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Summer driving tips to help prevent a road trip catastrophe

Consumer Reports News: July 02, 2013 09:08 AM

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Summer is here, signaled by parts of the country seeing temperatures climb way past 100-degrees. Such heat can take its toll on your car. To help keep you safe, our experts compiled these simple tire-focused tips that just might help prevent a road trip catastrophe.

  • Check your tire's inflation pressure at least once a month. (See our Ratings of tire-pressure gauges). That's good advice all year long, but especially in the summer heat. To keep your tires running cool, make sure the inflation pressure is topped-off to the vehicle manufacturer's recommendation--typically found on a placard on the driver's door jamb. Consult the owner's manual for additional information. Tire inflation pressure should be adjusted when the tires are cool, when the car has been parked for three hours or longer. Pressure builds up as the tires warm-up after a long drive.

  • Don't overload the car. Under-inflation and/or overloading the vehicle will place added stress on your tires in the form of excessive heat build-up. Both of these conditions can adversely affect the vehicle's handling and fuel economy. Again, refer to your car's owner's manual and the information placard on the driver's door jamb for the acceptable load limit. This total includes passenger and cargo capacity. Some cars offer additional inflation recommendations for driving with a full load, which is likely to be the case if you are taking the family on weeklong vacation.

  • Visually inspect your tires. Look for abnormal signs of irregular wear around and across the tire tread area, and check the sidewalls for cuts and bulges. Irregular wear may be a sign of suspension misalignment. If you see any abnormalities in the tires, have the car and tires checked by a service professional. Don't risk a blowout on the road, which at best can be inconvenient. At worst, it can upset handling and risk a dangerous situation.

  • Hydroplaning is common in the summer with sudden downpours from thunder showers very typical in many parts of the country. You will need tires with plenty of tread depth to resist hydroplaning. So, if your current tires are nearly worn-out, get them replaced. (Learn how to measure tire tread depth.)

  • Be aware that more and more new vehicles don't come equipped with a spare tire. You may only have an inflation kit or perhaps none at all. This may become more important if you're travelling in an area where you don't have access to your usual garage. So now is a good time to familiarize yourself with what equipment your car is carrying.

  • Finally, if you have a spare tire, check that, too. Make sure it is in decent condition (no cracks) and is properly inflated.

Learn more about tire maintenance and how to choose the best replacement tire.

Gene Petersen

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