By Bob Weber
Special to Tribune Newspapers
August 29, 2010
The federal government gives great acronyms. Take the TREAD (Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation) Act.
In the late 1990s, Ford-built SUVs suffered high failure rates of 15-inch Firestone tires, leading to loss of control and vehicle rollovers. The U.S. Department of Transportation investigated the issue, resulting in the TREAD Act, passed by Congress in 2000.
As a result of TREAD, since 2008 all light vehicles are required to have tire-pressure-monitoring systems. When the tire pressure drops below 25 percent of the normal inflation, the system triggers a warning-light icon that many motorists don't recognize. The low-tire-pressure icon is a cross-section of a tire with an exclamation point in the center.
Most people have never seen a cross-section of a tire.
A national survey recently conducted by Schrader, a manufacturer, showed that:
--46 percent of drivers could not correctly identify what the warning icon symbolizes.
--32 percent admit they don't know what the icon represents.
--14 percent incorrectly identified it as another warning light.
The survey also found that, while nearly all drivers (96 percent) agree that driving a car with underinflated tires is a serious safety issue, 44 percent of them admit they rarely check the air pressure in their tires.
Twenty-five percent is a big drop. If you pick up a nail or get a cut in the tire's sidewall, the light will come on and possibly prevent an accident. During high-speed corners or sudden evasive maneuvers, tire failure can lead to loss of control.
Tires get hot as you drive, created by friction as the tire flexes. Heat damages the tire and can lead to tread separation, which is what happened to the Firestone tires on the Fords.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that having all passenger vehicles equipped with a tire-pressure-monitoring system will reduce annual motor vehicle crash fatalities by about 120 and the number of injuries by about 8,500.
The next time you turn the key, stop before cranking the starter. Look for the yellow warning icon. It's an acronym that might save your life.