Proper tire maintenance is an important safety function often neglected. The importance of properly maintaining your tires cannot be overemphasized. Remember, tires are the only contact between your vehicle and the road.
Under inflation is the leading cause of tire failure. A tire can be as much as 50% under inflated before it is visibly noticeable. Not only are under inflated tires more prone to damage and failure, but they can lead to higher fuel costs by as much as 3 to 5¢ per gallon.
The most important aspect of tire maintenance is proper inflation of your tires. 75% of drivers wash their cars monthly while only 1 out of 7 (14%) correctly checks tire pressure. The air pressure should be checked on all tires, including the spare, at least once a month.
Regular rotation of your tires will also help prevent irregular and premature wear. 40% of drivers have not rotated their tires within the recommended interval of at least 8,000 miles. A healthy habit many people follow is to rotate their tires with every oil change.
Repair is the final area of maintenance covered in this area. There are occasions where tires can be repaired and others where they should not be. When in doubt about reparability consult your tire professional.
Wet Weather Driving
April showers bring pretty flowers and dented fenders.
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics, nearly one million vehicle accidents a year occur in wet weather. Many of these rainy-day wrecks are caused by motorists failing to appreciate the vast difference between driving in wet and dry conditions, says Peter Cunningham, a championship winning race car driver who tours the U.S. for Bridgestone Firestone, teaching driving skills and discussing the importance of proper tires. "To drive safely on wet pavement, you have to recognize the demands that you, your vehicle and your tires face," Cunningham says. "It's very different than driving on dry pavement, but many motorists fail to change techniques and attention. That's when many wet weather accidents occur." Cunningham's wet weather driving tips include:
* Slow down. As your speed decreases, the tire footprint (the amount of the tire's tread contacting the road surface) increases, providing better traction. You also reduce the risk of hydroplaning should you run into deeper water puddled on the road.
* Maintain a safe distance. Even with a good wet weather tire, be prepared for longer stopping distances on wet pavement. Since other cars may not have proper tires for wet weather driving, be extra alert at stop signs and red lights.
* Choose tires carefully. Too many drivers buy a tire based on initial price or appearance. For optimum performance in the rain, select a tire with tread design and rubber compounds that provide enhanced wet weather driving capabilities.
* Properly maintain your tires. No tire can provide good wet traction once the tread is worn below 2/32nd's of an inch(1.6mm) tread depth. Check your tires regularly and replace them at the proper time. Also, maintain the proper air pressure in your tires; check your vehicle manufacturer handbook or the door jamb for the proper air pressure for your particular vehicle and tires.
* Go smoothly. When braking, accelerating or turning, avoid jerky, abrupt movements.
* Avoid hydroplaning. If you feel your vehicle starting to hydroplane (riding on the surface of the water), take your foot off the accelerator -- don't hit your brakes. If you have a manual transmission, push in the clutch and let the vehicle slow down until control is regained.
* Plan your braking. If you are entering a curve slow down and brake gently before you start to turn.
* Turn on your lights. In most states it's required by law. It may not help you see, but it will help other drivers see you.
* Check your wipers. Install new wiper blades at least once a year to ensure good vision.
Cunningham says his tips can be shortened to "T & T." "Think and Tires," he says. "Think about your driving and install good tires for wet weather. Once you've installed the tires, keep them inflated properly and replace them when tread-wear indicator bars show. Don't be shy about asking information from your tire dealer. Your safety -- and mine -- could depend on your tires and how you think."
Bridgestone Firestone worked with IMSA and SCCA championship winning race car driver Peter Cunningham (also a three-time national ice driving champion), to develop these tips for safe winter driving.
* During winter months, keep abreast of weather reports in your area. If snow or ice is predicted, make plans to leave early or arrive later. An alarm clock set to an earlier time can be a good friend in helping you avoid difficulties.
* If you can move a night trip to daylight hours, do so. Not only is visibility better, but if your vehicle is stalled, you are more likely to receive prompt assistance during the daytime.
* Prepare your vehicle for winter driving; use this checklist as a guideline:
1. Check windshield wiper blades to make sure they work properly. In some areas, snow blades are an effective alternative to conventional wiper blades.
2. Have your mechanic test the anti-freeze/coolant to provide the correct level of protection required in your driving area.
3. Make sure your tires are properly inflated. Underinflation can reduce the gripping action of tires because the tread will not meet the road surface as it was designed to do. Overinflation has the same effect.
4. If you live in areas where snow and ice are certainties of winter driving, don't depend on all-season tires. Instead, install winter tires. Winter tires are made of softer components and have a unique tread design that provide better traction and road-gripping abilities.
5. Keep your gas tank at least half-full. The extra volume can help reduce moisture problems within your fuel system. It also adds helpful weight to your vehicle.
6. In rear-wheel drive vehicles, extra weight in the trunk or truck bed may be helpful. Use care-- unsecured weight can shift while you are moving or if you have to stop suddenly. Bags of sand can provide weight and, if sprinkled on the ice, sand helps provide traction.
* Before you leave your driveway, scrape the ice and snow from every window and the exterior rear view mirrors, not just a small patch on the windshield. Don't forget to remove snow from headlights and brake lights.
* Try to remove ice and snow from your shoes before getting in your vehicle. As they melt, they create moisture build-up, causing windows to fog on the inside. You can reduce this fogging by turning the air recirculation switch to the OFF position. This brings in drier, fresh air. You can also run your air conditioner which serves as a dehumidifier for a few minutes.
* You and your passengers should all use safety belts, both lap and shoulder straps. Pull them snug to ensure they work properly.
* Adjust head rests. Rear-end collisions are common in winter driving and a properly-adjusted head rest can prevent or reduce neck injuries.
* Before you shift into gear, plan the best route to your destination. Avoid hills, high congestion areas and bridges if possible.
* Although your radio can provide helpful traffic information, it can also be a distraction for some drivers. Since driving is more a mental skill than a physical skill, you may want to keep it turned off.
* Don't use a cellular phone when driving on ice or snow. Even if you have a hands-free model, you need to concentrate on driving, not on a telephone conversation.
* Drive slowly and remember that posted speed limits identify the maximum speed allowed when weather conditions are ideal. Law enforcement agencies can write citations to motorists driving the posted speed limit if weather conditions warrant a slower speed.
* Be more alert to the actions of other drivers. Anticipate cars coming from side streets and put extra distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you. If someone is too close behind you, don't speed up; slow down or let them go around you.
* To make sure other drivers see you, always drive with your lights on. At night, in fog and heavy snow conditions, low beams may be more effective than high beams.
* KNOW YOUR CAR - KNOW YOUR BRAKES – In everyday driving situations cars with both ABS (Anti Lock Brakes) and traditional braking systems are basically identical. In an emergency stopping situation two distinctly different techniques are required. With traditional brakes the cadence, or pumping technique is effective, but the driver must lift off of the brake if steering is required to avoid an obstacle.
The beauty of ABS is pressing the brake pedal as hard as possible, holding it there and allowing the computer to pump the brakes while still maintaining steering effectiveness. Think of ABS as – Allows you to Brake and Steer. Remember that ABS can't perform miracles, if you feel ABS engaging during everyday driving - Slow Down, you are exceeding the reasonable speed for the conditions.
* Keep both hands on the wheel and keep the wheel pointed where you want your car to go. While it may sound overly simple, it could help you in a skid.
* While manual transmissions may provide greater control to assist with braking, be careful when using downshifting as a way to slow the vehicle. Gear changes, particularly abrupt ones, can upset a vehicle's balance and cause a skid to occur, especially in turns.
* Keep your vehicle stocked with simple emergency equipment in case you do get stalled or have an accident. Consider keeping these items in your vehicle:
A blanket or extra clothes
A small shovel
If you do have trouble, run the engine only briefly to run the heater, not continuously. Carbon monoxide can accumulate more easily in a non-moving vehicle. Severe engine damage may also occur if the motor runs for long periods when the vehicle is not in motion. Warming up a car prior to travel is a common practice, but most engines really don't need more than a minute at most to circulate oil to all internal parts. Check your vehicle's owner's manual for information about your engine.