TIRES AS CRITICAL COMPONENTS OF A VEHICLE Tires are undoubtedly the most critical safety component of a vehicle. Where the rubber meets ...
TIRES AS CRITICAL COMPONENTS OF A VEHICLE
Tires are undoubtedly the most critical safety component of a vehicle. Where the rubber meets the road affects traction, handling, steering, stability and braking. Because of this, a sudden tire failure can have serious consequences, leading to car accident, especially if it occurs at highway speeds in a vehicle with a high center of gravity.
It’s amazing that tires hold up as well as they do considering their vulnerability to road hazards. Many tires today are easily capable of going 60,000 to 80,000 miles or more, provided they are properly installed, maintained, aligned and inspected regularly.
With proper care and “normal” use, most tires will go the distance without a problem. But sometimes tires fail. Maybe it’s the installers fault, the manufacturer’s fault, the motorist’s fault or nobody’s fault. Even if the failure rate is only one in a million, a car accident lawyer will argue it is one failure too many for his client.
The purpose of this column is not to assign blame for tire failures but to examine some of the causes and ways tire dealers can minimize the risk of such failures.
TIRE FAILURES CAUSED BY UNDER-INFLATION
One of the most common causes of tire failure is under inflation. Tires that are underinflated experience excessive flexing in the sidewalls which causes them to run dangerously hot, especially at highway speeds during hot weather.
The buildup of heat can lead to tread separation or a sudden blowout. The underlying cause here may be lack of maintenance (not checking the inflation pressure of the tires regularly) or a slow leak that has allowed the tire to lose air.
The main responsibility for preventing this type of failure is squarely on the shoulders of the vehicle owner. But many people seldom check their tires. That’s why all 2008 and newer vehicles now have Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems to alert the driver if a tire is low.
Check tire inflation pressures when the tires are cold. Add air as needed to maintain the recommended pressure. If a tire is losing air, look and listen for air leaks. Spraying some soapy water on the tire tread and where the tire seats against the rim can help you locate the leak (look for bubbles). If you can’t find the leak, take your vehicle to a tire dealer so the problem can be diagnosed and repaired. Punctures, rim leaks and leaky valve stems can all cause a tire to lose air.
The tire dealer’s responsibility is to educate customers on the importance of maintaining proper tire inflation pressure. If a motorist does not know how to check their tires, the tire dealer should show them how. And if the motorist does not have a tire gauge, the dealer should sell him one and show him how to use it.
Technicians should also check tire inflation pressure anytime a vehicle is in for service, be it tire rotation, alignment, brake job or oil change.
TIRE FAILURES CAUSED BY OVER-INFLATION
Overinflated tires increase ride harshness and may increase a tire’s vulnerability to damage caused by potholes and curbs. Over inflation occurs when somebody adds air to a tire until it “looks full” or doesn’t use an accurate tire gauge. Or, the person may be attempting to reduce rolling resistance for better fuel economy by adding extra air. Never exceed the maximum pressure rating on the side of the tire. Always follow the OEM recommended inflation pressure for vehicle load and operating conditions.
TIRE FAILURES CAUSED BY OVER-LOADING
Overloading a vehicle or driving on tires that do not meet the load rating requirements for the application is asking for trouble. This is more of an issue with pickup trucks, vans and SUVs than it is with passenger cars, especially those that may be used as utility vehicles to haul building materials or other unusually heavy loads.
The best way to prevent this kind of failure is to check the load rating of the tires and make sure they match the application. If they do not, recommend upgrading to a tire with a higher load rating.
The load rating is a two-digit code that is just ahead of the tire speed rating on the tire sidewall. If the tire says P205/65R15 86H, the 86 is the tire rating code and the H is speed rating code.
Load index ratings for passenger car/light truck tires range from 71 up to 110. The higher the number, the more weight the tire can carry:
Sample Load Index Rating
71 = 761 lbs. (345 kg)
75 = 653 lbs. (387 kg)
80 = 992 lbs. (450 kg)
85 = 1135 lbs. (515 kg)
90 = 1323 lbs. (600 kg)
95 = 1521 lbs. (690 kg)
100 = 1764 lbs. (800 kg)
105 = 2039 lbs. (925 kg)
110 = 2337 lbs. (1060 kg)
TIRE FAILURES CAUSED BY IMPACT/ROAD HAZARD
Most motorists will try to avoid really bad potholes, debris on the road and curbs, but sometimes these hazards are unavoidable and cut, puncture or damage tires. If the damage does not cause the tire to go immediately flat, it may weaken the tire and cause it to fail later or under high speed/load/temperature conditions. Ultra low profile tires are especially vulnerable to sidewall damage when hitting curbs or potholes because of the narrow distance between the tread and rim.
The only way to prevent this kind of failure risk is to avoid driving altogether. Since that is not possible, the next best thing is to steer around road hazards whenever possible, and to inspect the tires for possible damage if the vehicle ran over something really nasty.
Technicians should make it a point of duty to always inspect tires for possible damage anytime a vehicle is in for service. If a tire has gone flat or punctured, it should be removed from the rim and carefully inspected. If damaged, the tire is unsafe and must be replaced.
TIRE FAILURES CAUSED BY STRUCTURAL DEFECTS
Here’s the category car accident lawyer loves best because it often leads huge liability settlements when defects can be proven. Manufacturer defects that result in poor adhesion between the tread and belts can result in tread separation and blowouts. Fortunately, such defects are rare and are usually covered by manufacturer warranty.
This risk can be reduced by inspecting new tires when they are first installed and inflated for obvious defects such as bulges, lumps, cracks, excessive burn-out, etc.
Tires should also be inspected for defects or damage anytime a vehicle is in for service. Any tire that is bulging, cracked, has missing chunks of rubber or similar problems are unsafe and should be replaced immediately.
Technicians should be warned that puncture repairs that do not plug the hole may allow moisture to penetrate the tread and reach the steel belts. This can lead to rusting and increase the risk of tread separation and tire failure.
TIRE FAILURES CAUSED BY EXCESSIVE SPEED
Driving at sustained high speed on tires that are not speed rated or are badly worn is just plain stupid, especially during hot weather or with an overloaded vehicle. Speed-rated tires have additional reinforcements and are better able to dissipate heat than ordinary tires and should always be used for these types of applications.
Make sure the speed rating on the tires match the vehicle requirements and your driving habits. If they do not, you should upgrade to an appropriate speed-rated tire.
The speed rating is on the tire sidewall, and is the last letter after the tire rating code. Example, the speed rating on a tire marked P205/65R15 86H is the letter H, which is 130 mph.
Tire Speed Rating
R = 106 mph (170 km/h)
S = 112 mph (180 km/h)
T = 118 mph (190 km/h)
U = 124 mph (200 km/h)
H = 130 mph (210 km/h)
V = 145 mph (240 km/h)
Z = 149 mph (240 km/h)
W = 168 mph (270 km/h)
Y = 186 mph (300 km/h)
TIRE FAILURES CAUSED BY INSTALLATION ERROR
Oops. Tires can be damaged if they are not mounted properly. Not using a bead lubricant when mounting a tire on a rim, stretching or tearing the bead because the tire was not correctly positioned on the rim or in the rim drop center can cause bead damage that may allow a tire to leak air or suffer a bead failure later on.
Overinflating a tire in an attempt to seat it or failing to fully seat the tire can also lead to problems when the tire is returned to service. We’ve even heard of instances where people have tried to mount a tire on the wrong sized rim (watch out for 16.5 and 15.5 inch rims).
The best way to avoid these kinds of mistakes is to make sure the technician who is mounting your tires knows how to use his tire mounting equipment. The tire changer machine must also be in good condition.
TIRE FAILURES CAUSED BY WEAR
All tires wear as they accumulate mileage, and eventually they wear out. Tires have wear bars (flat spots) in the tread grooves to visually indicate wear. If the tread is worn down so the wear bars are flush with the surrounding tread, the tire is worn out and needs to be replaced.
Tires with cords showing through the rubber are unsafe to drive on and on the verge of failure. Replace the tire without delay! The same advice goes for any tire that has bulges, deep cracks or the tread is separating from the casing.
TIRE FAILURES CAUSED BY OLD TIRES
Tires do not last forever, even if the tread shows little visible wear. As rubber ages, it loses elasticity, hardens and can become brittle. The reinforcing cords inside a tire can also deteriorate and lose strength. This increases the risk of a sudden tire failure and fatal car crashes. After six years, the risk of failure goes up sharply. Because of this, many safety experts say tires that are more than six years old have expired and should be replaced regardless of how much tread is left on the tires.
All tires have a date code stamped on the sidewall. You will find it in a little recessed rectangle on the side of the tire. The date code reveals the week the tire was manufactured, and the year.
Before 2000, the date code had three digits. Since 2000, it has had four. The first two digits are the week of the year (01 = the first week of January). The third digit (for tires made before 2000) is the year (1 = 1991). For most tires made after 2000, the third and fourth digits are the year (04 = 2004). In the photos below, the date code is 0806 and 0907. That means this tire was manufactured during the eighth week of 2006 and ninth week of 2007 respectively.
Check the date code on your tires, and if they are more than six years old you should probably replace them, especially if you do any high speed driving during hot weather or heavily load your vehicle. If your tires are more than 10 years old, they are a blowout waiting to happen. Don’t take unnecessary chances. Replace them now!
Swift AutoCare Mobile Service