Avoid Danger this Summer

Hot fun in the summertime -- that's something Americans are fond of, but hot summer temperatures, heavily loaded vehicles and poorly maintained tires can spell disaster.  These three factors can combine to produce sudden tire failure, what is commonly referred to as a blowout, and that, in turn, can lead to loss of vehicle control.  The result could well be a tragic accident.

The vehicle experts at GM Goodwrench say poor maintenance of a vehicle's tires is a risk no motorist can afford. While many motorists rely on their tires without giving them a second (or even first) thought, maintaining tires can help avoid premature and/or uneven wear, poor performance and even the aforementioned blowouts.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates tire failures or blowouts contribute to more than 400 deaths and 10,000 injuries in the U.S. each year. Yet statistics show that some drivers don't follow the basic tire maintenance guidelines that can help prevent tire failures. According to the Car Care Council, 26 percent of the vehicles inspected at checkpoints during Car Care Month 2004 had low air pressure in one or more tires.

"Although today's tires are more technologically advanced than ever before, regular visual inspections and maintenance are critical to enabling tires to perform at their best," said Doug Herberger, GM North America vice president and general manager of service and parts operations.

Underinflation is the leading cause of tire failure, according to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, because underinflated tires create internal friction that forces them to work harder. This can be compounded by summer temperatures and vehicles that are heavily loaded.  Overloading creates excessive stresses and heat and can lead to tire failure and a crash.  Tiresafety, which offers a wide variety of tire safety tips, notes that with today's tires underinflation cannot be readily detected by the naked eye.  Instead, it's necessary to check tire pressure using an accurate gauge.

Changes in outdoor temperature can affect the rate at which a tire loses air. Typically, a tire loses one to two pounds of pressure per month, and even more in warm weather.

To help avoid underinflation, the Rubber Manufacturers Association recommends checking the air pressure in your tires at least once a month and before every long trip.  If they are underinflated, bring them up to the manufacturer's suggested tire pressure specified in the owner's manual.

Tires should be checked when they are cold, that is, before they have run for one mile. Experts also say you should never "bleed" or reduce air pressure when tires are hot.  It's normal for pressure to build up as a result of driving.

Remember, too, if your tire sustains a blowout, you can maintain control of your vehicle.  The key to this is avoiding panic.  For instance, don't slam on your brakes.  That can cause your car to swerve in the direction of the blowout. Instead, gently apply the brakes and gently guide the vehicle to a safe area off the road.

Driving Today Contributing Editor Luigi Fraschini writes frequently on safety-related issues.