1 billion gallons of gasoline annually. As for tread wear, those grooves come in handy during wet and snowy weather. Check tread depth by sticking a quarter upside down into a tire groove. If you can see above Washington’s head, it's time to buy new tires. Worn tires with little tread are more likely to hydroplane on wet pavement or lose traction in the snow, resulting in a loss of braking ability and steering control. What's more, uneven or excessive tread wear may require suspension repair or wheel alignment, work that extends the life of tires. Finally, proper tire balancing and regular rotation prevent the aforementioned uneven wear, helping you get the most out of your tires by maximizing their life and providing a safer driving experience. If unsafe vibrations arise from the steering or chassis, have a mechanic check the tire balance. Drivers should rotate their tires as often as their vehicle owner’s manual specifies. If tires wear unevenly, or the vehicle “pulls” to the right or left, it's time to have the suspension inspected and the wheels aligned.
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