WASHINGTON -- About a third of the light trucks and a quarter of the cars on U.S. roads have at least one substantially underinflated tire, a potentially deadly oversight, according to a government survey.
The survey, released Wednesday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, shows that, despite government and industry warnings, many people still are not keeping their tires inflated to recommended levels.
Low tire pressure creates excessive stress and heat that can lead to tire failure, including blowouts and tread separation. Underinflated tires also can wear out more quickly and reduce fuel efficiency.
In many of the accidents involving Firestone tires, they were not inflated to the pressure recommended by the manufacturer. Firestone tire failures have been blamed in 203 deaths and more than 700 injuries.
"People need to make it a regular part of their maintenance, not only to check the oil and the other fluids in the vehicle, but checking the tire pressure," said NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson.
NHTSA recommends that tire pressure be checked once a month and before every long trip.
The survey considered a tire underinflated if it was eight pounds per square inch or more below the vehicle manufacturer's recommended inflation pressure. That's 25 percent for a common recommended inflation pressure of 32 psi.
Data collectors stationed at gas stations around the country measured the inflation pressure of 11,530 tires during two weeks in February.
They found that 27 percent of cars and 32 percent of vans, pickups and sport utility vehicles had at least one tire that was underinflated. Eight percent of light trucks and 3 percent of cars had all four tires underinflated.
All vehicles made after November 2003 will have to have a system to warn drivers about low tire pressure under a rule being drafted by NHTSA. The agency estimates the system will prevent dozens of deaths and thousands of injuries each year.
The Rubber Manufacturers Association has launched a multimillion-dollar campaign to encourage proper tire care called "Be Tire Smart -- Play your PART." PART stands for pressure, alignment, rotation and tread, the key aspects of tire maintenance.
Only 4 percent of respondents to a survey conducted for the association last year mentioned tire pressure checks when asked what routine tire maintenance is done on their vehicles.
Fifty-five percent did not know where to find the correct pressure recommendation for their tires, which is in the owner's manual and on the vehicle doorjamb.
"It speaks on one sense for people's faith in tires, that they expect them to go on forever, but they do need some basic care," said association spokesman Dan Zielinski.
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