Tires are part of the foundation of a vehicle that allow it to operate safely on the road. One of the first things we are taught about tires as we are learning to drive is that driving on “bald” or under-inflated tires can be dangerous and lead to car accidents. Whether driving on dry, smooth roads or slippery roads with potholes, using a tire without much tread left increases the chances of an auto accident.
Tire treads are the meticulously designed grooves and channels on the surface of every tire that are essential to providing the necessary traction for a vehicle to grip the road. They are the best line of defense in dangerous weather conditions that allow your vehicle to maintain control while on wet, icy, or slippery roads. Tire tread channels force water to move away from the tire and allows the car to “stick” to the road and maintain a solid grip. Worn out tires without sufficient tread do not force water out of the way and make road surfaces much more dangerous. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) has found that over 26% of auto accidents involve vehicles with bald tires with insufficient tread. The best way to protect yourself and your family is to understand the role that tire tread plays in being a safe driver and to know when it is necessary to get new tires.
What makes bald tires so dangerous?
1. Higher risk of hydroplaning.
A car hydroplanes when a layer of water gets between the car’s tires and the surface of the road. Tire tread patterns are designed to contain deep grooves and channels that force water away from the tire. This allows the car to keep its grip on the road. If the tread has worn away, the grooves become shallow and they cannot direct water away from the tire. This significantly increases the risk for losing control of the vehicle in dangerous weather conditions which can lead to serious accidents.
2. Increase in heat buildup.
When driving, your tires create friction between the car and the surface of the road. Friction, in turn, creates heat. If there is too much heat building up between the tire and the road, a blowout can occur which can make you lose control of the vehicle. Tires can usually handle very high levels of heat. They are aided by tire treads that help cool the tire by allowing air to flow in between the channels. Bald tires do not provide that air flow and the heat that builds up under the tires can increase to dangerous levels. This makes the tires unsafe to drive on and can lead to accidents.
3. Inclement weather becomes more dangerous.
Driving on a road that is covered in snow, ice, or other slippery substances can be incredibly risky. There are specific tires designed for these conditions called snow tires that have wider and deeper channels when compared to normal tires. Snow tires help improve traction by providing a greater surface area for the car to grip the road. Having snow tires that are in good condition can help prevent spinouts on winter roads. You should never drive on bald tires in the snow as it is one of the most dangerous conditions for your vehicle.
4. Decrease in air pressure of the tire.
Tires that are in good condition will lose a small amount of air pressure depending on the weather outside, while still maintaining a safe amount of pressure to drive on. A tire that is bald or has very low tread will lose air faster than a tire in good condition making the tire under-inflated and unsafe to drive on. Under-inflation then causes the remaining tread to wear out faster, as there is more friction between the tire and the road, which will end up costing you as you will have to replace your tires much sooner than expected.
5. Tire blowouts.
Thick tire treads reduce your vehicle’s chances of suffering a blowout while driving. Blowouts are dangerous no matter what speed you are going and can instantly make you lose control of your car. This could send your vehicle flying into a guardrail or other car, causing a serious collision. Thick treads cannot prevent all tire punctures; however, they have a better chance of resisting a full tire blowout when compared to a bald tire.
To check your tire tread levels, a quick visual inspection is needed. Make sure to check all four tires to see the tread level. Tire professionals recommend checking all four tires at least once a month. You can use a penny and insert it into the treads with the “heads” side facing you. When Lincoln’s head is facing up, if you can see his entire head then the tire tread is too low and it may be time to get new tires. There are also tire tread gauges available that are inexpensive and simple to use. Keep one in your glove compartment and you will always be able to check your tread levels. When inspecting your tires, if you notice any sidewall cracks that tire may be compromised and could be heading towards a major blowout. Small cracks can be common but larger cracks should be taken seriously and the tire should be replaced – and the layperson may not know the difference between what makes a crack small or large so it’s best to ask a professional if they notice any cracks at all. Many of today’s tires are designed with tread indicator bars that let you know if the tire tread is still in good condition. As the tread wears down, you may start to see a flat rubber bar that is built into the tire grooves. If you start to see one, your tire may be unsafe.
Remember to stay tire-safe and replace your tires as they wear down. Also make sure to have your tires rotated regularly so there is even wear on each tire. Driving on bad tires puts not only you but everyone around you at risk of getting into a serious accident. Taking good care of your tires can help prevent a tragedy from occurring.
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