When Car Tires Fail: Underinflation, Road Debris, And Other Factors

By Everette R Lewis

Although tires are durable, numerous factors can cause them to fail. If you're driving on a freeway or narrow highway, this poses a danger to your safety as well as that of your passengers and other drivers. A blowout can cause you to lose control of your vehicle.

Most of the factors that lead to tire failure can be controlled, or at least minimized. But doing so requires familiarity with the reasons treads fail in the first place. That is the goal of the present article. We'll introduce the most common causes of tread failure, so you'll be able to prevent them from occurring.

Problems Caused By Insufficient Air Pressure

Lack of sufficient air pressure is more problematic than many drivers realize. It compromises the integrity of the tire's structure, making it more susceptible to a blowout. The rubber material along the sidewalls undergoes more stress than normal, which in turn causes the temperature around it to rise. Exposure to these circumstances over an extended period can cause the treads to pull apart.

In most cases, underinflation occurs when drivers neglect to check the pressure in their tires over time. Air slowly leaks from between the treads at a rate of approximately 1 psi per month. Over the course of several months, a tire can become severely depleted to the point that a blowout is possible under certain driving conditions.

It's worth noting that excessive air pressure also poses a risk of failure. When there is too much air in a tire, the rubber material of the treads and sidewalls becomes more sensitive to external objects. A sharp piece of wood that would normally not cause a problem can puncture an overinflated tire.

Potholes, Nails, And Other Hazards In The Road

Though less common than underinflation, sharp debris and other road hazards can cause significant damage to tires. Sometimes, they result in an immediate blowout, as might occur if you drive over a sharp piece of concrete that causes the treads to separate. Other times, a piece of debris may puncture a tire, and cause a leak. This can happen if you drive over a nail that remains lodged in the treads.

Still other times, a road hazard may seem to have no effect on the tire, but actually compromise its structure in a way that cannot be immediately observed. Here, a blowout is more likely in the future, especially if the tire lacks sufficient air pressure.

There is no way to entirely avoid road debris. Potholes, refuse, and countless small, sharp objects litter the roads. Whenever you can do so safely, drive around them.

Speed And Load: Factors Of Tire Failure

Tires come with a speed rating and load index. The former reflects the top speed at which the treads can be safely driven. The latter reflects their load carrying capacity, or the amount of weight they can support. Both numbers are important to recognize since exceeding either can lead to a blowout.

If you habitually travel at high speeds that exceed the speed rating of your treads, buy replacements that offer a higher rating. Likewise, if you carry heavy items in your vehicle that place an excess load on your tires, upgrade them to a higher load index.

The Need To Replace Worn Treads

A lot of tire failures occur as the result of excessively worn treads. Many drivers allow them to wear past the point at which they should be replaced. The common rule is to replace treads when the grooves between them are 2/32" deep, or less. But it's a good idea to replace them sooner since doing so helps to maintain traction with the road's surface and control of your vehicle. An important point to remember is that severely worn tires are much more vulnerable to road debris.

Your car's tires influence your ability to brake, turn, and steer. Check the air pressure and condition of the treads every three to four weeks to ensure they last as long as possible.

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