By Jordan W. Charness

It’s pop quiz time. What takes 22 gallons of oil to produce, is usually black and sometimes sprinkled with white and when found by itself on the road is nicknamed a “gator”?

Give up? I’ll give you a few more hints. Nearly every motorist will one day be faced with a huge hunk of rubber lying in the middle of the road. Hopefully your reflexes will be up to the task of swerving out of the way of the remains of a tire.

In actual fact, it takes about 22 gallons of oil to produce one truck tire. Tire debris or pieces of broken tire are known to the trucking industry as “road alligators” and cause several accidents a year. Oddly enough, statistics have shown that nearly all the “gators” are remnants of truck tires and not passenger vehicle tires.

So where do they come from? What happens if you hit one? Do you have a legal obligation to remove one?

Most of us rarely think about our tires. Unless we have a flat tire we generally assume that the part of the car that goes round and round is probably right there where it ought to be and doing it’s thing. We seldom realize just how much is riding on our tires. They provide our one and only contact with the road. If they don’t do their job properly we’ll never get where we are going.

As just about everyone knows by now there are different types of tread used on different types of tires depending on the make, manufacturer, and the season of intended use. Now that winter is upon us we are legally obliged to use tires specially formulated for winter use, or at the very least all-season tires. If we don’t we are subject to a ticket and fine. If our lack of proper shoes for our vehicle causes an accident we may be liable for more than just a simple ticket.

Even if you have winter tires installed on your vehicle they must have sufficient tread to do the job. The more you drive the more your treads wear out. Worn out treads are illegal and dangerous, but where does the tread go?

Think about it: all those cars, all those trucks, all those tires. Every day of every year millions of tires have their tread wearing down just a little bit more. After much research, I am reliably informed that as your tires wear there are no little black tire particles flying through the air, or if there are, they are not big enough to leave black dirt on the road. The particles are so small as to be almost microscopic.

The big “road gators” are another thing entirely. I always thought they were a result of a retreaded tire coming apart, but apparently not. Tires are made of at least two distinct components: the casing (body) and the tread. Both new and retreaded tires are manufactured pretty much the same way. Once the casing is made, the tread is attached to the surface of the casing all around the tire.

It is the casing that uses up most of the oil that is used in manufacturing tires. In a truck tire approximately seven gallons of oil are used for the tread part and the other 15 gallons are used in the casing. A truck fleet using as few as 100 tires a year can save almost 1500 gallons of oil every year by retreading the tires instead of buying new ones and throwing the old ones out. It’s also cheaper to retread a tire than to buy a new one. This is why many truck owners use retreaded tires. Automobile tires can be retreaded as well, but this has not become a popular option with most motorists.

Would you believe that the United States has a Tire Debris Task Force? This is a group representing government agencies and trucking companies as well as tire associations of manufacturers and retreaders. They recently conducted a study where over 1000 pieces of rubber debris were collected from nine different U.S. sites. Out of all these pieces of broken tire only one percent was attributed to a retread failure.

In all the other cases tire failure was caused by improper maintenance and the occasional manufacturer’s defect. The most common maintenance mistake was failing to keep tire pressure where it is supposed to be. Tires flex when they roll and this flexing uses energy and generates heat – the air inside the tire is considered a structural component of the tire itself, and if you put in the right amount of air pressure you stiffen the tire and reduce the flex and also reduce the generation of heat. If it is under-inflated, the tire flexes too much causing more heat and can result in tread separation or a blow-out. It also uses way more gas because the engine has to force slightly flat tires to go around.

If your tire does blow out you do have a legal obligation to remove it from the road so that you don’t cause an accident. Many people obviously ignore this good sense law since, for example, there were 127,522 pounds of tire debris collected from 685 miles of Virginia highway alone in one year! If you hit a tire or part thereof that was left lying on the road you could sue the person who left it there.

This article is of a general nature and may not be applicable in all situations and jurisdictions. If you have a legal problem or need legal advice please consult a lawyer.

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