As the snow and ice melts, and this awful winter finally gives way to spring, we will be faced with some destructive reminders of the past season…potholes. Potholes are one of the most abusive nuisances to which your car is subjected. Hitting potholes can lead to problems such as:
- Steering system issues
- Wheel rim damage
- Tire damage
- Suspension problems
- Engine or exhaust system damage
Shocks and struts are another component of your car that can be seriously compromised by potholes. Shocks and struts control your car’s ride and handling. Shock and struts act as a cushion to dampen the bouncing action of a car’s springs. Another function of shocks and struts is controlling spring and suspension movement to keep your car’s tires in contact with the road, enabling proper steering, stability, and braking. Compromised shocks and struts can impact steering and handling, so it is essential to be aware of the warning signs that your vehicle’s shocks or struts may need to be replaced:
- Rolling or swaying on turns
- Front-end dives when braking or rear end dips when accelerating
- Bouncing or sliding sideways on rough or winding roads
- Bottoming out or thumping on bumps
- Unusual puddles under the car or leaking fluids
- Loss of directional control during sudden stops
It is a good idea to have your car inspected if you experience any of the above signs. Catching pothole damage issues early can prevent more extensive problems down the road.
This crazy winter has presented drivers across the nation with some serious driving challenges. While the Northern states have been hit hard, they have the advantage of ready road crews, vehicles fitted with snow tires, and drivers experienced with maneuvering through sleet, slush, and snow. The worst issues seem to have been for Southern states, which are not prepared for winter driving. In many of these areas, preparation for snow and ice is just not normally necessary, for both municipal budgets and individual drivers. A recent development I read about got my wheels turning on this subject. It is a retractable studded tire:
These tires are fitted with studs that extend and retract with the push of a control button located on the dashboard. Studs are ready for use when needed, and gone when not needed. This tire technology is currently under development by Nokian Tyre, a tire manufacturer that specializes in products for snow and other harsh driving conditions. While these non-studded tires with studs are probably not going to be available to the public any time soon, they may be a common feature in cars of the future, meaning snow and ice will be less of a problem for all drivers, no matter where they live.
As we await the development of technical solutions to winter driving woes, here are a few safe winter driving reminders:
- Take it easy – always drive a little slower during winter conditions.
- Keep in mind that it takes longer to stop a vehicle on ice and snow. Double the anticipated stopping distance when braking anytime conditions are not dry.
- Don’t expect a four-wheel drive vehicle to have better braking ability than a two-wheel drive vehicle. An SUV will not stop faster than a sedan.
- Be sure to install four winter tires, not just two. You need a full set to gain all of the handling and traction benefits, and to be sure all tires have the same grip capabilities.
Image courtesy of www.vintagevalentinemuseum.com
Valentine’s Day is this Friday – don’t forget to treat your special someone right! And remember that one of the best ways to show folks you love them is by taking care of their tires. Not only will you be keeping them safer, you will give them the gifts of better gas mileage and longer tire life!
Properly inflated tires are the key to tire care. Refer to the vehicle owner’s manual to confirm the manufacturer’s recommendation for proper tire pressure. While you’ll see a tire pressure number on the tire, remember that number is the maximum pressure. The number specified in the manual will be the ideal level of inflation.
Remove the valve cap and press the tire gauge on the valve stem. The hissing sound you hear will stop once you press all the way down. After only a few seconds, you can get an accurate reading. When you hit the right pressure, replace the valve cap. Repeat this process for the remaining tires.
When the tires need air, they can be filled with a portable compressor or one of the air pumps available at most gas stations. The process of filling the tires is similar to checking the pressure. Rather than pressing the gauge to the valve stem, you will press the fitting on the air hose to the stem. Watch the pressure gauge until it reaches the right pressure level. If you happen to over inflate, you can easily remove the excess air from the tires by applying pressure with the gauge and rechecking the tire. The more you check your tires, the better you will be at knowing how long you need to inflate to get the right pressure.
It is important to note that even if tires look good, that does not mean the pressure is right. By the time a tire looks underinflated tire pressure is too low – be sure to catch it before then!
Do I need to have both wheel alignment and tire balancing services on my car? If so, can you tell me what the difference is between these services?
Wheel alignment and tire balancing are two separate services, and you do need to have both done on your car. Each of these services will extend tire life and improve the performance of your tires. While you should check your owner’s manual to find out the recommended schedule for your car, wheel balancing is usually required more frequently than wheel alignment.
As you drive your tires lose balance, so periodic tire balancing service is needed to return proper balance. Over time, tread wear causes the distribution of weight around the tire to change, which causes the imbalance. This may be felt in unusual shaking or vibration as you drive. When performing tire balancing service, the technician will use a calibrated spin balancer, testing non-moving or static balance as well as moving or dynamic balance. Tires will be adjusted to the proper balance in accordance with the test results. Tire balancing is usually done in combination with tire rotation, usually every 5-6,000 miles or 6 months.
Wheel alignment is service you may also hear referred to as “front end alignment” or “tire alignment.” The process involves the adjustment of the angle of your car’s wheels to the original position recommended by the car manufacturer. Wheel alignment includes inspecting tire tread for signs of poor alignment. The technician will also check the toe, camber, and caster to precisely measure wheel orientation. Following the inspection, the actual service will include all of the necessary adjustments. Wheel alignment checks are usually recommended every 10,000 miles. But if you notice the vehicle pulling to one side, or if the vehicle has recently been in a collision, you should have it checked right away.