Driving with bald tires is asking for an accident. You might think that's extreme, especially if the weather is nice and the streets are dry. However, the risks of driving with bald tires may be bigger than you realize, and those risks exist outside of rain or snow.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 738 fatalities in 2017 attributable to tire issues. Think about that — 738 deaths that were likely preventable if the vehicles' owners had simply taken care of their car's tires!
Tire maintenance is part of being a responsible driver, but many ignore their worn-out tires for far too long. We're here to show you why ignoring your car's tires is never a good idea.
Why Bald Tires are Dangerous
People will tell you that driving with bald tires is risky, but they tend to draw a blank when you ask them why. Everyone knows you need tire tread, but not all of us understand what it does.
The tread on your tires gives your car traction. It allows your car to grip the road, even in wet or snowy conditions. By pushing moisture away from the tire, the tread enables you to steer and make tight maneuvers without spinning out.
Tires with low tread, or a bald tire, therefore, can cause all sorts of problems that could lead to accidents. Some of those problems include:
Tread creates pockets of space between your tires and the road allowing air to flow. Airflow is essential to prevent heat buildup, leading to rubber degradation, fatigue cracking, or worse. In other words, too much heat makes tires unsafe.
As your tires wear down to a bald state, the friction between your tires and the road grows. Friction creates more heat, and without tread, there's no airflow to disperse it. As heat builds up, the pressure inside the tire grows as well. That could cause the tire to pop, obviously making for a dangerous situation!
The deep grooves of tread patterns on today's tires work to keep water out of the way. If a layer of water comes between your tires and the road, you're at risk of hydroplaning. The risk increases if it's the first rain of the season when oil collected on the road mixes with rainfall to create an exceptionally slippery road surface.
Hydroplaning is very scary when you're the driver of a vehicle that's spinning. It's also incredibly dangerous for everyone else on the road. One of the easiest ways to prevent it is to make sure your tires aren't bald.
Difficult Handling in Any Sort of Weather
As already mentioned, tire tread is crucial when there's any sort of moisture on the road. So, bald tires in rain, ice, or snow are especially hazardous. If you drive a car with older tires through winter weather or a blustery spring storm, you risk spinning out should you need to make any kind of turn.
Loss of Air Pressure
Worn tires lose tire pressure faster than tires in good health. This can lead to chronic under-inflation, which has a whole host of attached problems.
For one thing, a low-pressure tire, especially a bald one, can't grip the road steadily even when the road is dry! You may find you have trouble steering or even braking when you have underinflated tires. On top of that, underinflated tires reduce fuel economy, meaning you end up spending more on gas than you should.
Tire tread isn't magical, but it can provide an extra layer of protection should you run over something sharp. A nail in a new tire isn't good, but if a nail pierces a bald tire, the fate is often far worse.
If you drive a car with bald tires and run over a nail in the road, you risk a sudden tire blowout. Depending on your speed and the road conditions, sudden blowouts can lead to fatal accidents. Even when the accident isn't fatal, it's terrifying to feel your tire give out. Additionally, it puts you and every other motorist in the vicinity at risk.
How to Check Your Car's Tire Tread
So, driving with bald tires is a definite no, which may leave you wondering, “how do I know when my tires are bald?”
Checking your tire tread is pretty simple; you start by looking at your tires. Can you see the tread grooves on their surfaces? Or are they smooth as a cue ball? If they look smooth, you have bald tires and need to get them replaced.
Of course, sometimes it's less obvious. If there's still tread, but it looks worn down, you can use a tire tread gauge or the penny test. A tire gauge is self-explanatory; buy one and keep it in your glove box. Use it now and again to make sure your tires are in good shape.
The penny test is even easier if you have spare change. To do the penny test, you simply place a penny in the tire's tread. Make sure the "Lincoln's head" side of the penny is towards you. If you can see all of Abe Lincoln's handsome face, it's time to buy new tires.
Most modern tires come with tire indicator bars as well. These are flat rubber bars built into your tires that you can't see when tire treads are in good shape. As your tires wear down, the tread wear bars will become apparent. Once you can see them, it's time to replace your tires.
Of course, you may also realize you have worn tires by the way your car handles. If you lose traction during rainy weather or you find that your stopping distance has increased, it's time to check your tires and possibly replace them.
What if Only One or Two of My Tires are Bald?
Sometimes you'll find that only one or two tires are bald while the rest look great. In that case, you should get your alignment checked on top of purchasing new tires for your vehicle. Poor alignment leads to uneven tire wear along with other issues.
In general, when you replace tires, you should replace the whole set. That's especially true for all-wheel drive vehicles. If you only replace one or two tires on an all-wheel-drive vehicle, the older lower-tread tires tend to spin faster than the new ones. On an all-wheel-drive car, that will stress the engine out.
With regular cars that don't have all-wheel-drive, you usually need to replace at least two tires at a time to ensure a smooth, safe ride. However, you should check your owner's manual to be sure. Some new cars, even without all-wheel drive, recommend you change all four tires at once.
If you're only going to replace two tires, seek out the same brand, size, and tread patterns as the tires you aren't replacing. Doing so will ensure you maintain a safe and balanced ride.
Do You Need New Tires? Or Should You Replace Your Car?
If your car is on the older side and maintenance is becoming too much, it may be time to think of replacing your vehicle. No one likes slowly bleeding money into repairs and updates, and a new set of good tires can run up a hefty bill. Trading in that beater in your driveway for cash might be the better option.
If you're sick of looking at the old car in your driveway and can't stand the cost of repairs, it might be time to call Junk Car Medics. We'll take it off your hands and leave you with cash in your wallet!