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Can an Underinflated Tire Cause a Car Accident?

Delaware Car Accident Lawyers at Jacobs & Crumplar, P.A. Can Help You After a Tire-Related Accident.

Modern tires are exceptional at providing drivers with good traction and handling. They also help to keep cars traveling safely in a straight line without pulling to one side or the other. However, tires need to stay within their recommended pressure ranges to work their best.

The sidewalls on tires indicate how much air pressure they can hold to work as designed by the tire manufacturer. Your vehicle has an owner’s manual that tells you the correct tire size and how much air to put in each one. For most tires, that usually is about 30 to 35 pounds per square inch (PSI).

Some minor variations in air pressure are okay. However, when you overinflate or underinflate a tire, you run the risk of causing a tire failure that could lead to a catastrophic accident. A tire could suffer a sudden blowout, simply take too long to respond to the driver, as braking and steering will take more time. By not maintaining appropriate tire pressure, drivers increase their chance of getting into a car accident.

How Underinflated Tires Create Dangers?

Tires are highly engineered and designed to last tens of thousands of miles when used properly. Proper use of tires includes keeping them inflated to within manufacturer recommendations. The tires also have to be the correct size for the vehicle.

When you have four properly inflated tires of the right size on your vehicle, you still need to balance and rotate them about every 5,000 miles. That helps ensure even wear and tear on the tires and helps the tread to last as long as possible.

When a tire is underinflated, the tread does not ride correctly on the road. Instead of providing your car with  good traction via a solid contact patch meeting the road, an underinflated tire rides more on the sides and sidewall. Underinflation causes irregular wear, compromises traction, and increases heat inside the tire.

If you continue to drive on an underinflated tire, the heat and wear and tear could cause one or more layers of tread to separate. That tread might become loose and fly off of your vehicle while you are traveling on the freeway or other roadway, which causes accidents and can lead to catastrophic injuries or death.

Tire Separation Poses a Real Threat

An underinflated tire causes improper wear and affects steering and handling. If one tire suddenly goes flat, it could cause your vehicle to  swerve into oncoming traffic or over to the side of the road, which could cause your vehicle to roll and could harm pedestrians, bicyclists, or other vehicles.

The primary problem is in the way in which tires are made. Modern tires have layers of steel belts arranged in differing patterns to create a strong inner core. The rubber tread goes around the steel belts to provide traction. Tire manufacturers say tread separation is the most common cause of tire failure in modern steel-belted radials.

When a tire is underinflated, the steel belts and rubber tread heat up. The hotter the tire gets, the more likely the tread will separate from the tire. If you drive in a hot summer climate, the heat within an underinflated tire could cause a tread separation.

An underinflated tire also rides more on its shoulders instead of the tread. The shoulders lead to the sidewall and contain less rubber. The tire has less traction, which affects handling even before a tread separation might occur. It also extends the braking distance needed to stop safely.

What are the Signs of a Damaged Tire?

A flat tire has a very obvious sign that it cannot hold air: it is flat on the bottom. A tire separation due to running an underinflated tire for too long is not as obvious.  However, there are some telling signs of a tire separating, including:

  • Rhythmic thumping coming from one wheel.
  • Vehicle pulls to one side.
  • Feels odd when turning.
  • Steel threads from the belts start showing.
  • Tread has an odd shape in one or more spots.

Any of those conditions and others could be signs of a tire separation in progress. If you drive a lot on freeways in the summertime, a tire separation might cause a blowout or a sudden loss of air. If that happens, your vehicle might roll or veer into other lanes of traffic.

How to Prevent Improperly Inflated Tires?

Most people who regularly check and top off the air in their tires usually go by the PSI indicated on the sidewall. That could be a mistake if the carmaker recommends a tire pressure that is lower than the maximum PSI that a tire is rated to handle. You can check the owner’s manual to ensure your vehicle has the optimal level of air pressure.

One of the many upsides to improving technology in the automobile industry is that many newer vehicles have tire sensors that use warning indicators to tell the driver when the tires are low on air.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says an underinflated tire that is 25 percent lower than it should be is three times more likely to cause an accident. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a non-profit group, says underinflated tires cause about 90 percent of all tire failures. Fortunately, it is very easy to greatly reduce the potential for a sudden tire failure.

You should visually inspect tires for possible damage to the tread or sidewalls while checking the air pressure with a pressure gage. If one or more tires is underinflated or has too much air pressure, you should take care it of right away.

You also should balance and rotate your wheels and tires every 5,000 miles to even out tread wear. Your mechanic can check each tire for damage or unusual wear and make sure it still has enough tread to run safely while rotating the tires.

Liability for Tire-Related Accidents

If a driver negligently ignores obvious signs that one or more tires are in bad shape and is then involved in  an accident, that driver and the vehicle’s owner could be liable for medical costs and other damages to the other parties involved in the collision. Because an increasing number of cars on the road are equipped with sensors that tell the driver when tires are low on air, ignoring an indicator light could lead to additional liability for a car accident.

Third-party liability might also apply if a tire defect caused an accident. The defect might have occurred at the manufacturing facility. It also might have happened while a technician mounted the tires at a tire dealership or a commercial garage. If so, then a third party could be held responsible.

Delaware Car Accident Lawyers at Jacobs & Crumplar, P.A. Can Help You After a Tire-Related Accident

If you have been injured in a tire-related collision, our experienced Delaware car accident lawyers at Jacobs & Crumplar, P.A. can help. Located in Wilmington and Millsboro, Delaware, we serve clients throughout Dover, New Castle County, and Sussex County. Call us at 302-656-5445 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.