How to improve your vehicle’s fuel economy, safety and performance without spending a penny

Story & Photos by Bruce W. Smith

Spring and summer really get the vacation juices flowing. We spend a lot of time making travel and recreation plans—from where we’re gong to go and what we’re going to do to what we’re going to wear and who we’re going to meet.

But before you begin loading your vehicle with family members, clothes and food, perhaps you should stop and take a close look at your vehicle’s tires. If not, you may find yourself standing by the roadside halfway to that vacation paradise as the result of a flat tire—or worse yet, a tire-related accident.

Tires are the most overlooked part of any vehicle. Yet they are the single most important part in relation to any vehicle’s overall safety, performance and fuel economy.

“Tires take a beating during the winter and should be thoroughly examined as the seasons change,” says Phil Pacsi, executive director consumer tire marketing, Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire, LLC.

“Not only are tires one of the most overlooked parts of a vehicle but they are also one of the most critical since they are the only part of the car that keeps you in contact with the road,” “That’s because a vehicle’s tires are the only things that keep it in contact with the road.”


At the top of a tire safety checklist is tire inflation pressure.

That’s because tire pressure affects more than just how a vehicle stops, rides, handles, and carries a load; tire pressure plays a big role in fuel economy.

It’s a well-documented fact that tires under-inflated by as little a 4psi do as much to hurt fuel economy as the driver’s right foot.

How many owners drive around with at least one tire on their vehicle under-inflated? Would you believe the most recent studies show more than 1 out of 4 passenger cars have at least 1 tire significantly (8psi) under inflated.

Pickup and SUV owners are even worse offenders. The same studies, which checked more than 11,000 vehicles earlier this year, showed 1 out of 3 light trucks (pickups, SUVs, vans) have at least one tire under-inflated by 8psi or more.

I know; I just checked my Chevy TrailBlazer tires.

Although they appeared fine, a pressure gauge showed the right rear was 10psi lower than the recommended 32psi as indicated on the sticker on the edge of the driver’s door. The left front was 5psi under-inflated. (No wonder my vehicle’s fuel mileage seemed to be slipping these past few months.) I immediately brought both back up to their recommended pressure.


Speaking of recommended air pressure, do not use the pressure indicated on the tire’s sidewall. That pressure is the maximum that specific tire needs to carry its heaviest load. It has nothing to do with that tire’s proper inflation pressure when it’s used on your vehicle.

The vehicle manufacture’s go to great lengths to determine a tire’s proper inflation pressure when used on a specific vehicle.

So, inflate the tires according to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations as found on the driver’s door or in the owners manual—not the tire manufacture’s pressure as noted on the tire sidewall.


Under-inflated tires hurts both vehicle safety and the owner’s wallet.

According to the tire industry Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), vehicles that have one or more tires inflated 8psi below the pressure recommended by the vehicle manufacturer can see a reduction in fuel economy by as much as 2mpg.

Put another way, under-inflated tires equates to about a10% reduction in fuel economy for the typical mid- or full-sized pickup/SUV—or the difference between saving or paying for a gallon of gas at every fill-up.

Running a tire with low-air pressure also affects how quickly it wears out. A tire that is 5-10psi below the recommended pressure wallows around as it rolls down the road. This accelerates the rubber being scrubbed off the tread. The faster the wear, the sooner you’ll be spending money on a new ire.    

Over-inflation is almost as bad. It causes faster tire wear, degrades wet weather handling, promotes longer stopping distances, and makes the vehicle ride stiffer or harsher.

And, contrary to what one may think, tire manufacturers say there’s no gain in fuel economy by over-inflating tires.


While checking tire pressures it’s always good to check out the tires themselves. Look for obvious signs of tire wear and damage. Then pull out a penny and check the tread depth to see if your tires are going bald.

Yes, a penny.

According to tire manufacturers, the easiest and most effective way to see if your vehicle’s tires are in need of replacing is to let Mr. Lincoln help. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head as the penny is held upside down in the tread grooves, it’s time to get new tires.

The depth of the tire tread affects the way the tire grips the road and channels away water when the road is wet, allowing the tread to make good contact with the road surface.

When the tread depth is too shallow, there’s no where for the water to be forced out and around the rubber tread. The result is hydroplaning.  The same holds true in other driving situations; in order for the tire to get traction in dirt, mud, snow and other elements that our vehicle encounter in everyday driving there has to be good tread depth.


What is nice about checking tires and tire inflation pressures is the entire inspection process takes less than five minutes.

Even better, the “fix” is free if you have access to an air compressor to bring those low tires back up to their proper pressure. 

The reward for your time is savings at the gas pump; a better handling and safer vehicle; and the peace of mind you won’t be that person standing along side the roadway with a jack in one hand and a spare in the other.—BWS

More Tire Care Sources


Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire’s (BFNT) is offering a special spring promotion as part of  April National Car Care Month.

The promotion is aimed at those who need new tires (or for those who want better tires) and will begin in April. 

From April 6 through May 6, 2006 the “Need New Tires™- Bridgestone $100 Rebate” promotion offers a rebate of up to $100 with the purchase of four select Bridgestone brand tires.

The “Need New Tires” campaign begins as the automotive aftermarket industry celebrates National Car Care Month in April with its annual focus on building consumer car care awareness.

The Car Care Council spearheads the effort through a consumer education campaign, “Be Car Care Aware,” to promote the benefits of regular vehicle care, maintenance and repair.

For more information on the Need New Tires campaign, please visit, your local Bridgestone or Firestone retailer or call 1-877-TIRE-USA for additional details.

The “Need New Tires” campaign also comes on the heels of BFNT’s recently announced “Buy & Try 30-Day Guarantee” which puts consumers in the driver’s seat when buying tires.

Bridgestone Firestone backs its products with a guarantee: if after 30 days or less a consumer is not satisfied with the performance of their Bridgestone- or Firestone-branded tires, the company will refund the purchase price.

“We know that tires are a necessity and not a commodity,” Pacsi says. “’Need New Tires’ and the ‘Buy & Try 30-Day Guarantee’ are evidence that as a tire company, BFNT is not just trying to attract consumers. We are committed to the integrity of our brands and their performance in the real world.”—GCN


Proper tire care and safety is simple and easy. The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) recommends getting in the habit of taking five minutes every month to check your tires, including the spare. Here’s how to do your “PART.”:

Underinflation is a tire's #1 Enemy.
It results in unnecessary tire stress, irregular wear, loss of control and accidents. A tire can lose up to half of its air pressure and not appear to be flat!
Is your vehicle pulling to one side, or shaking?
A bad jolt from hitting a curb or pothole can throw your front end out of alignment and damage your tires. Have a tire dealer check the alignment periodically to ensure that your car is properly aligned.
Promotes uniform tire wear.
Regularly rotating your vehicle's tires will help you achieve more uniform wear. Unless your vehicle owner's manual has a specific recommendation, the guideline for tire rotation is approximately every 6,000 miles.
Measure it -- and inspect it.
Advanced and unusual wear can reduce the ability of tread to grip the road in adverse conditions. Visually check your tires for uneven wear, looking for high and low areas or unusually smooth areas. Also check for signs of damage.


ü      63 percent of motorists cite tire pressure as the most effective way to increase gas mileage—but only 19 percent of drivers properly check their tire inflation pressure.

ü      Only 39 percent of drivers know that the correct air pressure is found on the vehicle's tire information sticker or owner's manual, not the tire sidewall.

ü      28 percent of drivers wrongly believe that the best time to check their tires is when they are warm after being driven for at least a few miles.

ü      31 percent of drivers don't know how to tell if their tires need replacing

ü      73% of drivers do not check the pressure in the spare tire.*

ü      Out of 29.5 million service calls last year, AAA reported that 4 million or 13.2% were tire related.

The information above came from an RMA sponsored survey conducted by FrederickPolls to 1,000 drivers nationwide from January 29-February 4, 2006 and has a margin of error of 3 percent.

* 2005 RMA survey


• Full-Size Spare — Rotate your full size spare in accordance with your vehicle

manufacturer’s recommendations—and check it’s air pressure every month

• “Donut” Spare — This is a TEMPORARY tire that should be used only to get to

a tire shop to replace your damaged tire. These tires typically have both mileage and

speed restrictions.

How to Check Your Tires

Step 1. Use a tire-pressure gauge to check your vehicle tires once a month. Tires lose about 1psi of air a month through natural leakage. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 27% of passenger cars and 32% of light trucks have at least one significantly (8psi) under inflated. Step 2. Insert a penny upside down into the tire tread. If you can see the top of President Lincoln’s head, your tire is “bald” and needs replacement. Step 3. Proper tire inflation pressures are shown in vehicle owner’s manual, on the tire information placard located on the driver’s door, on the inside of the glovebox, or on the inside of the gas filler door. These tell the recommended tire pressure for the specific vehicle. DO NOT go by the tire pressure noted on the tire sidewall, which is the maximum inflation pressure for that specific tire—not for when it’s used on your vehicle. Step 4. An air-compressor makes quick work of maintaining your vehicle’s tire pressures. Good choices are a Craftsman 120V 33-gallon, 150psi model for the garage, the other a 12-volt 50psi ARB Air Compressor (; 425.264.1391) that attaches to a car battery.