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How summer’s sizzling temperatures can affect your car’s safety

While winter’s cold temperatures can make it more difficult for tires to grip the road, summer brings its own challenges to your vehicle’s tires, leading to potential performance and safety problems. The sun’s heat, combined with normal friction from the road’s surface, can take its toll, causing tires to wear irregularly, wear out faster and be more prone to blowouts.

Hot pavement can lead to rubber degradation, increasing the potential for cracking, belt separation and tread irregularities. Heat can also cause dry-rot or sidewall cracking, which occurs when the oils in the tire’s rubber evaporate. Dry tires are more susceptible to cracking and blowouts.

Summer’s soaring temperatures also affect tire pressure, one of the most important aspects of tire safety. Proper pressure for your tires is based on your tires when cool. For every 10-degree increase in temperature, tires can gain 1 to 2 pounds per square inch (PSI) of pressure. Overinflated tires not only wear prematurely, but are more prone to blowouts. Traction is reduced, increasing the risk of skidding. If tires are underinflated, however, friction can increase, raising temperatures within the tire and making a blowout more likely.

Driving on worn tires increases the likelihood of a vehicle crash due to the impact on vehicle maneuverability and braking. Summer heat and rainy weather can compound the problem.

Research from AAA reveals that driving on worn tires at highway speeds in wet conditions can increase average stopping distances by a staggering 43 percent, or an additional 87 feet ― more than the length of a semi-trailer truck — when compared to new tires. With nearly 800,000 crashes occurring on wet roads each year and Americans now holding on to their cars longer than ever before, this is cause for concern.

AAA’s research also shows that in addition to increased stopping distance, worn tires reduce handling ability by about 30%. 

Well-maintained tires are the best defense against tire-related crashes,” said Lori Weaver Hawkins, public affairs manager, AAA Blue Grass.

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day in 2023, there were 380 crashes in Kentucky due to tire failure or other tire problems, resulting in six fatalities. For all of 2023, tire-related issues resulted in 1,339 crashes and 18 fatalities. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are nearly 11,000 tire-related motor vehicle crashes nationwide on average every year, resulting in about 600 deaths.

While safety is the most important consideration for maintaining your vehicle’s tires, there are economic benefits as well. Proper tire pressure can save as much as 11 cents per gallon of fuel. Regular maintenance, including balance and alignment as well as rotation, helps tires last longer. Keeping tires properly inflated can extend the average life of a tire by 4,700 miles, according to NHTSA.