Much of the country has gotten their first snow of the season. As ice and snow coated the roads, it’s important to make sure your tires are in top shape.
Tires sometimes get overlooked – until they go flat – and some drivers wait too long before replacing them. Bald tires are dangerous to drive on, especially in the winter. Cold temperatures have a profound impact on tires and can decrease their effectiveness at gripping the pavement.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 738 people died nationwide in 2017 in tire-related crashes. Tires are considered unsafe when treads wear down to two-thirty-seconds of an inch and should be replaced, the federal agency states.
People don’t necessarily realize how bad their tires are until the weather changes. Potholes and road damage from plows can also damage tires.
Tire inflation and tread depth are the two key components to keep in mind in the winter. When it’s cold, it’s best to add a little more air to a tire to offset any loss of pressure. Every time the temperature drops 10 degrees, a tire can lose about 1 pound per square inch of air.
As tires begin to wear down, they start to lose their ability to grip the pavement. The biting edges in the tread blocks don’t have as much grip, increasing the distance it takes to safely stop a vehicle.
In tests performed by Consumer Reports in 2018, snow traction declined by 14.5% and stopping distances in wet conditions increased by 7% using tires with half of the tread depth left. Tires with half of its tread depth left showed an 8% loss in hydroplaning resistance, as well, the organization found.
An easy way to check if your tires have appropriate tread depth is to place a penny in the tread with Abraham Lincoln’s head upside down. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, it’s time to replace the tire. Tires also have indicators – raised sections that run in between the treads – that indicate wear. If a tread is level with the indicator, replacement is necessary.
When winter comes, if you can afford it, it might be best to invest in a set of winter tires that drivers can swap for their all-weather ones when the weather begins to change. When temperatures drop to 45 degrees or lower, standard all-weather tires begin to lose pliability and traction as the rubber starts to harden.
In 2017, Consumer Reports found snow tires provide better grip in snow and stop on icy surfaces. However, some winter tires can be noisy and leave scratch marks on driveways.
Investing in winter tires may not be possible for everyone, so there are ways to make sure your all-weather tires remain viable and safe. Drivers should check air pressure once a month and rotate tires at least every 6,000 miles to ensure they wear evenly. Once tires are 6 years old, they should be replaced, regardless of the tread wear, he added, because they will begin to break down and deteriorate.
Most tire shops carry various options for any vehicle make and model, so drivers should be sure to shop around for the solution that works best for them. Prices will vary depending on size and the brand.
Of course, regardless of whether you’re driving on all-weather tires or snow tires this winter, it’s also important to remember to slow down and be cautious when the weather turns ugly with snow and ice.