I was on a flight to Singapore when I started to think what would happen if the aircraft were landing on damaged tires like those that were on a car a friend was driving the other day. As we approached the runway I thought, "What if the plane's tires have cracks in the sidewalls, too!"
My friend had been running under-inflated, low-profile tires on his car. The punishment of everyday driving over poor surfaces had caused cracking on the walls of the tires. He had spent a lot of money on the tires was unhappy about replacing them -- with sidewall damage there is nothing that can be done to repair the tire. For sure, he would not get anywhere near the life expectancy indicated by the treadwear.
While he was getting new tires installed, he had the flat spare tire in the trunk fixed, too. He also purchased a very affordable tire pressure gauge, so that these tires do not have to be replaced as quickly as the previous. Tire pressure is important.
Getting back to aircraft tires, they are checked before EVERY flight -- this might be extreme to compare an aircraft's tires to an everyday car or truck -- but then, maybe it's not. In most workplaces, it is a requirement for professional drivers to inspect any vehicle before use -- shouldn't we have the same attitude toward the safety of our own family? (See Safety Check).
Unfortunately, many people just jump in and start the car every day without even thinking of their tires. How about you?
Over the course of a tire's life, it will encounter a variety of different conditions -- some normal, some extreme. Damage to your tires can occur as a result of many different situations. Consider some of the extremes, like the stress caused to your tires because of sudden breaking -- imagine the force they are subjected to if an average family car has to stop in an emergency -- it can be as much, or even worse than what an airplane tire experiences.
The most common causes of damaged tires are things like collisions with curbsides, penetration by objects like nails and debris left on the road. There's damage from misalignment and overloading, and like in the case of my friend, incorrect inflation. Sometimes a combination of several things, combined with normal wear and tear, create a problem.
Of course, replacing or repairing a damaged tire can be expensive, but, it can in no way be compared to the expense of a car accident as a consequence of driving on a damaged tire. You should never drive on a damaged tire or wheel -- a tire failure even at low speeds can pull you into oncoming traffic or possibly some pedestrian.
Inspect your tires often; make it a regular habit every time before you drive. Lumps or bulges, cracks, cuts, splits, penetrations by foreign objects, and abnormal wear patterns should all be considered very serious, and the tire promptly replaced with the spare. Deliver the damaged tire to a specialist for repair immediately -- lightning rarely strikes twice but flat tires do!
Vibration or a unusual handling may be a sign of tire damage, so immediately reduce your speed in a careful manner and stop somewhere safe -- well off of the traveled road. Don't create a traffic hazard by stopping where you'll impede other vehicles.
If you cannot see any visible signs of damage, but your vehicle seems to handle differently, don‘t do nothing and just hope it goes away. Depending on the circumstances you may want to even consider calling for roadside assistance if you have it available, or having your car towed to a mechanic or tire dealer for inspection.
If you can see where a tire is damaged, remove it from the vehicle and replace the wheel with your spare. Not all damage requires tire replacement, some damage can be repaired considerably cheaper than buying a new tire.
Take the time to inspect all of your tires; don't forget to check the spare, too. Check your air pressures -- simple air pressure gauges are available and can pay for themselves many times over, if you make a habit of using them. (Accutire Digital Tire Air Gauges --available at The Tire Rack--help maintain accurate air pressure.)
Check for cracks that indicate stress, if you get down on your knees from time to time and inspect the inside tire wall it's a good idea. Cracks, bulges or other damages, can appear there without you knowing unless you have a look.
There's more on repair and causes of damage in part II of our article, as well as some tips on how to avoid various causes.
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