Mechanical failures account for nearly 13% of car accidents. Usually, the cause of this failure is due to vehicle owners neglecting to properly maintain their cars. At the top of the list for maintenance neglect are tire and brake problems. Far too often, owners wait until it is too late to have issues repaired. In fact, investigations into the fatal crash that killed Paul Walker cited that the vehicle’s nine-year-old tires and worn rotors may have contributed to the crash. Take proper care of your brakes to stay safe on the road.
Often, drivers think that as long as their brakes are functioning they don’t need service. This can be a costly mistake. A few things that might signal your brakes need maintenance could be weird sounds, violent shaking, and strange smells. Fortunately, brake failure is a rare cause of accidents (less than 5%), but improper brake maintenance often leads to much bigger, and costlier, vehicle problems. If you notice any of the following occurrences, have your breaks checked as soon as possible.
- Abnormal noises. Screeching and grinding likely mean the brake pads need to be replaced before they cause damage to the rotors.
- Violent vibration of the steering wheel. Shaking and pulsating when braking also could indicate that the pads need to be replaced immediately. Rotor damage is in the near future.
- Burning smell coming from the tires. Any pungent, strange smell being emitted near the tires constitutes an emergency. This may indicate a brake fluid leak.
The US Department of Transportation estimates nearly 11,000 tire-related accidents occur per year. Most of these accidents are the result of worn or balding tread. Tread that is severely worn down can lead to a number of unsafe driving conditions, including loss of traction. Loss of traction can lead to dangerous incidents like hydroplaning and skidding.
On the other hand, over-inflation of tires can be just as hazardous. Overinflated tires can lead to rapid aging of the tire and cracked rubber, which causes blowouts and fires. Furthermore, aging tires are harder to detect than worn tread. Keep in mind the following quick tips as you check your tires.
- Look at the overall condition. The sidewalls of all four tires should be flat and smooth. Any bubbles or cracks in the sidewall may signal aging and indicate that the tire needs to be replaced.
- Check Air Pressure. Pressure should be within a few PSI of the manufacturer’s recommendations posted on the inside of the door jamb. Check the tires while cold (before being driven). Keep in mind that tires lose PSI in cold weather and gain PSI in hot weather, so they may need to be either inflated or deflated, respectively. Tire pressure naturally decreases by one PSI per month so check monthly.
- Check the Tread. Insert a quarter upside down into one of the tread grooves. You shouldn’t be able to see Washington’s head. If you do, your tread is worn and you will need new tires. If your tread is uneven throughout the four tires, you probably need them aligned and balanced.
- Feel for Proper Balance and Rotation. Vehicles that pull to a certain side or vibrate while driving at high speeds need to have the tires balanced or rotated.
All of these issues are relatively easy to spot, and early repairs can save you thousands of dollars in additional damage. So tomorrow when you leave for work, check your car’s tires and breaks to ensure your safety on the road.