Photo Credit: Jo Panuwat D/


Summer Driving: Tires Are The Most Important Safety Feature On Your Car

Written By: Jerry Reynolds | Jun 12, 2024 5:03:57 PM

In a world where automotive safety technology gets more advanced every day, it's easy to forget about what is, in my opinion, the most important, yet often most ignored safety feature on a vehicle: its tires. After all, they are what separate you from the road.  

Considering all the road trips likely to take place over the summer months, I bring you some tips on how to keep your tires in good condition. This is especially critical as hot temps and pavement during the summer can adversely impact tires. On its website, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) warns that "sustained high temperature (for example, driving long distances in hot weather), can cause a tire to deteriorate, leading to blowouts and tread separation. "

1. Know Your Tires' Age

Tire age is important, so know how old your tires are.  With increased age, comes a higher risk of tire failure. We know that tires get substantially weaker after they are six years old, regardless of mileage. You should replace any tire that is 6 years old or older, but it's best to replace them in sets of two or four, so they wear evenly and ensure maximum safety.  When buying new tires, ask about age and check it. Sometimes tires, especially odd sized ones, can set on the shelf for many years. 

Finding Your Tire's Age

The good news is that you can easily find your tire's age. Just check the Department of Transportation (DOT) Tire Identification Number (or serial number) stamped on their sidewalls.   Note that the tire identification number is not unique to the tire like a VIN number is to a vehicle.  The numbers on your tire are intended to identify batches of tires. The entire number on a tire tells NHTSA which factory made the tire, as well as when the week and year it was produced.

Each DOT tire identification is made up of 10, 11, or 12 letters or numbers. The last four numbers are the ones to pay attention to.  Since 2000, these four numbers indicate the week and year the tire was made.  The last two numbers identify the year.  The two numbers before that, the week of the year. 

Example of a tire manufactured since 2000 with the current Tire Identification Number format:


Credit: Tire Rack.


In the example above (picture and example provided by Tire Rack):

  • DOT U2LL LMLR 5107
  • DOT U2LL LMLR 5107 Manufactured during the 51st week of the year
  • DOT U2LL LMLR 5107 Manufactured during 2007

IMPORTANT: Never buy a tire that is not stamped DOT, those have not been deemed safe by the Department of Transportation.   


2. Keep An Eye On Tire Pressures

Monitoring tire pressure is one of the most critical things you can do to keep you and your family safe. Many people think you can tell if a tire is low just by looking, but the truth is you just cannot. It starts with a good tire gauge so you know the info is accurate. This assumes the vehicle you own doesn't have a diagnostic center that shows each tire's pressure. All newer vehicles have a light that comes on to tell you when the pressure is low, but often by the time the light comes on, the tire is very low.

We know that a low tire runs much hotter due to friction and this can lead to a blowout. It also hurts your fuel economy. An overinflated tire will lead to increased wear right in the middle of the tire, and because there is less tread on the road, handling is not as good and neither is braking.

Understand too, that changes in temperature can affect tire pressure. I am personally a fan of putting nitrogen in your tires; I put it in all my personal cars. NASCAR has been using it for years to keep the tire pressure constant on the track.


3. Tire Rotation Is Critical

Too often people don't spend the money needed to get their tires rotated. This should be done every 5000 miles. What people often don't realize is rotating tires will extend the life of your tires, sometimes you can double the tire life just by being diligent with the 5000 mile rotation. Rotation will help keep tread wear even, especially on front-wheel drive cars. I would use a dealership to do this, since some vehicles have different rules of rotating. Some vehicles have to be cross rotated. Also, most dealerships will do a free brake inspection for you and give you the amount of brake wear since they've already got the wheels off anyway.


3. Don't Forget The Front End Alignment

Again, this will extend the life of your tires, and you often can't tell by driving if your front end is out of alignment. Potholes and curbs will knock a car out of alignment in a hurry. Often, by the time you figure out your car needs an alignment, you've eaten through the tires. The safe mileage to have an alignment checked is no more than 25,000 miles unless you hit a curb or pothole that you really feel.


4. Check Your Tread Depth

This is something you can easily do yourself. You can use either a quarter or a penny and it is quick and easy to do. Insert a quarter into a tread groove with the top of Washington's head facing down. If the top of George's head does not show, your tires have at least 4/32" of tread and are OK. If you can see above the top of Washington's head, it is time to get some new tires. Take measurements in three locations across the tire's tread: Check the outside edge, right in the center, and also on the inside edge.

The penny test is done in the same way, except that if you can see above the top of Abe's head, your tires have less than 2/32" of tread, which is below the legal minimum in most states, and should set off all sorts of warnings. Tires worn to this level could also have visible wear, like the steel cords showing from side to side across two or more tread segments. Tires this worn are a true safety issue and you are at risk.


5.  Look In Your Trunk

Always check your trunk to see if you have a spare tire. Many new model vehicles no longer come with one.  Instead you could find an inflator kit. Or in some cases, vehicles come with run-flat tires. 

If you do have a spare, check to see you have all the equipment you need should a tire issue arise. It's also a good idea to have a list of road side assistance numbers in case you need help.  I have a list of automaker roadside assistance numbers here.

A Few Other Thoughts

  • Besides making your car look good, a good tire dressing is smart, especially if you live in an area that gets a lot of sun and heat. Tire dressing is great for keeping your tires from cracking due to age.
  • If you feel your front end shaking or shimmying, you may need a balance. Weights are put on your wheels to make them perfectly balanced, but those hard potholes can knock the weights off and cause your vehicle to driven differently. This is not something you need to do as regular maintenance, but only if you feel your car is driving differently. Generally, you'll be able to tell from a vibration in your steering wheel.
  • Use the tire pressure recommended by the automaker, not what it says on the side of the tire. One particular size and brand of tire may be used on many different vehicles. Almost always, if you look inside the driver's door, there are stated air pressures. The front may be different from the rear tires, but whatever the case, use the pressures that are on the car.


In Conclusion

Tire safety is crucial and too often ignored. As stated earlier, your tires are the connection to the road and affect safety, braking, handling, steering, and ride quality.

Take the time and do all the things I discussed above. Not only will you be safer and enjoy your time behind the wheel, but proper steps will help you get the most miles out of your tires, ultimately saving you money.

Photo Credit: Jo Panuwat D/