What’s the first thing you think of when sprinting toward your car on a scorching summer day? The A/C? The fact that you’ll need an oven mitt to touch the steering wheel? What about your tires? Just like you, your tires can fall victim to heat exhaustion, and the more you expose your tire’s tread to sustained high temperatures, the more likely it is you could run into trouble on the road.
Why does summer heat wreak so much havoc on our tires? Put your safety glasses on, there’s science involved.
Tire heat and you: a quick physics lesson
Friction causes heat, and your tires produce friction. Normally, the friction caused by your tires won’t negatively affect your vehicle’s performance. But when the heat index skyrockets and pavement begins to boil, your tires produce excessive amounts of heat, which can put dangerous amounts of stress on underinflated, cracked, or otherwise damaged tires.
Even if you’re not trekking cross-country, constant friction caused by going to and from barbecues increases heat exponentially. It was fun playing with Hot Wheels when you were young, but real-life hot wheels can cause problems.
How can you protect your tires from summer heat?
Advanced physics aside, you only need to follow a few simple steps to keep your tires from becoming roadside attractions.
Tips on keeping your tires cool
Learn your A B Cs
Your tire’s DNA is imprinted on its sidewall, and tells you everything you need to know about taking care of your vehicle’s shoes. First, you’ll see the tire’s composition, size, capabilities, and speed rating:
Then below or to the side of the tire size, you’ll find the NHTSA UTQG Treadwear, Traction, and Temperature ratings stamped on every summer and all-season tire.
Treadwear indicates the wear rate of a tire, from 100 to about 700 – the higher the better, or longer lasting.
Traction grades – from highest to lowest: AA, A, B, or C – indicate a tire’s ability to stop on wet pavement.
And, if you rack up miles in hot temperatures, take a look at your tire’s temperature grade, which indicates its resistance to heat buildup and ability to dissipate heat. Tires are given A, B, or C grades, with A being the coolest running, or most heat-resistant, grade. And while temperature ratings are classified using speeds, they are actually an assessment of a tire’s prolonged exposure to heat. For example, if you’ve got A-rated tires, you’ll be able to drive further, faster, and longer without risking tread damage.
While knowing the three T’s lets you comparatively gauge different tire capabilities, the ratings are based on controlled conditions, and real-world scenarios don’t always reflect UTQG grades to a tee. It’s also important to remember that these ratings are based on properly inflated tires that aren’t overloaded by extra weight. Speaking of which…
Keep your tires properly inflated
Under-inflated tires produce more heat (and less MPGs). Checking your tire’s inflation pressure at least once a month can help keep you safe and sound on hot summer days, and can be done in the time it takes you to pretend to floss. Oh, and remember — to find the proper inflation pressure for your vehicle, look on the driver’s side door jamb, inside the glove compartment, or in the owner’s manual rather than on the tire itself.
Know when to check your tire pressure
Be sure and check the inflation pressure when tires are cold, like first thing in the morning before you start driving. This gives you a more accurate reading.
Check for slow leaks, punctures, and other oddities
When you’re checking tire pressure, give your tires a good onceover and look for inconsistencies like uneven wear, bulges, or cracks in the tread or sidewall. If you find yourself drifting on the road, don’t ignore it – visit a trusted installer in your neighborhood and get it checked out. And look for changes in pressure from month to month. A healthy tire will typically lose 1-2 psi per month; if you’re losing more than that it may be time for some new rubber. Luckily, you can shop for new tires from the cool confines of your living room.
TPMS = No mess
A Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) can keep you alerted when tire pressure dips too low, thus preventing excessive (and unnecessary) heat buildup. Some TPMS devices will also alert you when tire temperature gets too high—though you’ll want to make sure your device provides this capability. If your vehicle is from model year 2007 or newer, it’s most likely equipped with TPMS.
And remember, stay cool out there.