Tire Talk

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My wife had a guy holler at her the other day. Not because she’s beautiful (though she is) but because she was driving around on a nearly flat tire.flat tire 1

I am very grateful to that guy.

A flat tire – or even a tire that’s just low on air – can be more than an inconvenience.

It can be a catastrophe.

Think about a table. It sits on four legs. If one leg is shorter than the other, the table wobbles. Apply the same general concept to a car – at 50 MPH.

In a curve.

Tires leak – often slowly. Most cars built in the last two years or so have electronic tire-pressure monitors that will warn you – via a dashboard light – when a tire is low on air. Some of these systems monitor individual tires – and give you the exact air pressure (measured in pounds per square inch, or PSI). Others have a simple amber warning light that comes on when any of the four tires is low on air.

But even if your car has an electronic monitoring system – and especially if it doesn’t – it’s very important to regularly check all four tire visually.

And then confirm inflation pressure manually.tire pressure image

Ideally, each time you go for a drive, walk around the car and take a good look at all four tires for obvious signs of a problem. Not just one that looks to be low on air, but also for signs of physical damage or deterioration. For example, a bulge on the sidewall, or a tear.

Hairline cracks – dry rot – are another thing to watch for. Pay particular attention to any tire that is more than six or seven years old. Even if the tread is good, the tire may still be bad. A dry-rotted tire can be just as dangerous as one with next to no treat and you should probably think about replacing it. In the meanwhile, drive with caution. Avoid sustained high-speed driving especially.

If you see a sidewall bulge or tear, do not drive the car at all.

Call roadside assistance – or your spouse (or a good friend) and have them come pick you up – and have the car picked up by a tow truck and taken to a tire shop. A tire with a bulge in the sidewall – or a torn sidewall – could fail suddenly (and catastrophically) at any time. Rather than a gradual, slow leak, all the air could leak out at once – like a balloon popping. If this happens while you’re driving, the car could become uncontrollable – and you could have an accident.sidewall bulge pic

The same rules apply with low-on-air tires, too – just not to the same degree.You may remember the Firestone tire/Ford Explorer debacle of the late ’90s. Under-inflated (and, apparently, defective) tires and high speed driving resulted in tires exploding and Explorers rolling. A car with one under-inflated tire may handle strangely, especially if the steering wheel is jerked suddenly to the left or right (as when the driver is attempting to swerve around another car, or avoid an obstacle).

Your vehicle’s panic stop braking distance will likely increase, too.

Under-inflated tires are probably more dangerous overall than flat tires because they are “sneaker.” A tire may look ok – but be 20 pounds low on air. This is more true today than in the past because of the widespread use of tires with short, stiff sidewalls. If your car has 18 or 19 inch (or larger) wheels and “sport” or “summer” tires, it probably has such tires. Even when they are almost totally empty of air, these tires may look ok to the eye.

This is because there is not much sidewall to sag.air inflator

However, the same poor handling (and braking) performance issues will arise. It’s also easy to damage the tires – and “sport” tires can be very expensive to replace.

Which is why it’s important to manually verify inflation pressures regularly.

Ideally, every two weeks – but once a month at least. It is a job that almost anyone can do and doesn’t require tools per se – just a pen-type tire pressure gauge, which you can buy at any auto parts store.

Keep it in the glovebox – and get into the habit (once every other week) of checking each tire’s pressure with the gauge. The proper inflation pressure will be listed on the tire itself or in your owner’s manual. if possible, go with the with PSI (pounds per square inch) recommended in the owner’s manual – by the people who designed and built your car. But if this information is not readily available, go with the figure listed on the sidewall of the tires themselves.compressor pic

You will see a “max inflation pressure” – for example, 42 PSI. It is not necessary to inflate each tire to the maximum recommended pressure – so long as it’s in the ballpark. .

And not in excess of the recommended maximum listed on the tire sidewall.

Tip: It used to be easy to find free air at gas stations. Today, very few gas stations have free air. Many don’t have air pumps at all. But those that do usually require you to pay for the air… with coins. Forget your iPhone. And also your debit card. Hence, it’s a good idea to get at least $1 in quarters and leave them in the car somewhere for “just in case.”

Even better, you could buy a mini-compressor and carry around your own air supply. Mini-compressors are powered by your car’s 12V power point (in pre-PC days, the cigarette lighter) and though slow, they will fill up your tire – and for free. Or at least, without quarters. Even better, you’re not dependent on finding a gas station that has an air supply. You’ve got yours in the trunk. These handy gadgets are small – about the size of a shoebox – light and very portable. They’re also inexpensive.

About $30-$50 depending on the model and where you buy.

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33 COMMENTS

  1. Great talk.

    We should also have a talk about what’s real, and what’s not.

    This is a Real Woman
    http://i.imgur.com/8iqG3Y7.png

    If you open your eyes, you’ll see part of her is real, and part of her is artificial. The prosthetic is an artifice of science, engineers, craftsmen, materialsmen, deliverymen, and so on.

    Her beliefs, language, social expectations are partially real. Emerging from her biological tissue, her human parental care, and extended human network of loved ones, friends, family, and acquaintances.

    Here in America and many locales elsewhere, everything in the above paragraph has a significant and metastasizing statist artifice component of church, state, media, corporate consumerist, advertisement-illusory, sexually-dogmatic, PC verbalst, and so forth and so on imposed “fake” conceptual constructs.

    Even if you’re 100% NAP pure, unless you’re a monk, you’re going to need her ilk in you life. And unless she’s Ayn Rand granddaughter incarnate, she is to some degree part and parcel to many machines and devices of human hive, human bird house, human bird feeder fuckery.

    Let me show you bees living in a Brave New World Matrix of Statist Confinement. Sure, they are free to leave, you might say, but are they really?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbMV9qYIXqM

    Statist Drone how-to-video for building an urban bird dwelling, feeder, and sanctuary to control, harness, and enslave birds.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iiRJZcKDROc

  2. Eric- congratulations on bringing up a particularly annoying issue with todays cars: the TPMS. Since 2008, more than 10 years after the Firestone Tire debacle, which was more caused by Ford’s comically low recommended inflation pressures (26 PSI) on their Ford Explorers, the government has MANDATED that cars carry TPMS monitors which turn on an annoying burned orange light on the dash when tires go below 30 PSI. Oftentimes, though, all they will do is indicate when you have a FLAT tire.

    I say if the Federal Government is going require carmakers to put these idiotic things in cars, they should mandate that corporate owned filling stations provide free air to their customers. It’s ridiculous.

    I used to carry a bicycle pump to keep my air adjusted. I should again, but I haven’t lately. Those store bought compressors are unreliable and noisy. About 20 pumps per PSI, and you have gotten good exercise.

    • Get a quality bicycle pump and it won’t take as much pumping. Of course those are long floor pumps and not so great for keeping in the car and not particularly cheap either.

    • Swamprat, we have and are still having a huge truck stop/car stop/restaurant/convenience store construction surge going on and there are some good things coming from it(competition). One is the hose on a reel on a couple islands of fuel pumps. I have already aired up my own vehicle as well as others who didn’t know how to air(women) or have a gauge. I just received my new Accutire digital gauge. I’ve used them a long time and my old one gave it up. I noticed a year and a half old truck gauge was 10 pounds off to a new one. If I could get my Accutire on one of those tires I could figure out which big gauge is closest to correct.

  3. Also, take advantage of nitrogen when getting the tires mounted, but don’t pay an exorbitant price. Not because N2 is so much better than “normal” air, but because it is very dry going in. Moisture will cause big differences in tire pressure from day to day.

    • I used to have a source for nitrogen and used it exclusively. It was great. I could rent a 100# tank and still do it but that’s an added rental expense. I once had a 30# tank that held 4500 # of compressed air. Of course it was the regulator that was really expensive. You could air tires from now on with it. A friend found a pump that was engine driven and mounted it on his engine with a simple system to pull it’s pulley into the belt. It worked great.

      There are good electric compressors out there and that’s what I used to have, one meant for RV service.

      I could use a bicycle pump on my 275/75 R16’s and then drive straight to my shoulder surgeon.

      • 8 – if you have that N tank, you could also use it for ‘prepping,’ for long term storage of wheat or what have you in sealed 5g buckets.

        • I had a 100# bottle for my keg fridge of 02, don’t think I would have ever used it all. That would probably be good for that also. I thought a vacuum would be the ticket so I rigged up a 30 gallon barrel and ruined it toot sweet. Then I rigged up a big, heavy ammo can and stopped when the sides began to pull in. I shored it up inside with 2X4’s so it couldn’t collapse in any direction. It worked to a greater vacuum than anything else but pulling it down to the max was going to ruin it. It’s hard(and expensive)to find a container that will survive a vacuum but that would be ideal.

          • Correction, I meant CO2 not O2. I’m not aware of anything that can live in CO2….or at least anything in stored grains and the like. That’s the reason I tried to create cheap vacuum storage. Forget the cheap except for vacuum bag systems and they probably wouldn’t pull all the air out of grains. They do work great as freezer storage and will keep meats and veggies for years with no freezer burn.

            if I could only figure a way to do solar power, life would be much more bearable when the power went off.

  4. The mini compressors are a great idea. But I’m having trouble finding one that isn’t flimsy, and prone to early breakage. Can you recommend a brand that’s sturdy and reliable?

    At home, I have a 25 year old Black & Decker Air Station that plugs into a regular electrical outlet, and works great. Of course Black & Decker is one of those brand names that has gone from a reputation of quality….to the exact opposite. 🙁

    • MikePizzo,

      I have had good luck with a small noname compressor (a gift from a friend). I have had it for over 5 years and it still works.

      Only caveat is that I rarely use it. (Perhaps a dozen times per year primarily for car tires.) They are relatively low cost (<$20) so even it does not last 5 years it will not cost too much to get a replacement.

    • I have used bicycle pumps. They are quiet and don’t require that you hook into your already crowded (at least in my car) 12V outlets. They hardly ever break.

      • Swamprat,

        Actually, that is a very good suggestion as a backup. It might take me more time and effort to use compared to a portable compressor, but it is a very durable option. (One could have both since they do not take much room or weight.)

      • I usually use my bicycle air pump to top off car tires. Less set up and faster than the 12V compressors. I do keep the compressors in each car, one came with one from the factory. Easier and cheaper for me than quality bicycle pumps.

  5. Radial tires are more sensitive in braking with pressure differences. This probably contributed to automatic tire pressure systems since ABS would disguise the problem to a great degree. I have been using Accutire digital gauges for a long time, just bought a new one in fact to replace one that gave it up after many years. They are temperature compensating which helps a great deal. I put on in my wife’s car and taught her to check her tires at least every month. Of course we have air compressors so that part is no problem.

    I detest using flat fixer but it’s still a good idea to have one aboard just for that emergency. If you have an inflator like the one shown here, then a plugging kit can be a life-saver too, just depend on them for an emergency repair and have the tire professionally patched ASAP. Also be aware that many speed rated tires are no longer speed rated once patched. I’ve never had it be a problem but manufacturers rightly claim it can be and therefore want you to be aware that once patched, a tire loses it’s speed rating.

    I have found a product I intend to try out call Tiro Gage that screws onto the valve stem and shows the pressure of the tire at all times. It doesn’t affect tire balance so the makers say.

    And be aware that FWD cars especially, with so much weight on the front tires often perform better and tires last much longer with more pressure in the front that the rear. I always carry more pressure in front pickup tires also when it’s not loaded. I’m sort of fanatical about matching pressure to the load so loading up a pickup to any large degree creates the need to bring rear(and sometimes front also)pressures up. Anything above a ton or so and I bring Class E tires up to their recommended limit of 80 pounds. Once unloaded and no load planned again, I lower them back to some pressure I’ve found that keeps them wearing evenly such as 60 or 65 pounds. Big pickups with diesels and 4WD are almost always best served tirewise with at least 65 or 70 pounds without a load.

    There’s nothing written in stone here so trying different pressures is a good way to determine their optimum at load and no load…..and overload, common to many people who work a pickup. If you have 16″ wheels or larger and commonly carry heavy loads, even in a half ton pickup, using a Class E tire is often a better way to go, especially if you’ll be places that are more prone to picking up punctures. Run over mesquite trees, tiny ones you can barely see such as are replete in Tx. barditches with Class B tires and you’ll likely find all four tires low or flat. Do same with Class E tires and you’ll never observe this phenomena. I mostly use a Class C tire on a half ton pickup and hope as large as pickups now are, no one actually runs a car tire(Class B)on one. In a word, it’s dangerous.
    Even when checking all your tires once per month, a big change in weather temps such as a cold front moving through and dropping temperature down well below what it’s been averaging causes tires to lose pressure(Boyle’s Law). Of course all tires leak air to some extent so checking them often is the only safe way to motor.

    Using very short SS valvestems is also a good idea for any tire.

    • “Radial tires are more sensitive in braking with pressure differences.”
      Having all 4 within 1-2 psi may be more important than the actual pressure – not that that should wander too far outside the recommendations.

      • Brent, if you have a car equipped with a compressor for automatic leveling, it’s easy to T into the line coming out and take a line to the outside or the trunk and install a quick connect on it. You can air tires with a short hose that way.

      • PtB, that’s exactly right. Even if they’re all lower than they should be having them all close to the same pressure is safer. That reminds me to check pressure on the wife’s car since the average temp has finally dropped close to ten degrees. Once it gets really cool they’ll all look half flat and require another shot of air and probably a few more times during the winter.

        We had such high temps this summer there were days when I saw countless cars with blown tires. Two guys stopped with a blown rear on a Tahoe one day. They had the hatch up and the thing was stuffed to the top with some sort of tall boxes. It looked heavily loaded, hence the ruined tire. As I approached I saw one guy looking at the load just throw up his hands. They had their work in front of them for sure.

        I learned the hard way if you’re going to load a vehicle to the max, take the tire out and use that area for storage and store the tire with everything else and have it be the last thing put in. I’ve had my spare in the back floorboard many times.

        I need to go get a 24.5 fixed today and install a quick connect on the new trailer it’s on. I had to crank the tractor around at a bad angle with a full load Sat. morning to get the air hose from the tractor to reach that rear tire. I don’t want to do that again, esp. in the dark.

  6. Eric,

    The portable tire inflator is great. Convenient to use as well. I would not rely on the gauge that comes with this pump and use a reliable gauge as you suggest.

    Too bad smaller 14″ tires with higher profiles are not more common today. I think they would be better for most people, cost less than larger diameter tires with shorter profiles, and offer a softer (less harsh) ride.

    On your paragraph starting with Hairline cracks
    I think you meant tire instead of tore.

    Same paragraph — I am not sure what you mean in the sentence starting with — Drive with caution …

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