You're not getting anywhere without a set of tires on your ride, and you're certainly less likely to get there safely if you're driving on under-inflated or damaged tires. Tire technology involves more than just rubber, treads, and rain grooves, and as part of National Tire Safety Week, it seems like to good time to take a closer look at three technologies that promise a safer, smoother ride.
Tire pressure monitor systems
Low tire pressure can cause poor handling, hydroplaning, skidding or loss of control around tight curves; in the worst case, it can cause blowouts. (Keeping those tires properly inflated can also help you get better gas mileage.) A simple tire pressure gauge can montior how much air you've got in your tires, but if you have a more modern car, built-in systems can probably do the job for you.
Cars made in the US since 2007 come with a tire pressure monitor system (or TPMS), which can alert you — usually with a light on the dashboard — when your tire pressure has dropped.
"We don't expect everyone to check their tire pressure," said Arun Anad, senior engineering manager, Continental North America. "Many people think of their cars as transportation from point A to point B, which is why we created a TPMS that is seamless."
In one TPMS system Continental designed for Nissan, air pressure appears on the dash. The car lights flash as the air is being filled, and the horn beeps at the correct pressure. It's all aimed at improving the ease and accuracy of filling the tire with air.
If you car doesn't currently have a monitoring system for your tires, aftermarket TPMS systems are available for installation and can run you abut $250. Such systems come with wireless sensors that connect to the tire valves and an LCD display. They're especially helpful for large vehicles, trailers, and motor homes, where a blown tire can be especially dangerous.
TPMS systems typically warn you once your tire pressure falls 25 percent, which hopefully gives you enough notice to switch over to a spare or get your car to a service center. But they're not foolproof, warns Matt Edmonds, vice president of retailer TireRack.com. "By the time the TPMS light goes on it's usually too late," he said. For that reason, you shouldn't ditch that tire pressure gauge just yet.
As for Continental, it's also looking at other ways to notify you of tire pressure problems. The tire maker is working with carmakers to provide mobile apps that report tire pressure levels directly to smartphones.
Technology for treads
Tires sold in this country have a band on the tire that appears when the tread is low. These "wear bars" can warn you when your tires no longer meet the safe minimum tread depth. (Another handy way to check: Place a penny in the groove of your tire to see if Lincoln's head pops up over the tread.)
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