How Hot Pavement and Soaring Temperatures Can Cause Dangerous Tire Damage
Tire maintenance is important all year long, but summer introduces special conditions that subject your vehicle’s tires to extraordinary stress, making summertime tire care a critical part of safe driving.
Summer heat and hot pavement subject tires to extra stress and pressure, causing tire treads to degrade more rapidly than in cooler seasons. Tires with excessively worn treads and underinflated tires are especially prone to fail in the hotter months.
Friction against scorching-hot pavement and heat buildup inside the tire dramatically accelerate the breakdown of tire rubber. Such degradation is particularly dangerous in aged and underinflated tires, boosting the chances of potentially deadly blowouts, sidewall blowouts, and tread separations.
One Tire Failure’s Deadly Consequences
A simple failure such as tread separation can have catastrophic consequences. This type of tire failure triggered a horrific crash on I-95 in Jupiter, Florida, a couple years ago. In one tragic moment, Heidi Solis Perez, a 33-year-old mother of five, lost four of her children, ages 5, 7, 14, and 17 when a tread separation caused her to lose control of her Mercury Villager, crash into a concrete barrier, and re-enter the highway where the vehicle was struck by another vehicle. The August 20 crash also killed Ms. Solis’ live-in boyfriend and a cousin. Ms. Solis and her 11-year-old daughter survived with serious injuries.
Tire failures were to blame for 733 traffic deaths in 2016, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Tire blowouts and other failures caused by aging or improperly maintained tires can happen anywhere, anytime, but they are more prevalent in the summer months, during the day, while the vehicle is running at highway speeds.
That means people living in the Sunbelt states from southern California to Florida have a wider window and higher chance for heat-related tire malfunctions.
Tires typically lose a pound of air pressure per month, which means that drivers who don’t routinely check their tire pressure are likely driving around on underinflated tires.
According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, more than half the vehicles on the road are driving around with at least one under-inflated tire, and 85 percent of motorists don’t know how to properly inflate their tires.
Make sure your tires are safe by following these tips:
- Check tire pressure when the tires haven’t been driven in at least a couple of hours. Pressure should be adjusted to the PSI (pounds per square inch) recommended by the vehicle manufacturer instead of the number displayed on the tire’s sidewall. The automaker’s recommended tire pressure can be found on a sticker located inside the driver-side door jamb or in the owner’s manual.
- Many tire-safety experts recommend doing the “penny test” on your tires to gauge the condition of the treads by sticking a penny into a tread groove with Lincoln’s head first. If Lincoln’s entire head is visible, then the tread is worn beyond the legal minimum. Be sure to measure the tire treads in three locations: outer edge, center, and inside edge.
- Some organizations, such as AAA, recommend skipping the penny test and using a quarter instead to measure the depth of your tires’ treads. If the top of Washington’s head not visible, then your tires still have enough tread. If the top of his head is visible, then it’s time to replace the tires. The depth of your tire treads substantially impacts your vehicle’s stopping distance and its ability to travel safely on wet surfaces.
- Air pressure in a tire changes one PSI for every 10 degrees of temperature change – another reason why it’s important to check tire pressure at least monthly. Low tire pressure diminishes steering and braking control and leads to poor gas mileage, excessive tire wear, and the possibility of a tire failure.
- Incorrect tire pressure can also throw your vehicle out of alignment and cause excessive wearing of tires. Have your vehicle’s tires rotated every 6,000 miles This will keep your tires from degrading prematurely and give you a smoother, safer ride.
- Refrain from overloading your vehicle. Too much weight can generate excessive heat inside your tires and added external stress, especially on hot summer surfaces. Your vehicle’s load-bearing limitations should be easy to find in the owner’s manual or on the vehicle information placard inside the driver-side door.
- Be sure to register your tires with the manufacturer. Federal law requires tire distributors and dealers to provide customers with tire-registration forms that will allow them to be alerted in the case of a safety defect or tire recall.