Auto PartsTech Tips

When good tires go bad

I was on my way into work last week when I got stuck behind a landscaper’s in the right lane. The truck was moving a bit slower than the rest of traffic and was hauling an open trailer full of equipment. No matter, I figured. I wasn’t really in a rush, and I was getting off at the next exit, approximately a mile up the highway. It was then that I noticed fine particles starting to accumulate on my windshield. It was overcast, so I mistook it for drizzle at first.

As the droplets started to pile up, I realized that they weren’t water. My next theory was that they were fresh grass clippings getting blown off the lawnmower sitting in the trailer in front of me. My car was freshly washed, and I wasn’t happy about it, but there was nothing to do but ride out the remaining quarter mile to the exit. Of course, as luck would have it, the pickup decided to take the same exit. I noticed the truck was slowing down even more on the off-ramp, and was traveling a good ten miles under the posted limit for the ramp itself.

As the truck made its way down the ramp, the film on my windshield started to pile up even worse. At this point, I decided not to use my windshield wipers, as I could still see ahead of me just fine and I didn’t want to smear whatever this stuff was all over my windshield. That’s when I first noticed the shimmy. The left rear tire on the trailer was flat close to riding on the rim. The film on my windshield was the remainder of that tire.

A few seconds later, we both exited the ramp onto the highway. Noting the truck’s rapidly-decreasing stability, I checked my mirror, flipped on my turn signal, and hopped into the center lane to overtake the truck. As I passed the truck, I saw it pull to a quick stop in the breakdown lane, followed by an large cloud of smoke ballooning out from the remainder of the tire.

The lesson to be taken from this is that tires have a finite lifespan, not necessarily limited to simple tread wear. When your tires fail, it’s likely to be on the road, and you may not have enough warning time to pull over safely. When you service your car, make sure

that tire rotation and proper inflation is on your list at the correct factory-specified interval. If your tires are more than five or six years old, you may want to replace them preemptively, even if the tread still seems to have life in it, as the rubber has degraded over time. This is another one of those situations where a little forethought can help prevent a roadside disaster.

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