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Photo courtesy Yokohama Tire Canada.

"Be Tire Smart" program aims to save money, improve driving safety and reduce smog
By Bill Roebuck

Oct. 8, 2003 -- Canadian drivers have a serious problem with their cars, and many of them either don't know or don't care.

Do you need new tires? Maybe, or maybe not -- they just might need a little attention. A new study on tire inflation reveals that 70 per cent of Canadian passenger cars and light trucks have at least one tire that is improperly inflated by at least 10 per cent. Another 40 per cent of vehicles have at least one tire that is 20 per cent misinflated.

Improper tire inflation--either too much or too little air pressure--is a potentially serious problem that can lead to reduced safety, higher fuel costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, the study found that motorists generally do not know where to look for the proper tire pressure ratings for their vehicle, when to measure the tire pressure, and what are the proper tire maintenance procedures.

"The number of vehicles operating with under- or over-inflated tires on our city roads and highways, day in and day out, is disturbing, considering that misinflation is the leading cause of tire failure," says Glenn Maidment, president of the Rubber Association of Canada. The inflation study was conducted by the association in partnership with the Government of Canada.

Improperly inflated tires cost drivers money. For each five per cent a tire is under-inflated, one per cent more fuel is consumed by the vehicle. If just one tire is under-inflated by 8 psi (56 kPa), fuel consumption increases by four per cent. That would cost the average driver about $58 a year for additional fuel for cars, or about $90 a year for light trucks.

Under-inflation of a tire by 20 per cent can reduce a tire's life by about 15 per cent or 15,000 km.

When a tire is over-inflated, it rides on just the centre portion of the tread. The smaller contact area means reduced grip on the road, leading to a harsh ride, steering and stopping problems, and increased wear on the tire and suspension components.

Don't think you're off the hook if you have a new vehicle with a tire pressure monitoring system. Most of these will only alert you to a problem when your tires are under-inflated by 25 per cent or more, so you still need to check the pressure yourself.

To help drivers properly maintain their tires, the Rubber Association of Canada, the federal government and the Canadian Automobile Association have launched a new program called "Be Tire Smart." The program, which will encourage Canadian motorists to get serious about their tires, was unveiled in a parking lot at Wellington and Simcoe streets in Toronto on Oct. 8, 2003.

The Office of Energy Efficiency is working with Transport Canada and Environment Canada to co-manage the project and provide information and technical expertise on vehicle fuel efficiency and climate change.

The Be Tire Smart program includes a guidebook, Riding on Air, a Did You Know brochure and an educational website, The website is a comprehensive guide to tire maintenance and includes tips on buying tires.

The program recommends that tire pressure be checked monthly, only when the tires are cold or have not been driven for more than 2 km. Pressure should be inflated to that marked on the label in the vehicle (usually located on the driver's door frame), not that indicated on the tire.

Checking inflation is not the only thing you can do to maintain tires properly. Checking alignment, rotating tires and checking tread wear also are important.

Tire wear is affected by poor wheel alignment, which causes tires to wear unevenly, resulting in handling problems, pulling to one side, or vibration. The alignment and balance of the wheels should be checked annually or every 25,000 km.

Tires should be rotated every 10,000 km because front and rear tires wear differently, especially on front-wheel drive vehicles.

And, while tires have tread wear bars that become exposed when the tire needs to be replaced, a simple check is to place a penny in the tire's groove with the Queen's crown facing down. If you can see the top of the crown, then the tire needs replacing. This only works for standard tires, not performance or off-road types.

It's also worth knowing that driving speed affects tire wear. An average speed of 110 km/h will wear tires about 25 per cent faster than 90 km/h. It's even worse when the inflation pressure is incorrect.

"Annually, improper tire maintenance unnecessarily costs Canadians about $500 million for 643 million litres of wasted fuel," says Neil MacLeod, director general of the Office of Energy Efficiency of Natural Resources Canada. "The extra fuel burned also releases an additional 1.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the environment.

"Having properly maintained tires is a simple yet important action that Canadian drivers can take to meet the government's One-Tonne Challenge and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change," says MacLeod.

That means checking your tire pressure has several advantages, including improving the air we breathe. But if the impact on your wallet is most important, think about getting free gas. Maintaining proper tire pressure could save you about two weeks of fuel a year.

© Copyright Bill Roebuck, 2002.