I used to love spring. I always looked forward to watching the trees and flowers come to life after a long, cold winter. And it would make sense that this particular spring would be even more special because my home in the Mid-Atlantic was blanketed by five feet of snow just a few months ago. But I still want to take back every wish that I made for spring when I shoveled foot after foot of the fluffy white stuff. The problem is, I hate the heat. Spring temperatures used to be in the high 60s and 70s with overnight lows that were perfect for sleeping with the windows open. Unfortunately, as I write this column, the forecast for the Mid-Atlantic calls for daytime highs in the 80s, which is 10 deg. higher than the normal temperatures for this time of year.
But I'm not the only one who hates the heat. Tires love this time of year just as much as I do because they start cool and then gradually warm up before gradually cooling down. For those tires that have been neglected all winter, the warmer temperatures may also give a little boost to the inflation pressure, which increases by 1-2 psi with each additional 10 deg. F. Those same underinflated tires catch another break because the cooler temperatures mean it takes longer for them to reach the point where any excessive heat will start to break down the components and create a gator.
Most of my commute to and from work involves the Interstate Highway System, and I've already noticed a few more gators than usual. So my neighbors are getting an early start on giving me a hard time because they know that I'm in the tire business. The guy next door asks me every year when am I going to get retreads outlawed since they're all over the highway. Even though I keep showing him data proving that around 90% of tire road debris is the result of underinflation, he's convinced that retreads are the source of the gator infestation.
I've decided to dedicate the rest of this space to explaining the life and habitat of the gator with the hope that everyone will help me change this perception. Every gator starts its life as a new tire and typically leaves the nest with the maximum air pressure. From that point forward, the habitat will determine its fate. If the tire is placed in a sanctuary where the inflation pressure is checked on a regular basis until the original tread is worn away, it will never become a gator. It quietly disappears into the scrap pile, or the casing gets retreaded until it has lived its useful life.
Much like their real-life counterparts that threaten people and pets, the tires that end up in the wrong environments will eventually become gators and cause problems down the road when inflation is an afterthought. In some instances, it may take years for the abuse to culminate in a metal-twisting tread detachment; while in the most extreme conditions, it may only take an hour or two of excessive heat for the gator to appear. And if motorists were able to look closely at the tire debris on the side of the road, they would probably see a collection of passenger, light truck and truck tire gators that have the same sad story of prolonged underinflation.
When the mercury rises, tires that operate with inflation pressures just a few pounds below what is required on any vehicle can become gators if they get hot enough — regardless of whether they are new, used, retreaded or repaired. That's a fact.
Kevin Rohlwing can be reached at [email protected]