You probably don’t think about your tires much — if you do there might be some reason for concern — but your tires are important to your safety and your wallet. Because of that you should avoid the “tire killers” that infect our roadways like insidious bacteria. To get the best information on what to look out for we consulted our favorite tire expert, Woody Rogers, product information specialist at Tire Rack. Here are the notorious “tire killers” with Rogers’ commentary.
Tire Killer No. 1 Under-inflation
Under-inflation is the most common cause of tire failure. As Rogers told us, “It’s not from increased contact area with the road that creates the overheating. Under-inflation causes excessive deflection of the sidewall. Excessive deflection is when the sidewall bends farther than it is designed to, over-stressing and over-stretching the rubber and fabric in the sidewall of the tire. Excessive heat is generated in this area in the process, which only accelerates the separation of rubber and fabric and breakdown of the materials.”
That’s a bad situation, and it can occur quickly if you drive on a flat or nearly flat tire. That’s a no-brainer, but similar damage can occur more slowly by driving for an extended period while the tire is just “low on air.” Think microwave versus Crockpot – fast or slow, the negative result of under-inflation is the same.
“When you discover you’ve been driving around on a tire that is low on air, just adding more air won’t necessarily fix the situation,” Rogers said. “Once a tire’s sidewall has been damaged by excessive deflection it has been compromised and should be replaced. One visual tell-tale sign your tire has been damaged by excessive deflection is a narrow band of wear on the sidewall just above the middle, usually right through the upper half of the tire brand lettering.”
Add air, people. Most places it’s free.
Tire Killer No. 2 Punctures
Yes, something poking a hole in your tire will obviously kill it. Try to avoid construction zones and drive slowly and carefully in places where you see debris on the road surface. Many punctures in the tread are repairable, but if the puncture causes under-inflation (see above) you might be victim of excessive deflection that will damage the sidewall and render the tire useless.
“A proper tread-area repair always includes dismounting the tire from the wheel,” Rogers told us. “This is to properly inspect inside and out for any signs of excessive deflection and to determine the full extent of the puncture injury and to properly patch and plug the hole.”
Plug-only repairs done from the outside of the tire while it is still mounted on the wheel are not endorsed by any tire manufacturer. Those “repairs” can still allow air to escape or enable internal separation within the tire to occur. Once a tire has been improperly repaired it cannot later be re-repaired to proper standards.
Tire Killer No. 3 Misalignment
Improper wheel alignment is not only bad for your tires, it’s dangerous, because it will negatively affect the handling of your vehicle. A surefire way to tell if your wheel alignment is off is unusual wear on your tires.
“Misalignment of the vehicle’s suspension is the fast way to wear out or ruin your tires, like throwing money out the window as you drive,” Rogers said. “It only takes fractions of a degree out of spec and a few thousand miles to dramatically increase tire wear.”
How do wheels get out of alignment? A big culprit is the seemingly ever-present pothole. Rogers, who pays attention to such things, believes this past winter was especially bad for causing potholes. You can bang into a pothole, and the results of the alignment issues won’t show up until later.
“The misalignment amount that can cause a problem for your tires is often too small to see with your eyes,” Rogers told DT. “It takes a keen eye to spot irregular wear early on. Tires are engineered to wear fairly evenly across the face of the tread. So look for uneven wear patterns, most often visible as more wear on one shoulder of the tire than the rest.”
You may see or be able to feel uneven wear as you slide your hand across the face of the tread. If the rubber feels like a sawtooth pattern or fish scales that are smoother in one direction than the other, you probably have an alignment problem. Think your car has had a hard winter? It is probably worth the small investment to have your car’s alignment checked sooner rather than later.
Tire Killer No. 4 Impact
Speedbumps are designed to induce you to slow down by making faster speeds uncomfortable. But did you know hitting them too fast could damage your tires? Similarly, hitting a curb can cause damage to your tire’s sidewall and cause other damage. Then, of course, there are other road debris like rocks, boulders or random stuff that has fallen out of other people’s vehicles. The damage hitting something causes may not be obvious until a later, often more inconvenient time. Check for any blisters or bubbles and after any big impact you may want to consider having your tire and wheel inspected.
“The single biggest impact killer of tires is a pothole,” Rogers told us. “Next worst is the sharp ‘lip’ where a road crew stopped grinding the road in preparation for re-paving. Both of these road hazards have one thing in common – a sharp raised edge your tire ‘crashes’ into.”
In either instance the tire’s flexible sidewall is pinched between that immoveable edge of pavement and the lip of the wheel with the weight and momentum of your vehicle behind it. Rogers said it is much like how a boxer’s cheek can split open when the skin gets pinched between the opponent’s boxing glove and the cheekbone behind. Something has to give and the softest kink in the middle is where damage occurs.
Now that you know what the tire killers are, we’re betting you can do a better job of avoiding them. Stay safe out there. We want you to come back.