Tired Out

By Jerry Garrett

August 15, 2008 5 min read


How to keep your tires from going bust

Jerry Garrett

Creators News Service

Every major highway is littered with sections of tread from failed tires. Ever wonder where they came from?

Some people think this comes from recapped tires. Recapping used to be a popular way to recycle old tires. New treads were stamped onto worn casings, and voila! A new tire was born. Though not as common these days, there are still tire-recappers in business. However, the separated tire treads do not come from their products.

"They aren't ours," Martin Carver, the former president of a tire-recapping company, once said. "Recaps don't separate. They are from under-inflated tires."

Ed Jacobs, a former spokesman for a major tire company, agreed. "Under-inflation causes tires to fail," he said.

Typically what happens is that under-inflation puts extra pressure on a tire's sidewalls -- the kind of pressure the tires were not engineered to withstand. Driven for long periods at high speeds without proper inflation, the sidewalls overheat. If they are driven like that for long enough, the overheating causes the layers within the sidewalls to rip apart and then split open.

What happens next is called a catastrophic tread delamination. The tread peels off and flies away. Sometimes, even though the tire may not entirely deflate, the whole section of tread will depart. Other time just a section of it breaks loose. Either way, you are likely to struggle to maintain control of your car. It also creates a dangerous situation for other motorists who might hit your debris.

What can be done to prevent this? The quick answer is to merely check your tires for proper inflation pressure and make sure they are inflated to the right point.

Every vehicle comes with a recommendation from its manufacturer for the right pressure for the tires to be installed on it. These pressures apply to not only the tires that came with your car, but also any aftermarket tires you might subsequently install (unless you dramatically change the size of tire and wheel that came with it) as your vehicle piles up mileage and tires wear out.

Each tire has a set of numbers stamped on its sidewall that indicate a range of pressures under which that tire can be operated safely. These are not to be confused with the recommended inflation pressures that the manufacturers provide. Sometimes there can be a big disparity between tire manufacturers' numbers and those from the vehicle manufacturer. In such cases, it is usually best to follow the vehicle manufacturer's recommendations; at least you are more likely to retain warranty coverage, if applicable.

In recent times, with gas prices being so high, people seeking to improve the fuel economy of their vehicles have been inflating their tires to the maximum allowable pressure. The reasoning is that a harder tire has less rolling resistance and will allow the vehicle to will get better mileage. This can be a bad strategy because it may cost you more money in the long run on vehicle repairs and early replacement of prematurely worn-out tires.

Over-inflated tires are likely to wear out the center of their treads prematurely. The full surface of the tire also may not make contact with the road, causing a loss in traction and road holding ability.

Michelin suggests that harder tires also make the vehicle ride rougher. Rougher riding characteristics can cause suspension parts to wear out before they should and require repair and or replacement.

Tires can often be expected to lose up to a pound of pressure each month, so they definitely need to be checked regularly. Owners of vehicles with spare tires should also make an effort to add air to their spare at least twice a year -- no matter how inconvenient or difficult it might be to get to where the spare is hidden.

If you are on a long trip and can't find a tire gauge, here's a trick for deciding whether or not your tires are properly inflated besides merely looking at them to see if they are round: just touch the tread.

Even after a long, hot day of driving, the tires should be cool enough to lay your fingers across the tread. Touch all four. If one is hotter than the others, it's an indication that there's an imbalance that needs to be corrected. Yes, all four might be hot. Be safe and check them all.

Properly inflated tires not only save gasoline. They make your car last longer, have fewer repair issues and operate optimally.

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