How to Protect Your Tires

They are subjected to impressive amounts of wear and tear, yet when was the last time you actually thought about inspecting your tires? That's right, those rubber thingies your car rolls on need some lovin' too and you can tickle them in the right way to prolong their lives.

The first and most important factor affecting the tires' performance is the inflation pressure. Basically, you need the optimum level recommended for your car, which by the way is specified on the vehicle placard. With tires, there are two types of inflation abnormalities: under-inflation and overinflation. Both of them affect the tires themselves, but also the car's performance and can even have deadly consequences.

While reducing resistance, improving fuel economy and slightly improving steering response and cornering stability, over-inflating a tire will results in a harsher ride and vulnerability when rolling over bumps and pot-holes. If you're racing, a bit of overinflation might give you a bit of boost, but otherwise stick to the recommended pressure.

A more “popular” abnormality, underinflation will increase rolling resistance, which in turn will hurt fuel economy and steering performance. Moreover, the lower pressure will allow the tire to flex over the recommended limit, thus reducing its life. Ultimately, both underinflation and overinflation are likely to cause a tire failure, which as dumb it might sound, it's not something you'd want while driving, especially at high speeds.

The matter of inflation might not be as easy as it sounds as there are several factors contributing to pressure variation. Temperature, one of the most important, has a crucial effect. Here's why. During winter, as temperatures decrease so does the pressure in the tire leading to underinflation. Conversely, extreme summer temperatures increase the pressure and lead to overinflation. This is the reason why pressure needs to be check constantly, preferable once a month.

We've talked about inflation, but before you actually put something in your tires, you have to decide on the “what”. Nitrogen has become quite a popular choice for some motorists and the chemical differences compared to air are the main incentive. Oxygen molecules are smaller than that of the nitrogen, which means that tires filled with air will lose pressure faster. Other important benefits include the fact that tires filled with nitrogen are around 20% cooler than those with air and that they eliminate the oxidation phenomenon occurring with regular air tires. The only downside is that it's a bit more expensive to fill your rubbers with nitrogen, albeit serious motorists will not be deterred by this tiny inconvenience.

With the inflation out of the way, let's talk some less knows facts about tires. Although rubber is quite a resilient material, like all things it has weak spots and two of the most important are UV rays and ozone. Have you ever wondered why all rubbers are black? With all this matching the color of your iPod to your underwear, how come there are no pink tires to match that “cute” top? It's because manufacturers protect the rubber against UV with something called carbon black and that' In time, as the carbon black wears off, the rubber will turn gray. Just look at some tires roasting in the sun in some junkyard. The second protective layer manufacturers use in tires is a special wax to ward off the ozone. As it exerts protection against the ever-present ozone, the wax wears off. But fear not, because as the tire flexes, more wax is pushed to the surface. The wax protection becomes a major concern only if the car is stationary for long periods of time.

You can help the tire live longer, so to speak, by treating it with rubber dressing containing an UV-protection agent, but make sure it doesn't have any raw silicone oil. Paradoxically, if the dressing that is supposed to protect the rubber contains that oil it will actually destroy the wax layer. Don't let dealers trick you into buying rubber dressing with any raw silicone oil, because they might make the tires shine, but they actually decrease the lifespan.

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