Never get tired of minding your wheels

By Tessa R. Salazar Philippine Daily Inquirer February 16,2020

Those four round pieces of spinning steel rims and rubbers (or maybe even just two if you’re a motorcyclist) can spell success or disaster, even life or death, on any road trip.

Yet a vehicle’s tires are often taken for granted. Often we have seen remnants of tires strewn on the highways—evidence of blowouts usually from large trucks. Then we see black skid marks, and we imagine how that terrifying scene must have played out. And we can only pray that nothing serious happened to the sentient beings involved.

To those who haven’t been a victim of a sudden blowout, let me tell you my story, which took place a good 20 years ago.

I was driving an Asian utility vehicle on a narrow and remote mountain pass in Benguet Province. I was the trailing half of a two-vehicle convoy. Our merry party of close-knit officemates had just come from a wonderful tour of Sagada town in Mountain Province, and we were on our way back to Manila.

A heavily laden 10-wheeler cargo truck approached from the opposite lane, and as it passed my vehicle, the truck’s 3-foot-high rear wheel blew out its sidewall. Apparently, the truck’s rear wheels were overinflated, and the pneumatic force of the explosion blew in my AUV’s left front fender, bent the hood upward and gouged out the left signal light. Fortunately, apart from the frazzled nerves (and the ringing in my ears), no one was hurt. Unfortunately, the truck driver didn’t even stop to check on us. The rest of the truck’s nine wheels enabled it to trudge on as if nothing happened.

We did report the incident to the nearest police precinct as a no-contact fender bender caused by an overinflated truck tire.

Good thing this blowout happened at a relatively slow speed, and on a tire that wouldn’t cause the driver to lose control of the steering. In many cases, tire blowouts result in serious road accidents.

The reality is that for as long as tires remain the only contact point between machine and the road, flat tires are inevitable, a question of “when”, not “if”. Blowouts may be the worst-case scenario (except for those extremely rare cases when the entire wheel—including the rim—dislodges itself from the vehicle), but we can minimize the risk of blowouts by being mindful of our tires’ condition.

Here are some valuable tips imparted by tire experts I have spoken to through the years:

1) Check your tire dealer’s storage area/s. Tires age faster depending on how they are stored. Ultraviolet rays (from direct sunlight or even artificial light) and humidity are just two of the more telling causes of rubber degradation.

From tire expert Jaybee Atanacio: “The rate of tire aging depends on where you (or your dealers) store it. In a tropical country like ours, where it’s very humid, we usually advise motorists to change their tires every five years, whether it’s worn out or not. If the tires are stored in areas where they’re often rained on or subjected to extreme heat, then they age faster.”

The steel belts inside the tires are affected, as well. “Tires do corrode, and oxidation does take place,” Atanacio added. “Tires oxidize, they deform. But tire aging is different from the warranty. If I give a six-year warranty, but the storage condition is not good, such as if I store the tires near lubricants or if I expose them to direct sunlight or even fluorescent light, then the warranty is not good.”

2) Preventive maintenance is valuable, but keep calm when a blowout happens. Tire care expert Sam Liuson told this author a while back: “When a blowout happens to you, stay calm, and maneuver your vehicle to the side of the road. The steering feel will change, so you will have to grip the steering wheel hard and steer to balance the vehicle. Most modern high-end vehicles will have traction control to do it for you. Again, it’s much easier if you just perform preventive maintenance. When you experience a blowout, it could mean that you have been neglecting your tires, or the tires you have are not good. Replace (your brand) of tires.”

3) Road temperatures do affect tires, and in the looming prospect of global climate change, exacerbated by the “heat island effect” in the cities, this will become an even more crucial issue especially during future summer seasons, when more families would go on long road trips and expose their cars’ tires to the hottest periods of the day.

Mannix Ocampo, who’s also a tire expert, shared that the higher roadside temperatures during summer does affect tire performance and longevity.

“Temperatures can rise to as high as 40oC. Wear and tear is directly proportional to the temperature: The higher the temperature, the higher the wear and tear. Add to that the road surface temperature and you have compounded the effect.”

Ocampo explained that air pressure is likewise directly proportional to temperature. High temperatures expand air pressure as much as 23 percent. Management of tire inflation, therefore, is important. Check out your tire sidewall, which will guide you how much pressure you should put into your tires.

4) Choose brand-new tire over retreads or recaps. Retreads/recaps are prevalent and considered characteristic of underdeveloped and developing economies. They provide a low-cost (yet high-risk) extension of a tire’s life.

Other important points to consider: Choose tires that suit your use (eg. urban/road tires are different from mud/offroad tires); replace repaired or damaged rims; rotate your tires regularly, including your reserve tire, to even out the wear; and monitor your vehicle’s mechanical aspects that directly affect the tire, such as alignment, camber, and brakes.

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