Archive for the ‘flat tire’ Tag

It’s Pothole Season: You May Be In For A Bumpy Ride

As the weather gets warmer, motorists will see more potholes on the roadways and avoiding them can be a real challenge. If you hit a pothole, the non-profit Car Care Council recommends watching for three warning signs to determine if your vehicle has been damaged.

Loss of control, swaying when making routine turns, bottoming out on city streets or bouncing excessively on rough roads are indicators that the steering and suspension may have been damaged. The steering and suspension are key safety-related systems. Together, they largely determine your car’s ride and handling.

Pulling in one direction, instead of maintaining a straight path, and uneven tire wear, are symptoms of an alignment problem. Proper wheel alignment is important for the lifespan of tires and helps ensure safe handling.

Low tire pressure, bulges or blisters on the sidewalls, or dents in the wheel rim will be visible and should be checked out as soon as possible, as tires are the critical connection between your car and the road.

If you feel your vehicle has suffered damage from hitting a pothole, it is wise to have it inspected by a professional service technician. Potholes occur when water permeates the pavement – usually through a crack – and softens the soil beneath it, creating a depression in the surface of the street. Many potholes appear during winter and spring months because of freeze-thaw cycles. Potholes can also be prevalent in areas with excessive rainfall and flooding.

“Pothole season may last longer these days as many municipalities do not have the resources to fill potholes as fast as they should, leaving drivers to dodge them well into late spring and summer,” said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. “Because hitting a pothole can put a big dent in your wallet, making necessary repairs right away could save you from more costly ones down what could be a very bumpy road.”

The Car Care Council is the source of information for the “Be Car Care Aware” consumer education campaign promoting the benefits of regular vehicle care, maintenance and repair to consumers. For a copy of the council’s Car Care Guide or for more information, visit

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Checking Tire Pressure

Picture this. It’s a brisk fall morning, and and you’ve overslept a few minutes, because let’s face it, the bed is warmer than the air outside. You rush through your morning routine. When you finally get into your car, you are greeted by an ominous warning on your dash: Low Tire Pressure. You get out and walk around the car checking your tires to see if they look low. But they look fine, so you take the risk and drive to work, wondering if you are about to experience a flat tire. Later that day, you get in the car to go to lunch and the light is out. All is forgiven, and you promptly forget about it…until the next time it happens.
What is happening?

Sound familiar? If it does, don’t worry. You are not alone. It happens to millions of people every day, most often when we get the first hint of a fall chill in the morning air. In 2005 automakers began installing tire pressure monitoring systems on new cars. By 2012, all passenger cars sold in the U.S. were required to have a tire pressure monitoring system. Most cars use a sensor mounted inside the wheel to monitor pressure. When air pressure inside a tire drops by a predetermined amount the light comes on , and stays on, until the pressure is corrected.
Why does it happen in the fall?

The tire pressure light can, and will, come on anytime the pressure falls below the threshold set at the factory. There are many reasons for a tire to lose pressure. Punctures, leaky valve stems, and poor sealing at the bead just to name a few. There is also a certain amount of air that is lost directly through the rubber itself, but by far the most common cause of pressure loss is the contraction of the air due to cold weather. The air in your tire is comprised of many elements, including water, which has a tendency to expand and contract with temperature changes. When it gets cold, the air inside your tire contracts and the warning light comes on. The tire can lose up to a pound for every 10 degrees of temperature change. Friction caused by driving, as well as afternoon heating, can frequently return the air in tires to enough of its original density that the light turns off, making the problem go away. For now…

Why should I care?

In the days before tire pressure monitors, many of us went about our normal lives completely unaware of what was happening without repercussions. Should knowing suddenly make us take notice? Absolutely. Properly inflated tires handle better, last longer, and reduce the risk of spontaneous failure. Oh, it saves money on gas too!

Why do my tires have green or blue caps?

In the mid 2000s filling tires with nitrogen got very popular. Nitrogen is a popular and inexpensive alternative to air with some additional benefits. Nitrogen is dryer than air, reducing the impact water has on inflation. Nitrogen is also bigger at a molecular level. This fact reduces the amount of gas lost to microscopic leaks. The bottom line is that nitrogen is more stable than the air we breathe, and many people feel it is a better choice for filling tires. When a shop fills tires with nitrogen they will typically replace the valve caps with ones that are green or blue. This is to let the next person filling your tires know what is in them. Mixing air and nitrogen is perfectly safe, but doing so dilutes the nitrogen and offsets the benefits.

Don’t throw away your tire gauge

Now that you have a tire pressure monitor, and maybe even nitrogen, in your tires, do you still need a tire pressure gauge? Yes you do. Checking your tire pressures periodically can help you stay ahead of a low tire light coming on. While doing so, why not take a minute and look at the tread too? Try the Lincoln penny test. Simply insert a penny in your tire tread, upside down. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s hair it means there is not enough tread depth left, and it is time for a new tire.

Tire pressure affects handling and braking, critical factors to a safe trip. Properly inflated tires last longer and are much safer. Plus, it’s estimated that under-inflated tires waste 2 billion gallons of gasoline every year. So do yourself and your wallet a favor by checking your tire pressure often, especially in the fall.

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What to do when you get a Flat Tire…

Let’s face it – no one wants to have a flat tire, especially when the end result is being stranded on the side of the road with other cars whizzing by almost smug in their four-good-wheel conditions. But there’s more to flat tires than the annoyance and frustration they breed.

Anatomy of a Flat Tire

When a tire loses all of its air, it also loses its buoyancy and the ability to bear weight. Except in the sorts of tires known as “run flat,” the sidewalls are too weak to support the weight of a vehicle without the added strength of air pressure.

Any tire, new or old, can go flat if it is punctured, or if it’s leaking for some ofther reason. Generally speaking, the thicker treads on new tires are more resistant to punctures than older, worn-out treads, but those deeper treats can also increase the risk of a puncture if you drive over a nail or some other sharp object, by “channeling ” the object deep between the treads.

Sometimes tires go flat when a vehicle has been sitting still for too long – weeks or months in a cold garage, for example – or if there’s a slow leak. This is why it’s a wise idea to make a visual inspection of all four of your car’s tires before driving it.  Flat tires look sort of mushy, and may bulge slightly.

If a tire goes flat while you’re driving, you’ll hear and feel a thump-thump-thump vibration from your vehicle’s suspension, and, at least in the case of a front tire, your vehicle will pull toward the side that has gone flat.

Do Not Drive

Either way, you should never continue driving on a flat. Without any internal air pressure the sidewalls of the tire will be pinched between the road and the wheel rim, and driving even as much as half a mile could be enough to either cut the tire, or damage the wheel.

This is equally important if the air pressure in your tire is merely low, and not completely gone. You can do serious damage to both the tire and the wheel, necessitating the replacement of both.
In addition to the risk to the tire and wheel, driving on an under-inflated or flat tire puts you at risk because your car will have less control, and things like turning will take more effort and offer less response. At the very least, you’ll experience significant drag.

If You Get a Flat Tire While Driving

Slow down and pull over to the side of the road as soon as it’s safe to do so. Never stop in the middle of the road, especially if you’re on a busy highway – you’re likely to get rear-ended or killed.
Put your car as far onto the right shoulder as you can, to reduce the risk of someone running into you. This also leaves room in case it’s a tire on the left side of the car that must be changed.
Turn on your hazard lights, so other drivers will see you. It’s also  a good idea to raise the hood, as this is a universal signal for help, and helps make the profile of your car bigger and more visible. If it’s dark or foggy and you have a safety flare, warning light, or reflective triangle, place it a bit behind your vehicle as an additional alert to other drivers.
If you have the necessary tools to change your tire, go ahead and do so, being as swift and as sure as you can. If your spare tire is a “donut” – a smaller than average tire – be aware that it’s meant for temporary use only.
If you don’t have the right tools, either call your insurance company’s or auto club’s roadside assistance number, or call the police or highway patrol for help. If you’re one of the five people left on the planet who don’t have a cell phone, or if your cell phone has no signal, you may have to wait for someone to drive by, or hope that another driver offers assistance. Be careful with the latter. Most people are really kind and helpful, but some are much less scrupulous.
Wait for help outside the vehicle whenever possible, standing away from the road. If the neighborhood where you’re stranded seems dangerous, or if there’s inclement weather, stay inside your car.

After a Flat Tire

So you’ve changed your flat tire. Now what?

If you’re driving on a donut, you’ll want to bring your old tire to your mechanic or a local tire store to have it repaired (if possible) or replaced. Make sure that if you do this, you get the donut back, so that you can return it to you car, in case of another flat.

If the spare tire is simply an extra full-sized tire, have the old one repaired, or replace it, and store it as your “new” spare.

The tire that has been replaced will not have the same wear on its treads as the rest of your tires do, so be prepared for driving to feel a bit uneven. This may be a good time to consider having your tires rotated.

Flat tires are inconvenient, at best, and dangerous if they occur in the middle of a busy highway. Knowing what to expect and how to handle it doesn’t reduce the annoyance, but it should help you approach your next flat tire with a bit more calm.

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