Proper vehicle maintenance will do more than just keep your car running smoothly and efficiently for years to come. It also helps prevent dangerous equipment failures that can lead to breakdowns and car accidents.
Proper tire inflation is a key part of auto safety. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2020, there were 664 motor vehicle accident fatalities caused by tire-related accidents.
If you are not overly familiar with vehicle maintenance, and tires in particular, you might assume that overinflation leads to tire blowouts. However, the opposite is actually true. Underinflation is the leading cause of all tire failures, according to the NHTSA.
While underinflation may not seem like a major problem, it is in fact incredibly dangerous.
Underinflated tires are prone to sagging. They lose their shape to the point they can no longer function properly to support the vehicle’s weight. When a tire’s pressure is too low, more of the tire’s surface area makes contact with the road. That, in turn, increases friction. Excess friction leads to overheating, a contributing factor to premature wear and tear, tread separation, and blowouts.
What Else Can Happen When a Tire Is Underinflated?
An underinflated tire can cause a variety of issues.
A tire blowout is the sudden loss of air pressure in any inflatable tire, often accompanied by loud pop or bang that sounds like an explosion. Pieces of the shredded tire can strike other vehicles, cause them to lose control, or even obstructing the other driver’s vision. Serious collisions are more likely in heavily-trafficked areas and on roadways with higher speed limits.
Increased Fuel Consumption
Tire inflation directly impacts fuel consumption. In a time where gas prices are on the higher end, this might get your attention. According to the NHTSA, every one percent reduction in tire pressure results in a 0.03 percent decrease in fuel economy. While that does not sound like a lot, over time, those fuel costs can add up quickly.
A vehicle with underinflated tires is more difficult to control. Basic actions like coming to a stop, making turns, and taking curves smoothly are more challenging when tires are not functioning optimally. In a situation where a collision is impending, the driver is less able to take evasive actions to avoid a potential collision if tires are underinflated.
Tires that are not properly inflated put added pressure on the vehicle’s chassis and suspension, risking damage to vital equipment and systems. Wheels, brake lines, rotors, and fenders all have to work harder for underinflated tires, leaving drivers open to costly, and preventable, auto repairs.
What Are Signs of Tire Underinflation?
It is helpful to remember that tires naturally lose air all the time, around 1 PSI to 2 PSI every month. You should not wait until your tire has a puncture or a tear to repair the issue. Instead, make a tire pressure check part of your routine vehicle maintenance. Check your tires monthly if you do moderate driving or weekly if you drive every day.
In between routine checks, you may notice the following signs of underinflated tires:
- The vehicle is harder to maneuver.
- The vehicle is getting fewer miles to the gallon.
- The vehicle takes longer to stop.
- The vehicle makes a flapping sound while moving.
Many newer vehicles also come with a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) that makes it easy to determine when your tires need air. An alert notifies the driver to check the tires for air pressure and add air if needed. Some more advanced systems even indicate on the dash which tire is underinflated and how much PSI it contains.
How Do You Safely Inflate Tires?
Here are some tips to safely inflate the tires on your vehicle.
Use the Owner’s Manual to Determine the Right Tire Pressure
Consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual for the proper tire pressure. Many people go by the pressure listed on the tire, but that is actually the maximum allowable pressure, not the ideal air pressure for the tires and the vehicle.
In addition to the owner’s manual, you can also find the recommended pressure for your vehicle’s tires printed either on the driver’s side door, the gas tank door, or the glove compartment door.
Use a Pressure Gauge to Check Your Tires
There are a few types of gauges used to check the air pressure in tires. It is recommend to use a digital or dial-type pressure gauge because they tend to be more accurate than the pencil-style gauges.
Tires lose pressure continually in small amounts. That is why you should check your tires regularly and anytime you notice signs of low air pressure. While digital pressure monitoring systems are helpful, they do malfunction. Always double check air pressure with an accurate pressure gauge to be safe.
Do Not Forget the Spare
Make it a habit to include your spare tire every time you do a tire air pressure check. You never know when you may get a flat and need to use your spare.
What Should You Do After a Tire Blowout?
Well-maintained, high-quality tires are no match for a serious pothole. Proper inflation may not matter if your tire is destroyed by a hazard in the road. When that happens, it is important to remain calm and in control.
Tire blowouts are frightening, but they do not have to result in collisions or injuries. If your tire blows out, resist the immediate urge to hit the brakes. It seems like a natural reaction, but braking can actually cause your vehicle to go out of control.
Instead, steer the vehicle in the direction of the blowout while gently and slowly accelerating. Doing this enables you to maintain your momentum while steadying the vehicle. This will help you avoid crashing into other vehicles.
Once you feel the vehicle is steady, you can begin to reduce your speed to look for a safe place to pull over to the side of the road. Once your speed has slowed down to around 30 miles per hour, begin gently applying the brakes until you come to a stop. Put the vehicle in park and call for help.
Underinflated, damaged, and defective tires cause thousands of serious car accidents and injuries every year. A driver who knew their tires were unsafe and failed to repair them may be considered negligent for injuries and property damage resulting from a crash.
Virginia Beach Car Accident Lawyers Serve Clients Who Have Been Injured in Tire-Related Accidents
Were you injured in an accident caused by a defective or unmaintained vehicle? One of our Virginia Beach car accident lawyers is here to help. Our legal team at East Coast Trial Lawyers will build your case and protect your rights. Call us at 757-352-2237 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Virginia Beach, we serve clients throughout Chesapeake, Eastern Shore, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Suffolk, Virginia, as well as North Carolina and nationwide.