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Tires: Traffic Safety Tips

Buying new tires can be confusing. A major influence on tire life is how the tire is used, your driving style, the type of car you drive, where you drive and the tire maintenance you perform regularly. There are, however, several things you can do to select the best tires and take care of them.

How to Buy the Right Tires
You need to know the right size, type, and tread.

  • SIZE: The vehicle owner's manual or the label inside the glove box, or on the door post, will give you the proper tire size. This is important information, because putting an undersized tire on your car can overheat or overload the tire, while an over sized tire can rub parts of the car.
  • TYPE: Somewhat self explanatory, performance cars will require performance tires that are typically at their best on dry pavement, while pickups and SUVs will use light truck tires that are geared towards carrying heavy loads and dealing with occasional off-road conditions.
  • TREAD: There are several kinds of treads. "Mud and snow" tires (with the m+s symbol) are all season tires, capable of providing good traction in snow, slush, rain, and mud. "Snow" tires are for areas with heavy or frequent snowfall. Standard highway treads are for normal driving conditions. Ask your tire dealer for advice on the best tread for your type of driving.

Tire Quality Grading
All tires must meet Federal safety standards. In addition, all new vehicle tires, except snow tires, temporary-use spares, and tires for off-road use, have three ratings on a paper label and molded on the tire sidewall. These ratings are treadwear, traction, and temperature resistance. The grading system is designed to help buyers make relative comparisons among tires. It is not a safety rating and not a guarantee that a tire will last for a prescribed number of miles or perform a certain way. It simply gives tire buyers additional information to combine with other considerations, such as price, brand loyalty, and dealer recommendations.

Tire quality grades can be used to pick the best tire for your needs. Grades are assigned by manufacturers after performing tests designed by the government. All tire dealers are required to provide you with a booklet explaining these grades and showing the grades of the tires they sell.

  • TREADWEAR: The treadwear grade lets you compare how long different tires would last if driven by the same driver under the same road conditions and if the tire is maintained properly. A tire rated 100 will last approximately twice as long as one rated 50.
  • TRACTION: The traction rating, scored A, B, or C, tells you how well the tires can stop your vehicle on wet roads. An "A" has the best traction.
  • TEMPERATURE RESISTANCE: This rating, also scored A, B, or C, measures how well the tire will resist overheating during sustained high speed use. In general, the lower the running temperature, the less likely the tire will fail. A tire graded "A" represents the best performance, and is better than a "B" tire.

A Consumer Guide to Uniform Tire Quality Grading, is available free from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This guide lists the grades of all tires and will help you compare various brands. To obtain a copy, write to NHTSA, General Services Division (NAD-51), 400 7th Street, S.W., Washington, D.C., 20590.

When You Buy Tires
Your new tires should be registered so that you can be reached if a safety defect is found. Ask your tire dealer for a tire registration form to send back to the manufacturer -- in certain cases, the dealer will register the tires for you. In the event you receive a defect notification letter, go to your dealer for inspection or free replacement of the tire.

Maintenance & Driving Tips
Maintain the proper air pressure in the tires. Check pressure every week for routine driving. Also check pressure before taking any long trips. Measure the pressure when the tires are cold.

Keep your tires at the recommended inflation pressure. This can be found in your owner's manual or on the label either in the glove box or near the door latch on the driver's side. The maximum inflation pressure is shown on the side of the tire. With the recommended air pressure, tires will last longer and be less likely to fail, and the car will use less fuel. Serious injury may result from tire failure because of under inflation or overloading.

When you check tire pressure, make sure there is enough tread on the tire to operate safely and that the tires are wearing normally. All grooves should be visible and deep enough to at least touch the top of Lincoln's head on a penny.

Look for even wear. If you see the treadwear warning bars across the tire, it's time to replace that tire. Bald tires are unsafe. If some spots on the tire seem to be wearing faster than others, see your service station or mechanic. You could have mis-aligned wheels, worn shock absorbers, or other potential problems.

Make sure your wheels are balanced and aligned properly.

Avoid "jack rabbit" starts and stops and fast, tire screeching turns.

Never overload your car. Your car and tires are designed to operate safely only up to their load limits. These limits are shown in your owner's manual and on the certification plate on the edge of the driver's door.