What Are the Risks of Driving on Underinflated Tires?

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Part of being a safe and responsible car owner is making sure that your vehicle is well maintained, particularly as we head into the colder winter months. In addition to ensuring that the brakes work, the headlights and taillights are functioning properly, and all the necessary fluids have been topped off, it is crucial that the vehicle’s tires are properly inflated. When the temperatures plummet, it causes the air inside the tire to contract, which results in lower tire pressure and underinflated tires. Although there is a common misconception that there is a benefit to driving on underinflated tires during the winter, this can actually make it difficult to steer, cause damage to your tires and wheels, and increase the risk of a serious car accident. If you are involved in a car accident and the other motorist was driving on underinflated tires, you are urged to contact an experienced car accident lawyer as soon as possible.

Why Do People Drive on Underinflated Tires?

Some motorists believe that underinflated tires are safer in the winter months because it allows for more traction between the vehicle’s tires and the road. Traction is the friction between two surfaces, namely the tires and the road. The friction helps the tires grip the surface of the road, rather than sliding or skidding on ice or snow-covered roads. The rationale is that the greater the tire’s contact patch, or the amount of tire that is in contact with the road, the more traction there will be. Although the theory behind this tactic makes sense in certain circumstances, it is generally not recommended.

How Do I Check My Vehicle’s Tire Pressure?

If your vehicle was made after 2007, it is equipped with a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), which displays a warning light on the dashboard if the air pressure in one of your tires has dropped below the recommended pounds per square inch (psi). The TPMS will display the (!) symbol, which is meant to look like the cross- section of a tire. If your vehicle is an older model and is not equipped with TPMS, you can check the tire pressure using a tire pressure gauge. Simply remove the cap on the tire’s valve stem and push the gauge onto the step to get a reading. If you do not have a gauge, they are available for purchase at most gas stations or auto parts stores.

What Is the Recommended PSI?

You should keep your tire pressure at about 30 to 35 psi. However, this will depend on the type of tire you have and the temperature outside. Oftentimes, motorists will inflate their tires to the psi that is on the tire sidewall. However, that is actually the maximum inflation pressure, which is often significantly higher than the recommended psi for your vehicle. To find the recommended tire psi for your car, look at the sticker that is on the door jamb of the driver’s side door. It should also be in the vehicle’s owner’s manual. It is important to make sure that your tires are filled to the appropriate psi for a number of reasons. In some cases, the recommended tire pressure for the front tires is different from that of the rear tires. Too little air pressure in the tire can make the vehicle more difficult to handle. In addition, it can increase the wear and tear of the tire and increase the potential for a flat tire. All these factors can increase the risk of a serious car accident. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), vehicles with underinflated tires are three times more likely to be involved in an accident. In addition, properly inflated tires use less gas compared with underinflated tires.

How Often Do I Need to Check the Air Pressure in My Tires?

Ideally, it is recommended that you check your tire pressure once a month. During the colder months, you may need to check the pressure more often, since the cold temperatures cause a drop in air pressure. In fact, some of the top tire manufacturers, including Firestone and Goodyear, estimate that tires lose 1 psi for every 10-degree drop in temperature. The vehicle’s TPMS warning light will turn on if there is a 25 percent drop in tire pressure. There are other signs that indicate low tire pressure. For example, if the tire appears flatter than usual, the steering wheel starts to shake, or your car takes longer to come to a complete stop, you probably need to have the air pressure checked.

Should I Overinflate My Tires to Prepare for the Cold Weather?

In anticipation of the snow, ice, and plummeting temperatures, some people think it is a good idea to overinflate their tires so that when the cold weather causes the air pressure inside the tire to decrease, the tire will not become underinflated. However, when the air pressure is too high, it can lead to increased wear and tear, specifically down the center of the tire. In addition, the tires can lose traction, making it more difficult to handle. Overinflated and underinflated tires can overheat and result in a tire blowout. This can be extremely dangerous, particularly if this happens on a busy highway and you are traveling at a high speed. You will also need to replace your tires sooner if they are overinflated, since it will cause the tread to wear out much faster. Replacing your tires more frequently than necessary can be very expensive.

What Other Tire Maintenance Tips Should I Follow?

In addition to maintaining the proper tire pressure, particularly as the colder months are approaching, it is highly recommended that you schedule the following maintenance procedures with a skilled mechanic who has the experience, knowledge, and tools necessary to inspect the tires and make any adjustments or repairs:

  • Tire rotation. A vehicle’s front tires develop wear and tear at different rates. They also perform different steering and brake functions. To get the most out of your tires, it is important that the tires are rotated every 5,000 to 7,000 miles. Generally, the tread wears away quicker on front tires, so rotating the back tires to the front, and vice versa, can keep more tread on the front for a longer period.
  • Tire balancing. This also helps extend the life of the tire and minimize uneven wear and tear. A mechanic will attach small weights to the wheels to limit the vibration that occurs as the wheels turn. New tires should be balanced before they are installed, as well as any time a vibration is noticed or when the tire is removed from the wheel following a repair job.
  • Wheel alignment. Every vehicle has specific wheel alignment settings. A mechanic will measure the position of the wheel compared with the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended specifications. If the wheel is out of alignment, it can cause uneven wear and tear. In addition, it can affect the way that the vehicle handles as well as fuel economy. The wheel alignment should be checked anytime new tires are installed or if you notice any steering issues. For example, if your vehicle drifts to one side while driving on a straight path, one or more of your wheels may be out of alignment.

What Other Winter Vehicle Maintenance Tips Should I Follow?

Keeping your tires properly inflated and maintained is important as we head into the winter months. However, to keep your vehicle in peak condition, make sure that you take the following preventative care steps so that you do not find yourself stranded by the side of the side of the road in the freezing cold:

  • Check the battery. The cold weather can drain the battery’s power much faster than when it is warm outside. You can take the vehicle to a service station or repair shop for the battery to be checked. If the battery is worn out, you should replace it before it dies.
  • Replace the wiper blades. Wiper blades generally become less effective after six months of use. During the winter, snow, ice, and other debris can collect on the windshield, making it difficult to see. Wiper blades are not expensive, and some stores will install them for free.
  • Check the lights. In addition to the actual lights, make sure that the lenses are clean and that there is no dirt or debris that has collected on the headlights or taillights. Also make sure that your turn signals are working properly.

Baltimore Car Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Represent Those Involved in Tire-Related Car Accidents

If you or someone you love was injured in a car accident involving another vehicle that had underinflated tires, you are urged to contact the Baltimore car accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton at your earliest convenience. If the other driver involved failed to properly maintain their tires, they may be liable for your injuries. We will assist you with the claims process, address all your questions and concerns, and help you receive the financial compensation for which you are entitled. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent clients throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.