Your tires are the most critical piece of safety equipment on your vehicle. Of course, for most people, when they think about car safety, the first things that come to mind are usually seatbelts or airbags. However, as your tires are the only point of contact between your vehicle and the road, you might say a lot is riding on their ability to function correctly.
No matter how much acceleration or stopping power you can generate, if the treads on your rubber are unable to grip the road properly, it’s not going to matter. And while tire safety is essential year-round, when it comes to an Ottawa winter, the danger of worn-out tires becomes amplified a hundredfold. Good tire tread can be the difference between getting out of a snowdrift or spending the night in the cold waiting for a towtruck. It can also be the deciding factor in whether a patch of black ice sends your car slamming into another vehicle or you’re able to stop in time.
According to recent studies, an estimated 11,000 car crashes per year are caused by tire failure—accidents that are caused by worn-out tire tread, under-inflated tires, and blowouts.
Your tire’s importance in keeping you and your family safe is why Sipan tire specialists check every vehicle’s tread-depth and rubber wear that passes through our shop.
However, because keeping your tires in good repair is vital to road safety, we recommend that every car owner regularly inspect their wheels and ask a professional if something doesn’t seem right.
Inspecting Your Tires
As a general rule, we suggest drivers have a quick look at their wheels before they get in their car every single time. We know you’re not going to thoroughly inspect the tread before every drive. Still, a brief walk around the vehicle to ensure all four tires look fully inflated and that there aren’t any apparent signs of distress to the rubber is a great way to help ensure passenger safety.
When it comes to having a closer look at the wheels overall, we suggest that motorists should do an assessment about once a month. Primarily, the monthly inspection is to check that the tires are holding their air pressure. However, since you’re already focusing on the tires, you might as well tick off a few more inspection items, such as tread wear and sidewall integrity.
Checking Your Tire Pressure
While air pressure may not seem like a big deal, unevenly inflated tires can actually hinder your ability to control the vehicle. And, if left unchecked, it can cause your treads to wear unevenly, meaning you will have to purchase all new tires much sooner than you ever should have. The good news is that checking your air pressure easy to do. In fact, the most common reason we hear from customers for uneven air pressure is simply that they forgot to check. A great solution is to put a reminder in your smartphone calendar. However, it may also help set a regular day to do the inspection, such as the first of the month.
Start by confirming the correct PSI for your tires. This information is specific to each vehicle and can usually be found inside the driver’s door jamb or the owner’s manual. The PSI number provided has been safety-tested by the manufacturer for your car. It’s essential to keep in mind that while your tires will have a pressure range stamped on them, you need to follow the carmaker’s operating pressure.
Once you confirm the correct PSI, checking the pressure is a pretty straightforward task. Here is our step by step guide to doing it yourself.
Checking Your Tire Pressure
- Tire Pressure should be checked “cold” before you’ve driven the car or about three hours after to ensure an accurate read
- Remove the valve cap from the valve stem – (If the cap is missing, be sure to pick up a replacement to prevent debris from building up in the connector)
- Press the head of your pressure gauge onto the end of the valve stem to get a reading (it’s typical to hear air hissing when you press the gauge)
- As soon as you get a number (either on the digital screen or on the stick of a pencil-style tire gauge), remove the device from the stem
- If the pressure is too high, use the nob on the back of the gauge to press the pin into the valve stem and release some air, and repeat the test
- If the tire is underinflated, take the vehicle to the nearest gas station or auto garage, add some air and repeat the test
Checking your Tire Tread
As soon as you drive off with a new set of tires, their tread begins gradually wearing down. Eventually, after several years of driving, the rubber will be depleted and unable to provide proper traction, and it will be time to purchase replacements. For safe vehicle operation, it’s recommended that once your tire tread has worn down to 50 percent of its original height, that it’s time for new rubber.
At Sipan Tire and Rim, we regularly monitor the available tread on our client’s tires using precision gauges. However, we still think it’s a good idea for all drivers to keep an eye on their tread wear. Not only will this make you a more informed motorist, but it will also help alert you to any new damage that might make your wheels unsafe. An easy, very Canadian way to check your tire’s remaining lifespan is to measure the tread depth with a toonie.
To begin, place a Toonie, standing upright, in the tire tread. If it touches the bear’s paws or higher, your tires are probably new. If the rubber only covers the silver outer ring, your tires are approximately 50 percent worn, and it’s time to get new ones. And if the tread reaches only halfway into the letters (‘CANADA’ or ‘DOLLARS’), your tires are very unsafe and should be replaced immediately.
Examining the Sidewalls
Very often, if there is substantial damage to the sidewall of a tire, you’ll be able to recognize it during a quick walk around the vehicle. First, you want to look for any bulges, cracking, scrapes, or gouges that may have formed in the rubber. While moderate cracking will happen with regular wear, bulges or gashes indicate imminent tire failure and suggest that the tire is unsafe. You should consult a tire specialist before attempting to drive on it, even to bring it to the shop.
The more challenging part of inspecting the sidewalls is identifying small nicks or hard-to-see slashes that can quickly become driving hazards almost unexpectedly. To help identify any of these potential problems, run the palm of your hand along the sidewall. Try to feel for invisible scratches or imperfections that may not be obvious from just looking at the surface. Usually, these small imperfections won’t be an immediate danger. However, it’s worth making a note of them to see if they expand over time. Be sure to let your tire specialist know about any small issues at your next service appointment.
Checking your Wheel Alignment
While you may be able to see a very pronounced misalignment of your wheels by looking at them, you will probably have to rely on a few other methods of inspection to check this yourself. However, having proper alignment will help your tires last longer, your vehicle drive smoother, and ultimately keep your car going in the direction you want it to. And it’s worth noting that poor alignment can shorten a tire’s lifespan by thousands of kilometres and jeopardize critical steering and suspension parts. All of which can get quite expensive if left unchecked.
To examine the alignment, take your car to a quiet street or empty parking lot with a flat surface. Position the steering wheel straight, and slowly drive forward with your hands hovering just off the wheel. If you notice the vehicle pull to either the left or the right, your wheels may be out of alignment. Of course, if you find that you need to have your steering wheel turned off centre for the car to go straight, you have a more pronounced misalignment and should make a service appointment to get that addressed.
Most mechanics will recommend that you want to have an alignment service performed approximately every 10,000 kilometres or about every second oil change. However, you may find your vehicle can go even longer.
The Power of Proactive Tire Inspection
Regular service appointments with a professional technician are essential to ensure that your vehicle is safe and performing at its best. However, with a little education, drivers can help ensure that small problems are caught and addressed before they become significant issues. At Sipan Tire and Rims, our tire specialists love to talk shop. If you have questions about something you’ve found during a routine tire inspection or need a little extra guidance about what to look for, we’re here to help. Make an appointment today.