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Got Air? Wacky Weather Wages Tire Woes -- Goodyear

AKRON, Ohio, May 2 Wildly fluctuating temperatures are inflating problems for motorists this spring.

Thirty degrees one day and 80 degrees the next make tire maintenance extremely challenging, according to Goodyear. Temperature swings are wreaking havoc on tires, specifically their inflation pressures, Bill Egan, chief engineer of advanced tire technology, said.

Goodyear, in promoting National Tire Safety Week this week, is offering several initiatives, including distributing tire care booklets, offering free tire inspections and showcasing blimp on-board messaging. The company's Pompano Beach, Fla., airship Stars & Stripes even asks motorists a simple question: Got Air?

Denser air associated with the cold naturally leaves tires under-inflated, making them susceptible to fast treadwear, diminished handling, higher rolling resistance and tires "generally not performing as designed," Egan said.

"People who don't keep pace with the rapidly changing temperatures usually have tires running low on air." Under-inflation, like its economic inflationary cousin, can be costly, Egan said. Tires should be inflated to the vehicle manufacturer's recommendation printed on a vehicle's door placard or in the owner's manual, not the maximum limit stamped on a tire sidewall.

Inflation pressure normally should be checked monthly or before a long trip; however, in the spring, those checks should be made more often -- with every temperature change, he said. A tire inflated at 32 pounds per square inch in 70-degree weather will drop to 26 psi at freezing.

In addition, tire life decreases about 15 percent for every 20 percent the tire is under-inflated. In fact, a passenger car tire could lose about one- third of its life at 20 psi, he said. Fuel economy, meanwhile, takes a 10- percent hit.

Rapidly changing weather might mean daily inflation pressure checks, Egan said. That's a hassle for motorists whose vehicles aren't equipped with tire pressure-monitoring systems. But it's a necessary inconvenience, he added. Egan said drivers should buy a tire-pressure gauge to check inflation. The local gas station might not be the best place to check or correct tire pressure.

Recent research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that about 10 percent of gas station air pumps don't work, fewer than half are equipped with pressure gauges and about 30 percent over-report tire pressure.

Exposure to the weather could damage gas station inflation-pressure equipment, Egan said. In addition, motorists could inadvertently pump water into the tire during damp, rainy weather, which leads to deterioration of the tire's internal components.

According to an AAA tire safety survey, few checked for the correct inflation pressure for their specific vehicle, such as looking in the owner's manual -- 27 percent -- or on the tire inflation sticker on the vehicle's door jamb -- 18 percent. Most American drivers -- 82 percent -- say their inflation pressure gets checked regularly, at least once every three months, with 48 percent getting it checked at least once a month.

"However, with these wide temperature swings, even the monthly checks aren't enough," Egan said. How they check tire inflation is even more important.

Among the 51 percent in the AAA study who said they check their own tire pressure, 86 percent use their own tire gauge. The remainder practice far less reliable methods. The research said 13 percent use a service station gauge, 8 percent simply look at the tire and 3 percent thump the tire with a tool.

Barring the use of their own pressure gauge, Egan said, motorists may visit their local Goodyear retailer for a free tire inspection and free air.