Your On-Road Connection

When you think about it -- and sadly not too many people do -- your tires do a whole lot of work for you. They drive your car forward; they stop it; they hold it to the road, and they accomplish all this with so little muss and fuss over so many long miles that many people just plain forget about them. But the fact of the matter is, you shouldn't forget about them. Providing them with a little care could mean the difference between a tire that does the job for you over the long haul or one that lets you down just when you need it the most.

Consider this fact: the only thing that holds your vehicle to the road is the combination of four patches of synthetic rubber, each about the size of a grapefruit. That's not a lot of material to hold a two-ton machine in place, much less to help it go and stop when you want it to.

To find out how you should care for your tires, we enlisted the help of an expert. Phil Pasci is Executive Director of Consumer Tire Brand Marketing at Bridgestone/Firestone, so you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who knows more about the tire business than he does. And he heartily agrees that the relatively small contact patches that connect your car to the road are keys to driving safely.

"When we go around the country educating our dealers on tire safety, the analogy we use is an 8 x 11-inch piece of paper, because that's something everyone is familiar with," he said. "That's the sum-total of all four contact patches that are on the road, and that is why it is critical that you check your tires' air pressure frequently and examine your tires for unusual wear."

Regular tire maintenance doesn't have to take a lot of time. In fact, it shouldn't take you more than 10 minutes each month, but failure to keep an eye on your tires can lead to serious consequences.

"The thing that is most critical is air pressure in your tires," Pasci told Driving Today. "You should check air pressure at least every month, and while you're washing your car, bend down and take a look at your tires to see that there are no irregularities."

Then next time you wash your car, Pasci recommends that you run your hand across the tread of each tire. What you should feel is an even surface indicative of nice, even wear. If there are big bumps or dips in the tread surface or if it seems as if the tread depth on one side of the tire is much shallower than on the other side, you could have a wheel balance, shock absorber, or wheel alignment problem that is causing uneven wear. If you note a problem like this, drive your car to a reputable tire dealer who can advise you about the solution to the problem. Most often the solution is simple and not very expensive - especially compared to the consequences of a tire failure.

In addition to checking air pressure at manufacturer-suggested levels and manual tire checks each month, Pasci says that you can keep you tires working properly with a little old-fashioned elbow grease.

"To keep your tires looking good, there's nothing better than good old soap and water and a good scrub brush," he said.

He warns against using some products that promise to make the tire look shiny and black, because he says many such products will actually remove vital antioxidants and waxes that help protect the tire from the environment. When a tire has been run and then cooled, those components "bloom" to the surface, and if they are removed by chemicals it means a protective layer is being removed. Instead, he suggests a light scrubbing with soap and water rather than a heavy scrubbing that will remove the protective coating that forms after use.

Tires are so well-engineered and built these days that 40,000, 50,000 or even 60,000 miles on a tire is not uncommon. Bridgestone/Firestone now offers tires that are warranted to an incredible 80,000 miles. But just because tires are good, doesn't mean they can be ignored. Take care of your tires, and you can be sure they'll take care of you.

Jack R. Nerad is managing editor of Driving Today and the co-host of the syndicated radio program "America on the Road" heard on more than 300 stations nationwide.