Underinflated tires are a common, and a very serious problem that most drivers ignore. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), an estimated 11,000 crashes each year are caused by tire failures due to underinflated tires.
Causes of Underinflated Tires
Tires lose air naturally over time. Your tires can lose up to 2 psi of air pressure monthly. So just in a few months your tires can be seriously underinflated.
Tire pressure is also affected by atmospheric temperature. Colder temperatures make air compress, causing your tires to lose air pressure. So in winter months, your tire pressure drops.
If your tires are old, damaged or punctured, they may be leaking air, reducing your tire pressure daily.
Dangers and Disadvantages of Underinflated Tires
Driving on underinflated tires is inefficient, costly, uncomfortable and unsafe.
Tire underinflation causes increased flexing of the sidewall that creates uneven tire tread contact with the road suface, resulting in excessive heat build-up which can lead to premature tire tread wear, tire tread separation, tire failure and blowout. In general, tire life decreases 10 percent for every 10 percent tire is underinflated, and will give 30 per cent less mileage before wearing out. And faster tire wear leads to more accidents.
Underinflated tires affect the performance of your car too. Underinflated tire will flex more and break traction more easily which can cause skidding during braking or hard cornering, or wheel spin when accelerating. Tire underinflation can also result in dangerously longer breaking distances, as well as result in ineffective and sluggish handling, significant loss of steering precision and cornering stability, reducing the safety of defensive driving techniques.
Tire pressure also affects weight distribution between the wheels. Underinflated tire simply won't be able to carry its full share of the weight load which affects chassis loading, traction, steering, alignment and braking, and can cause a noticeable steering pull.
Underinflated tires increase tire rolling resistance and reduce fuel economy up to 5 percent for every 10 percent of low tire pressure. You pay more at the gas pump, and pollute more.
How to Spot an Underinflated Tire
It is hard to spot an underinflated tire with a naked eye. Tire underinflation of 3-5 psi is barely visible when you look at it, but it can impact your driving significantly.
One of the clear signs of tire underinflation is an excessively worn outer tread of the tire. When tire is underinflated, the outer edges of the tire are forced to support the entire weight of the car, which causes them to wear faster than normal.
It is hard to spot an underinflated tire with a naked eye. Do not take any chances when it comes to your driving safety. Use a quality tire pressure gauge to check your tire pressure regularly and keep air pressure in all tires at a recommended level. If your vehicle is equipped with tire pressure sensors and a tire pressure monitoring system, keep an eye on low tire pressure light. Check your tires for any signs of damage or wear to make sure there are no air leaks. Add air with a quality tire inflator as needed.