Editorial: Does the rubber meet the road?

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Christopher Botzum
  • 111th Attack Wing
It seems that each overnight rain brings traffic-snarled commute headaches for everyone. Loaded tractor-trailers jack knifing on the Schuylkill Expressway, one-car spinouts kissing the guard rail on the blue route (I-476), or a vintage, multicolored minivan hurtling into a maple tree along Roosevelt Boulevard seems to be the norm for our rainy-morning travels.

Could all this roadside twisted metal and car-part carnage be avoided?  The answer could be as close as your tires.

"It was like riding on a sheet of ice," said Tech. Sgt. Sabrina Knoblauch, 111th Force Support Squadron retirements and separations administrator, after tootling home during a summer squall in her all-wheel drive sport utility vehicle. Although her car had been inspected less than 6-months earlier, an inflated balloon has deeper tread depth than her car tires had on that fateful day.

All-wheel and four-wheel drive vehicles are hardly exempt from the effects of hydroplaning. In fact, they may give the driver a false sense of security.

Checking your tire tread will only cost you a penny.

Here's how: Place a penny in your tread with Lincoln's head pointed down into the groove. If you can see the top of his head, it's time to replace those tires.

Even more convenient, tire manufactures mold in a 2/32" lump at numerous places in the tread groove. The tire is substandard when those indicators are even with the rest of the tire's surface.
With new-fangled tire pressure monitors installed on modern vehicles, the art of a simple and routine tire inspection have seemingly become a thing of the past.

A few factors can rapidly decrease the speed at which your car begins to hydroplane: tread condition, tire pressure, speed and the depth of the water on the roadway. The latter is out of your hands, but moderating your speed to a meet the conditions takes that out of the picture.  
Maintaining proper air pressure in your tires is the simplest maintenance tip drivers can do. Underinflation is an enemy of tires and can causes increased tread wear on the shoulder area (outside edges) of the tire, generate excessive heat and reduce fuel economy by increasing rolling resistance.

Also, low tire pressure increases stopping distance, can lead to flats or blowouts, skidding and/or a loss of control of your vehicle while doing a lane change or in a curve, such as an off-ramp.

Furthermore, as if the aforementioned wasn't enough, underinflation rapidly degrades the speed at which tires hydroplane due to less road contact surface area. For those mathematically inclined people, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posted this formula:

Hydroplaning speed = 10.35 x √ inflation pressure. That being said, at 30 psi (pounds per square inch), hydroplaning could occur at 56.7 mph, at 25 psi, hydroplaning could occur at 51.8 mph and at 20 psi, hydroplaning could occur at 46.3 mph.

Your tire pressures fluctuate with ambient temperature as well. A 1-2 psi decrease can occur for every 10 degrees of temperature decline, making your once plump summer tires mushy by late fall. 
Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. suggest checking your tire inflation at least once each month with a reliable gauge and to not go by the pressure marked on the sidewall of the tire. Instead, they state to always use the specification in your owner's manual or driver's side door pillar.

So, you want to jump in your set of wheels and show that gas pedal just who's boss? Strap in tight, because you might be in for the ride of your life.