- The Washington Times - Friday, November 17, 2000

ATLANTA The weather for our fall car care check-over has been cooperating so far. Plan to spend about a half-hour or so finishing up the outside stuff on your vehicle's checklist.

Time for tires. Write L/F (for left front), R/F, L/R, R/R and S (spare) on your list. Because the spare is the easiest, check it first. Make sure it is inflated to the pressure stamped on the side of the tire. (Temporary spare tires are inflated to a higher pressure, typically 50 to 60 psi, than the tires on the ground.)

Check your jack, making sure all of the parts are with it and that it works correctly. If it is at all rusted or binds, lubricate it with some spray lubricant like WD40 and operate it a couple of times. While you're at it, this would be a good time for a "how to change a flat tire" lesson.

The instructions are in your vehicle's owners manual or sometimes printed on a sticker on the underside of spare tire cover.

Let's look at each "on the ground" tires, one at a time. Tire pressure should be checked "cold," after the vehicle has been sitting for several hours. The proper tire inflation pressure varies for every vehicle. This information can be found in the owners manual or usually on the white sticker on the driver's or passenger's door or doorjamb B pillar, for you technical folks.

The tire pressure stamped on the side of the tire is the maximum pressure, not the correct pressure for your vehicle. If neither of these specifications can be found, 32 psi is a good "rule of thumb" for tire wear and handling. Trucks, including many SUVs, run higher inflation pressures than cars, so 32 psi doesn't work for them.

If your tire pressure is low, write down the reading. This is important because by the time you drive to the gas station for air, the heat generated inside the tire will increase the pressure reading. At the gas station, don't worry about the "hot" reading. Add enough air to bring it to the proper inflation pressure to compensate for the cold reading you took earlier.

For instance, if your tires are supposed to have 32 psi and your reading was 28 psi, you will need to add 4 psi of air. If the hot reading is 30 psi, you will need to inflate the tire to 34 psi.

If the tire is wearing evenly, all of the little lines and crevices across the tread should look about the same. Use a penny as a tread-depth gauge. Stick the top of Lincoln's head into one of the grooves. If you can see the top of his hair, the tire is worn past its safety limit and should be replaced.

If there is more wear on both outer edges of each tire or if the edges are good but the middle of the tread is worn, you need to adjust the tire pressure. If the tire is only wearing on one side or in spots, put a check mark in the "get repaired" column for a possible wheel alignment.

After you inspect each tire, compare them with each other. Do all of the tread designs (lines and crevices) have the same general pattern? Look at the sides of the tires. Are they all made by the same company? There will be a tire-size series of numbers such as 195/70R/14. The two front tires should match each other in tread design and size, as should the two rears.

The front and the rears don't have to match as long as you keep them together when you rotate them. The only time I've seen a problem with different fronts and rears is on four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Mixed-up tire sizes and tread designs can cause steering, handling and braking problems that get worse in bad weather. As a tire wears, the diameter of the tire gets smaller, which is why tires should always be replaced in pairs and mounted on either the front or rear at the same time.

Which brings me to brakes. You can take advantage of this mild autumn weather and go for a ride with the windows down. Listen for any noises coming from the wheels both when the vehicle is rolling and when you apply the brakes. Listen for squealing, screeching or grating or grinding. Do you feel any vibration in the brake pedal or the steering wheel when you step on the pedal? Does the vehicle pull right or left when you brake? Come to a stop on an incline, put the gear selector in N and apply the parking brake. Does it keep the vehicle from rolling when you use it? If not, make a note in the "get repaired" column.

Even if everything on your checklist looks good, I suggest making an appointment with your car doctor and getting the other incidentals such as the battery, fluids, belts and hoses checked. If you marked any "need repair" items on the checklist, now is the time to attend to them.

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