As many as 400 traffic deaths each year are caused by tire failures, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates. Fortunately, a monthly tire check can help you pick up on the warning signs before a blowout or tread separation.
Want an easy way to cut down on your gas costs and prevent your tires from failing? Make sure your tires are properly inflated. Properly inflated tires help you get better gas mileage and will wear better over time.
It takes only a few minutes to check tire pressure. You'll find the proper tire inflation levels for your vehicle on a tire chart (usually on the driver's side door frame) or in your owner's manual. Don't go by the numbers you find on the tire itself; they indicate the maximum pressure for the tire, and that's not necessarily the right pressure for your vehicle's size and weight.
Use a tire pressure gauge, found at any auto parts store, to measure your tires' pressure. Unscrew the tire valve cap, then place the gauge over the valve stem and press to get a reading. The best time to measure is when the tires are cold, according to Edmunds.com -- that is, when you haven't driven anywhere for at least three hours.
If the tire pressure is too low, inflate the tire with an air compressor (you can buy your own, but many people use the one at their local gas station). If you accidentally overinflate the tires, depress the pin in the stem to let the air out until you reach the proper level. It's important to get it right; overinflated tires give you a rougher ride and can be more easily damaged, while underinflated tires wear unevenly and reduce your gas mileage.
Wear and tear
Next, check the tire treads for wear and tear. You should have at least 1/16 of an inch of tire tread remaining, according to Nationwide. If you don't have a ruler handy, take a penny and insert it upside down in the tire tread. Can you see the top of Lincoln's head? You need to replace your tires. You also can look for the built-in tread wear indicators that appear as smooth bands across the tire when the groves wear low.
Buy new tires in pairs and rotate them every 5,000 miles to ensure their maximum life. It's also a good idea to replace your tires if they're more than 6 years old, even if they haven't been used much, according to NHTSA. To check the age of the tire, look at the identification number on the sidewall. The last four digits correspond to the week and year the tire was manufactured.
Buying new tires
Choose tires that match the conditions in which you'll be driving. All-weather tires are appropriate for most situations, including driving in the snow. If you live in an area where you know you'll be dealing with large quantities of the white stuff from November through April, however, you may want to buy special snow tires.
Edmunds recommends registering your new tires so that the manufacturer can contact you if a defect is found. Your tire dealer should be able to provide a tire registration form that you can send to the manufacturer.