- The Washington Times - Friday, October 19, 2001

Strange as it might seem, tires are making important news lately. These hard-working yeomen of the automotive world have been thrust into the limelight. Experts and neophytes, coast to coast, now take note of their vehicle's tires instead of taking them for granted. And that's a good thing.

Tires, like so many other parts of your car or truck, all too often suffer from neglect. So, whatever type of vehicle you drive, and however and wherever you drive it, give its tires the requisite attention. They should repay you with extensive trouble-free service.

First check inflation pressure. To do this, you need an accurate and easy-to-read tire pressure gauge. These are available in an assortment of types at auto parts stores, discount department stores and specialty shops. Whether you opt for a battery-powered digital type, a pencil/plunger variety or a dial gauge, know how to use it correctly. Then check pressures regularly, preferably once a week.

To get an accurate pressure reading, it's important that the gauge be held firmly and squarely on the uncapped tire valve. If you hear air escaping as you hold the gauge on the valve, it's not on correctly. You should hear nothing. And since inflation pressure goes up with heat and tires get hotter as you drive on them, it's also important that you check the pressures before you drive the car that day, or after it's been sitting for several hours. Knowing the pressure of the air inside your tires is only half the task.

You'll find your vehicle maker's recommendation for proper inflation in one of several places. It may be listed in the owner's manual. If not, the manual will direct you to a decal or sticker somewhere on the vehicle: inside the glove compartment door, on the edge of one of the vehicle's doors, on a door frame or even on the underside of the trunk lid.

The recommended pressure may show different pressures for the front and rear tires, as well as for loaded or extended high-speed driving vs. normal driving. Also be aware that the pressures shown are the vehicle maker's recommendation and represent a careful balance of fuel economy, safety, ride comfort, tire wear and load-carrying capacity.

If you're willing to sacrifice some ride comfort in the name of improved economy and higher speed handling, you may run the tires with slightly higher pressures than the vehicle maker recommends. However, never exceed the maximum inflation pressure of a tire. That's embossed on the tire itself by the tire maker. You'll find it on the side of the tire, along with the tire's size, brand and government wear ratings.

Just as inflation pressure goes up with heat, it goes down with cold. So, if your tires have had the correct inflation pressure all summer, they may all be underinflated with the first cool days of autumn or colder days of winter. With each major swing in temperature, it's important to recheck your tires' pressure.

If any of your tires need air and you have to drive to a service station to get it, recheck the pressure at the station. Add the number of pounds of inflation that the tire was missing before you started, even if that means the tire will now have a pound or two more inflation than is recommended. Remember, the tire is now warmed. When it cools down again, the pressure should come back to where it's supposed to be.

When you perform your inflation pressure check, you should also give each tire a thorough once-over. Look at and feel both sidewalls the one you can see and the one away from you. Check it for bulges, cracks, missing chunks or any other physical damage. Anything out of the ordinary warrants having the tire checked by a pro before driving on it.

Check the tread on all the tires. Look for missing chunks or tears. Also look for foreign objects that could lead to a flat. Finally, check that there is still a safe amount of tread depth left on the tire. Bald bands running across the tread are built-in treadwear indicators. When you see them, it's time to replace the tire. You can also use a penny to quickly and accurately check treadwear. Insert the penny into the tread groove, Lincoln's head down. If you can see the top of his head above the rubber, it's time for a new tire.


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