Tire-blowout season runs from roughly the middle of May through early October. (Tire companies closely track such information but guard it carefully.) The reason more tires fail from late spring to early fall is simple: That’s when the outside temperature is the hottest, and when motorists are driving farther, and faster, in more heavily loaded vehicles. The combination can push a neglected or injured tire beyond its breaking point. However, tire failures can happen any time of year, especially in the warmest parts of the United States. Besides heat and over weighted cars, other major bad guys for tires include lack of proper air pressure and, of course, impacts with obstacles.
Under inflation is the easiest way to kill a tire. After all, air is what allows a tire to carry the weight of a vehicle and its cargo. Without proper air pressure, the internal components of the tire—fabric, steel, rubber, and composites—flex beyond their designed limits.
Proper pressure for tires on recently produced cars can be found on the driver’s side door jamb. It’s true that the Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) has been mandatory on all cars, pickups, and sport-utility vehicles since 2007, but that system does not issue an alert until a tire is significantly underinflated. A responsible driver still has to check tire pressure by hand or have someone such as a tire dealer do it for him.
Overloading a vehicle can also fatally damage a tire. Just because your pickup’s bed will accept a full load of free mulch from the recycling center doesn’t mean your tires can carry the weight, especially if they’re underinflated.
Another way to fatally injure a tire, especially with today’s ultralow-profile rubber, is to slam into pothole, driveway lip, or other road hazard. The impact pinches the tire’s internals between wheel and obstacle. If the hit is hard enough, it can cut or fray the internals. Sometimes the pothole will cut all the way through fabric and rubber, and the tire will die right there. Other times the damage won’t show up for months. Which brings us to:
The Slow Death
Commonly a tire suffers the damage that will cause its death long before it fails. Sometime people forget to check their tire pressure. Perhaps a driver doesn’t realize he or she has a slow leak (or procrastinates about it) and motors 20 miles before getting a repair.
Any of these can accelerate a tire’s death. Perhaps months later, when the vehicle is loaded with the entire family and rolling toward a vacation destination, the combination of the heavy load, ambient temperatures in the 90s F, and highway speed limits stresses the tire beyond its limits. The previously damaged tire can take no more and fails.
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