tire safetyYour tires are the only part of your vehicle connected to the road. They affect your stopping distance. Impact the handling. Absorb shock. In short, your tires are the most important safety feature on your vehicle.

Think about that for a minute.

Now think about the last time you checked the air pressure. Measured the tread depth. Replaced them.

Michelin was right – there is too much riding on your tires to ignore them. This week is National Tire Safety Week, so we’ve compiled a few tips for you to use to keep tabs on your tires.

Do a Visual Inspection of Your Tires

Check for obvious signs of damage like bare spots, visible threading, goose eggs and uneven wear patterns.

Check Your Tire Pressure

Use a quality tire pressure gauge. We like the digital ones because they’re easy to read. Make sure the tire pressure in all five of your tires (check the spare, too) align with your vehicle owner’s manual. Do this before you start driving for the day, though – the pressure in the owner’s manual is for cold tires.

Tires that are overinflated will wear primarily in the center, which can reduce your stopping distance considerably, especially in wet conditions. Underinflated tires will wear along the edges, which can lead to a blowout if you hit a pothole just right. Low tire pressure can also compromise your fuel economy.

Take Your Tires for a Spin

If your steering wheel is pulling or vibrating, there may be an alignment issue or your tires may be underinflated on the side to which the vehicle pulls.

Check the Tread Depth on Your Tires

Have a quarter in the cup holder? Insert it into the tread, head first. If you can’t see the top of Washington’s head peeking out, they’re in good shape with at least 4/32” of tread. You can try this test with a penny, too. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, it’s time for new tires.

Keep Up with Routine Tire Maintenance

Keeping up with the routine maintenance on your tires is the best way to ensure they’re always safe. Have your tires rotated every 5,000 to 7,000 miles. Get them balanced if you notice vibrations at higher speeds. And get the alignment checked if you notice the car pulling to one side.

During National Tire Safety Week, which runs from May 29 – June 4, all Levin Tire and Service Centers throughout Northwest Indiana are offering free tire inspections. We’ll check the tread depth and the air pressure, look for signs of wear, and take them for a spin to identify any handling problems.

If you need new tires, we offer a full range from economy tire to top-of-the-line models that will keep you safe on the road and even improve your driving experience.

vehicle repairIn April and October of 2014, the non-profit Car Care Council hosted vehicle inspections during Car Care events across the country. Eighty-four percent of the vehicles inspected failed at least one inspection component requiring service or parts, up 5% from 2013.

Most of those failures were easy fixes, but some problems require the attention of an automotive service professional. Here’s a breakdown of the inspection reports.

  • 27% had low washer fluid
  • 25% had low or dirty motor oil
  • 18% needed a new air filter
  • 17% had dirty, leaky or low coolant
  • 17% had at least one bad belt
  • 16% had front wiper failures
  • 14% had tires with worn tread
  • 14% needed battery service for cables, clamps and terminals
  • 13% had check-engine light on
  • 11% needed lights replaced, including headlights, brake lights and license plate lights
  • 10% had improperly inflated tires
  • 8% needed at least one new hose
  • 9% of batteries weren’t properly held down

The last thing anyone wants to think about is regular vehicle maintenance, but consider that your vehicle is likely your second largest investment. The better you care for it, the longer it will last.

There are a variety of ways to stay on top of your vehicle’s recommended maintenance schedule. CarCare.org’s Your Online Garage helps you determine when your vehicle needs service and track your service history. And the MyCARFAX app will alert you when it’s time to service your vehicle. Both of these options are free. There are also several paid apps available.

gas pumpThey say you get what you pay for. So, since it costs more, premium gasoline should be better for your vehicle, right? According to a study conducted by Car and Driver, it depends on the vehicle, but more on that in a moment.

Let’s Talk Octane

You see the numbers 87, 89 and 92 on the gas pumps, but what do they mean? Those numbers indicate the octane rating, a measure of the fuel’s ability resist detonating prematurely during the combustion process, which is what produces the “knocking” sound.

The Federal Trade Commission and the U.S Department of Energy advise fueling your vehicle with the manufacturer-recommended octane level.
Using a lower-than-recommended octane fuel can result in poor engine performance, and can actually damage the engine and emissions control system over time. On the flip-side, using a higher octane fuel may boost performance and fuel economy, and reduce emissions, especially under heavy-duty operation like pulling a trailer or taking a long road trip in the summer months.

Under normal driving conditions, however, higher octane fuel offers little to no benefit, and the cost differential isn’t outweighed by the savings.

Car and Driver’s Study

Researchers from Car and Driver tested several cars - some designed to run on regular gas, others that require high octane fuel. They ran the vehicles at a track and on a dynamometer, a device that measures force, torque and power.

They found that running lower-tech engines on premium fuel yielded small improvements in horsepower and quarter-mile acceleration tests. When they ran the high-performance vehicles on regular gasoline, horsepower and acceleration performance dipped by as much as 10%.

The Old Days

Rewind several years and you might remember that your parents would fuel up with a premium tank a few times a year. In that time, premium gasolines contained more detergents and additives than regular fuel, which combated carbon deposits that reduced performance. Today though, thanks to emission- reducing regulations, all fuels contain these detergents and additives.

Engine technology has improved over the years, too, and modern engines can adjust on the fly to optimize the engine performance to the fuel type in the vehicle. But older engines can’t effectively accommodate fuels of varying octane ratings, so if you drive a vehicle built before 1995, run it on the manufacturer-recommended fuel.

While the higher-end vehicles in the Car and Driver study didn’t suffer any immediate drivability issues or knocking, Edmunds suggests that running low-octane fuel in an engine that’s rated for premium gasoline could contribute to trouble down the road.

Edmunds has compiled two lists: Premium Recommended and Premium Required. For vehicles on the “premium recommended” lists, drivers can step down to a lower-octane fuel without noticing a dip in performance or risking damage to the engine. Cars on the “premium required” list, however, have higher-performance engines and do require a higher-octane fuel.

Bottom Line

If your vehicle’s engine is rated for regular fuel, stick with the least expensive unleaded gas. The pricier fuel won’t improve the engine’s performance enough to justify the extra cost.

If you drive a vehicle that requires premium gasoline and you cheap out at the pump, you’ll not only reduce your engine’s performance, you could also develop an engine knock that can damage components over time.

car accidentNo one starts their day with the intention of getting into a car accident, but from fender benders to pile-ups and everything in between, Americans get in nearly 10 million car accidents every year.

Research shows, however, that 80% of automotive accidents can be prevented with just one more second to react.

How can you give yourself one more second?

  • Turn the 3-second rule into 4 seconds.
  • Look further down the road and observe the patterns of other drivers. Give a wide berth to those weaving in and out of traffic or tailgating.
  • Wait an additional moment before proceeding through a stop light or a stop sign.

Other tips to avoid car accidents include:

Don’t drive impaired or distracted. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1/3 of traffic fatalities in 2014 involved an alcohol-impaired driver. And the National Safety Council reports that 26% of collisions involved cell phone use. Oddly, only 5% of those are attributed to texting. The majority are attributed to people talking on handheld or hands-free devices.

Stay off the road between midnight and 3 a.m. The National Highway Safety and Transportation Administration reports that these hours are the deadliest hours of the week, with 66% of fatal crashes involving alcohol or other drugs.

Obey the speed limit and observe road conditions. Speeding and driving too fast for road conditions, including weather and construction, are the leading cause of traffic accidents.

The driving experts at Edmunds.com also offer a few tips for avoiding car accidents.

  1. Avoid the “fast lane.” When you drive in the left lane, you limit your options for evasive maneuvers. In fact, most highway accidents occur in the left lane, so only use it for its intended purpose – passing.
  2. Beware of blind spots. Every vehicle has them, and many modern vehicles are equipped with blind spot monitoring. While adjusting your mirrors correctly can give you a better view of the road behind and beside you, there’s no substitute for turning to look. You should also consider the blind spots of other vehicles, such as semi-trucks, and try not to ride in them.
  3. The “9 and 3” position. You probably remember this hand position from drivers’ education, but it’s not just a suggestion. It actually gives you more control over the wheel and facilitates quick maneuvering to avoid collisions.
  4. Keep your vehicle in good shape. Follow the manufacturer-recommended maintenance schedule to ensure that it always performs as expected, especially when it comes to accelerating, stopping and steering. This goes for your tires, too.

odometerWhether you splurged on a brand new vehicle or bought a budget-friendly, new-to-you car, you want to get the most out of your investment.

Rich White, the executive director of the Car Care Council, says “The smartest way to get a solid return on your investment is to keep your car through what we call the ‘Cinderella Era.’ That’s the period of time after the payoff when your car is still in great shape and needs only modest repairs.”

White also says, and we agree, that “with proper care, the typical vehicle should deliver at least 200,000 miles of safe, dependable performance.”

So what does it take to keep your car in good shape? An entire year’s worth of basic, routine maintenance costs the equivalent of one monthly car payment, which averages $479 according to Edmunds.com. This regular maintenance includes checking the oil, filters and fluids, belts and hose, brakes, tires and air conditioning. The Car Care Council also recommends an annual tune-up and wheel alignment.

While you will pay a little bit out of pocket each time you have your vehicle serviced, it’s nothing compared to having to shell out for a new car payment every month. Plus, when you keep up with regular maintenance, your vehicle will not only last longer, it will ultimately be more valuable as a trade-in or when you sell it in the future.

Your local Levin Tire and Service Center can customize a car care plan for you that will keep your vehicle in great condition for as long as you plan on driving it. Call us today.