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Did you know that tire failure causes an average of 11,000 crashes in the United States annually? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), tire failures also cause about 200 deaths each year. There’s no doubt that tire failures are dangerous. Fortunately, there are three warning signs of tire failure you can watch for. If you pay attention to your tires and driving, you can avoid experiencing tire failure and the dangerous crashes that often come with it.
Anatomy of a tire
Before you learn about tire failure and the warning signs, here’s a quick lesson on the anatomy of a tire. Knowing the basic parts of a tire will help you understand what goes wrong when tire failure occurs and how you can avoid it.
- Bead: secures the tire to the wheel
- Belts: provides stability to the tread
- Body ply: provides structure and strength to the tire “skeleton”
- Inner liner: helps retain tire pressure
- Sidewall: covers body ply, provides abrasion, scuff, and weathering resistance
- Tread: “where the rubber meets the road,” provides grip and abrasion resistance for traction and treadwear
What are the types of tire failure?
Generally, there are three types of tire failure.
The first type of tire failure, run-soft failure, happens when a tire is slowly and steadily underinflated. The lack of air in the tire causes the temperature inside the tire to rise. When the temperature in the tire gets too high, it melts the polyester cords in the tire’s bead. The beads of the tire secure the tire to the wheel, so when they melt, it can cause a blowout to the side of the tire.
The second type of tire failure, highway-speed failure, occurs when the tires are regularly pushed past their operating speed limit. Driving faster than what the tires are built to handle on a consistent basis can cause the belts within the tire to separate. The belts provide stability to the tread. When the belts separate, the tread can get cracked or even rip off in entire strips.
Fatigue failure, the last type of tire failure, is often an aging problem. Over time, oxidation weakens tires. Even if a set of tires rarely see the road, they will eventually need to be replaced due to oxidation and other chemical aging.
Three warning signs of tire failure
Now that you know about the different types of tire failure, here are some warning signs to look out for. If you notice any of these signs during a tire inspection or while you’re driving, take your car to the shop immediately.
One of the easiest warning signs of tire failure to spot is sidewall damage. Keep an eye out for cuts, cracking, bulging, and blisters. These types of damage are big red flags that your tire needs to be replaced before it fails and possibly causes you to crash.
Cracking and Cuts
As mentioned earlier, tires tend to dry out over time, causing cracks in the rubber. This is a sign that the tires are not as flexible as they used to be. Eventually, a tire with cracks will need to be replaced. If the cracks get too large, they can cause the tire to split, making the tire unusable.
Foreign objects most often cause cuts. The sidewalls can be cut on accident by incidents like hitting a curb or running over a sharp object. However, other cuts in the sidewall could arise from acts of vandalism or tire defects.
Bubbles and Bulges
If you notice any bubbles or bulges in your tires, that’s a good sign that your tires are weakening and need to be replaced. The bubbles and bulges can also signal problems inside the tire itself, like low tire pressure and air that has moved between the tire lining and the outer rubber.
Watching for bubbles, bulges, cuts, and cracks is very important, as they can all lead to a tire blowout on the road. If you live in climates that get either very hot or very cold, pay extra attention to the condition of your tires. The weather can have serious effects on tire pressure and flexibility over time.
Excessive or Uneven Tread Wear
Since the tread is where the tire comes into contact with the road, it wears down over time. Tread depth is measured in 32nds of an inch, and most new tires come with a tread depth of 10/32” or 11/32”. Because the tread provides traction on the road, tires with low tread depth need to be replaced. To make sure you’re safe on the road, replace your tires when the tread depth reaches 2/32”. However, if the roads where you live are often wet or icy, you should replace them sooner.
In addition, the tread can sometimes wear down unevenly. Uneven tread wear can be caused by several things: improper inflation, misaligned wheels, damaged tires, or problems with suspension. Replacing wheels that have uneven tread is important because uneven tread can cause more damage to your wheels and prevent you from having the traction you need on the road.
How can I check the tread depth on my tires?
There are a few ways you can gauge the depth of the tread on your tires. Some commonly known ones are the penny test and the quarter test. In addition, you can buy a tread wear gauge at most auto part stores.
The penny test will tell you if you’ve hit the 2/32” threshold. Simply take a penny and turn it so that the head of the coin is facing down. Then insert the coin into the tread ribs on the tire. If the top of Lincoln’s head disappears between the ribs of the tire, you don’t need to replace them yet. However, if you can still see his whole head, it’s time to get a replacement.
The quarter test is very similar to the penny test. One important difference is that the quarter test will tell you if your tires are below 4/32”. To perform the quarter test, take the quarter and insert it head down into the ribs of the tire. If you can see the top of Washington’s head, then the tread has worn down past 4/32”, and you may need to replace your tires.
Another helpful tip to check for a visible tread wear indicator bar. Most tires manufactured today have wear indicators built in at 2/32”. If the tread on your tire is even with the visible tread wear indicator bar, then it’s most likely time to get a replacement.
Important note: When you test your tires, remember to check all tires in multiple spots!
Excessive or Strange Vibration
While some vibration is normal, especially if you’re driving on rough or bumpy roads, there are times when the vibration you experience in a vehicle seems strange. If the tires or entire car is shaking violently or just in a strange way, you should stop and check your tires.
Several issues, such as alignment and suspension problems, can contribute to strange vibrations. The shaking could also be a problem with the wheel itself. For example, it could be unbalanced, misaligned, or bent. Whatever the cause, it has the potential to cause more damage to your car, the tires, or the wheels, so make sure to get it checked out.
How can I prevent tire failure?
Tire failure is dangerous, but you can take steps to prevent it. In fact, most of the steps are easy and only take a few minutes. If done regularly, these tips will greatly diminish the chances of experiencing a tire failure.
Check tire pressure
Checking your tire pressure is one of the best things you can do to make sure you don’t experience a tire failure. In fact, research shows that 90% of blowouts are a result of underinflation. When you’re on the road, your tires should be aired up all the way and ready to support the weight of the vehicle.
Having proper alignment on your car is important for many reasons. For example, it gives you better control of your vehicle and reduces the wear on your tires. When you take your car to the shop, ask the mechanic to make sure that the wheels are aligned correctly.
Perform regular tire maintenance
Performing tire maintenance regularly will also help you avoid tire failure. If you check your tire pressure, tread depth, and sidewalls often, you’ll be sure to notice if something is off or when it’s time to replace your tires. Consistently paying attention to the condition of your tires is one of the best ways to prevent tire failure.
Avoid road hazards
No matter how much we take care of our tires, there are often objects in the road that can cause damage to tires. While you’re driving, be sure to look two to three car spaces ahead, noting if there is any debris in the road. If you have time and space, move over to avoid damaging your tires.
Minimize heat and cold exposure
If you live in an area where it gets very hot or very cold, you may notice adverse effects on your car tires. If possible, try to protect your car from extreme weather by parking it in a garage.
The Carlson Law Firm Can Help
As a personal injury law firm, we help many people who have been in car crashes. However, we also want to make sure people know as much as possible about being safe on the road. If you’ve been injured in a car crash, you need someone on your side that cares about you.
Our personal injury lawyers have been fighting for clients for over 45 years because we care about helping people in some of their most uncertain times. If you’re in an uncertain time, you don’t have to feel alone. Contact a personal injury lawyer today for a free consultation. We care, and we can help.