Okay, be honest: how often do you check the air pressure in the tires on your vehicle?
Do you forget to do it at the gas pumps when you fill up your car? Are you too busy in the morning to check it before you leave for work or school? Are you too wiped out when you come home from a busy day to pull out your tire gauge? Hey, it’s really not that big of a deal, right?
Driving around with underinflated tires can increase your chances of getting involved in an auto accident — and the statistics bear that out. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration studied crash data from between and 2005 and 2007, and determined that vehicles with low tire pressure were three times likelier to be involved in accidents where tire-related problems were a factor than vehicles with properly-inflated tires. According to the Society of Automotive Engineers, some 260,000 accidents occur each year that involve improper tire pressure, and more than 10,000 people are injured in these incidents. Take note, auto insurance companies.
The auto industry addressed this problem in 2007 by equipping every new vehicle with tire pressure monitoring features. This electronic system illuminates a light on the vehicle’s dashboard when it detects tire pressure that is more than 25% too low. So that means that the problem of underinflated tires has been eliminated, right?
Another NHTSA study reveals that 43% of vehicles equipped with tire pressure monitoring systems still have tires which are not correctly inflated. For cars and trucks without these systems, that figure jumps to 57%. And when drivers ignore this problem, they boost the odds of getting into an accident because of the adverse effects that underinflated tires have on driving, such as:
- Poor handling. Drivers have to turn the wheel further or react more quickly in order to achieve the handling they get from properly inflated tires. This hindrance can lead to accidents on curves or turns.
- Increased braking distances. You remember those braking distances at different speeds that you learned about in driver’s education? Those numbers increase with underinflated tires — which could lead to more rear-end collisions.
- Stretched tread. When a tire has low air pressure, the additional stress can pull the rubber away from the reinforcing materials underneath. This can lead to complete tire failure, which in turn can cause an accident.
That’s why it’s vital to inflate the tires to levels that are recommended by the manufacturers. This information can be found on the inside of the driver’s side door jamb. However, keep in mind that these figures are for “cold” tires — i.e., tires which have not been driving on the roads for a few hours. Therefore, the best time to check tire pressure is in the morning before you leave your home … and then inflate them accordingly.
Also, don’t wait until your tires “look low” before you fill them up. Research has shown that drivers can’t easily tell the difference between a properly-inflated tire and one which is 25% low on air. So set up a fixed schedule to inspect your tires (every month, every gas fill-up, etc.).
The hazards of underinflated tires should not be ignored or downplayed. Even if your vehicle has a tire pressure monitoring system, you should still dig out the tire gauge every so often and check air pressure manually. It only takes a few minutes, but if it can help you avoid potential dangers later, it’s worth it — right?