June 7-13 is Tire Safety Month, an event organized by the Rubber Manufacturers Association to promote safety and to raise awareness about proper maintenance and care. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 600 deaths and 33,000 injuries per year are due to under inflated tires. And in addition to being a safety hazard, tires that are improperly inflated also lower a car’s fuel efficiency. Consumer Reports offers tips on tire maintenance.
Conventional wisdom has been to use a penny to measure tire tread for safety, but Consumer Reports notes that based on driving performance in a battery of tests, using a quarter would be a safer gauge:
“It has long been the standard that tires are worn out when their tread depth reaches 1/16 inch (or 2/32 inch as found on standardized tread-depth gauges). The easiest way to measure this, if you didn’t have a gauge, was to hold a penny upside down in the tread. If the top of Lincoln’s head was visible, you needed new tires. See test results of foul weather comprises with worn-out tires.
But CR’s tests show that using a penny is too stingy and that most consumers should consider replacing their tires when the tread reaches 1/8 inch.”
Experts at the Tire Rack, an independent tire tester, suggest that measuring tire tread via the quarter method can improve braking distances up to 24 percent. See a quick tutorial for using coins to measure tire depth.
In addition to maintaining good tire pressure and tread, the age of your tires can be a safety factor – rubber breaks down over time. Many safety experts suggest replacing tires that are more than 5 years old to avoid the potential for a blowout or tread separation.