Since tires move your car where you want to go and they’re the only thing between you and the road, it’s a good idea to pay careful attention to their condition. Worn tires pose a more serious risk than many drivers realize.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 11,000 tire-related crashes occur each year. A NHTSA’s Crash Causation Survey found that one out of 11 crashes (9 percent) were tire-related accidents.
Risks of driving on worn tires
When the condition of your tires is compromised, you face these five serious problems.
1. Lack of traction. Worn tires lack sufficient tread to do a good job of gripping the road. This is especially a problem when conditions are snowy or icy. When your car’s tires are unable to maintain good traction, they’re much more likely to be affected by road conditions. For instance, during wet weather, you run the risk of hydroplaning.
2. Delayed stopping. When your tires are worn, it’s more likely that your car will take longer to stop. This is especially a problem in wet weather. In high-traffic conditions, even a few seconds delay in stopping can lead to an accident.
3. Risk of blowouts. Tires with thin treads are more likely to experience a blowout, which can be an unnerving experience. New tires with tread tend to withstand puncture from items such as nails and glass, but thinner tires are especially vulnerable.
4. Loss of air pressure. Low-tread tires tend to lose air faster than tires with good tread. When air pressure is low, the underinflated tires have difficulty gripping the road, even when it’s dry. This makes steering harder and braking may be delayed. Underinflated tires can also negatively affect your car’s fuel efficiency.
5. Excess heat buildup. When your tires run across the road, this creates friction that leads to heat buildup—especially in warm weather. Tire tread is designed to help cool down the tires, because it allows for air circulation. When tire tread is low, there is little air flow. Excess heat on tires can cause unsafe handling and blowouts.
Detecting worn tires
The NHTSA recommends inspecting your tires monthly. Check the tire pressure to ensure proper inflation levels, according to manufacturer recommendations. Next, check the tire tread with a tread-depth gauge, which tells you how many inches of tread is left on your tires. Also look for visible indicator bars. These are rubber bars built into tires that show wear. If you can clearly see the bars, the tire is unsafe to drive on.
Other signs of dangerous tires include cracks in the sidewalls and bulges and blisters.
When to replace tires
How often you need to replace your tires depends on various factors. These include whether you drive on the highway or in the city, how much you drive and whether your car is subject to extreme weather conditions.
Extend the life of your car’s tires by having them rotated regularly. This helps the tread wear evenly. Rotating is generally recommended every six months or 7,500 miles.
Driving on low-tread tires is a gamble that puts you and other drivers at risk. Preventing tire-related accidents is possible when you check your tires regularly and replace when necessary.