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AAA News Release: 12/13/2013


Thousands Of Area Motorists Stranded By Flat Tires In The Wake Of Winter Blast



Big Swings In Ambient Temperatures Can Have

 A Negative Effect On Tire Pressure


WASHINGTON, D. C.  (Friday, December 13, 2013) You don’t have to be a member of the Flat Earth Society to know that frigid weather conditions can cause flat tires and make your Tire Pressure Monitoring System  (TPMS) go bonkers. So can dramatic swings in ambient temperatures. As a matter of fact, that blast of cold weather has sent temperatures plummeting and tire pressures plunging.


As proof, since the cold snap started this past Sunday frustrated motorists have bombarded AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Emergency Roadside Assistance switchboard with 4,374 flat tire calls.  


And that’s only from Sunday (when it received 833 flat tire calls) to Wednesday of this week.  That total will continue to mount, as long as frigid temperatures clutch this area, the auto club advises.


This past Monday alone AAA Mid-Atlantic fielded a total 1,416 flat tire service calls in the six middle Atlantic states in its footprint.  That tally includes 359 motorists with flat tire woes in Maryland, 199 motorists with flat tire problems in Virginia, and 68 AAA members with flat tire troubles in the District of Columbia. Those calls mushroomed as that big winter storm swept into our area on Sunday.


Interestingly, on Tuesday the auto club rescued 862 motorists with flat tires in its territory, including 184 members with flat tire headaches in Maryland, 151 motorists with flat tires in Virginia,  and it received 29 such calls  from motorists in Washington, D.C. proper. And that’s when the federal and District government and local schools were shut down and before the extended period of low temperatures in our area.


As the work force resumed  its work stations and area school kids returned to their classrooms on Wednesday, the number of flat tire calls to AAA Mid-Atlantic spiked 46.5 percent over the previous day’s emergency tire call totals. That day the auto club rescued 1,263 motorists stranded by flat tires, including 302 in Maryland, 234 in Virginia, and 59 members in the District.


 “The pressure on all tires— including the spare— should be checked monthly as a matter of routine, but motorists should check the tire pressure more often when it is cold outside and those tires should be checked with a quality gauge when the tires themselves are cold,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs.


 “We have all heard or used the old expression, he or she changes like the weather. That old idiom is especially apropos when it comes to the air pressure in your vehicle tires. The weather can exact a big toll on the pressure in your tires.”


It’s axiomatic: just as hot weather causes the pressure in your tires to rise or inflate, the reverse is true of very cold temperatures. It could cause your tires to become underinflated (the estimated annual number of highway fatalities caused by under-inflated tires: 660 persons per year, on average).


Yet only 15 percent of drivers in this country even know how to check their tire pressure, according to the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) and AAA. So as a rule of thumb,  for every 10° Fahrenheit change in air temperature, your tire’s inflation pressure will change by about 1 psi (up with higher temperatures and down with lower), tire manufacturers explain.


That’s why that Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) in your late model vehicle is chiming a lot these cold and frigid days. 


 That’s also why you are seeing “tire pressure too low” message in the multi-function display. Auto manufacturers remind us: “Cooler temperatures may cause a warning to appear and then disappear as the tires warm up. This is a good reminder to check and adjust the tires to the proper inflation pressure.”


According to the weather watchers at Accuweather, “The weather plays a big part on the pressure in your tires.”


And its crack team of  meteorologists remind us: “The TPMS alarm is more prone to go off if one of your tires is already slightly underinflated. In addition, cars that sit outside all night will be affected more by the colder weather than those kept in a garage.” Here is the tale of the tire: 83 percent of American motorists do not know how to properly inflate their tires, reports the RMA. 


 When it comes to cold weather related tire woes, tire manufacturers warn:


·         In most parts of North America, the difference between average summer and winter temperatures is about -50° Fahrenheit, which results in a potential loss of about 5 psi as winter's temperatures set in. And a 5 psi loss is enough to sacrifice handling, traction, and durability!

·         Additionally, the difference between cold nighttime temperatures and hot daytime temperatures in most parts of the country is about 20° Fahrenheit. This means that after setting tire pressures first thing in the morning, the vehicle's tire pressures will be almost 2 psi higher when measured in the afternoon (if the vehicle was parked in the shade). While that is expected, the problem is when you set your vehicle’s tire pressures in the heat of the day, their cold pressures will probably be 2 psi low the following morning.

·         And finally, if the vehicle is parked in the sun, the sun’s radiant heat will artificially and temporarily increase tire pressures.


According to a recent study, about 70 percent of the vehicles on the road have at least one tire that is either over or under inflated by more than 10 percent. In fact, 23 percent of all vehicles surveyed had at least one tire under inflated by 20 percent or more. This represents a real safety issue.


Proper pressure levels can be found in the owner’s manual or on a sticker most often located on the driver-side door jamb, advises AAA. Do not use the pressure stamped on the sidewall of the tire. Note that the pressure levels on some cars are different for the front and rear tires.


One more thing, check the tread depth on each tire by placing a quarter upside down in the tread grooves. If the top of Washington’s head is exposed at any point, it’s time to start shopping for new tires. Also, look for uneven tire wear when checking the tread, the auto club advises. This can be an indication of suspension, wheel balance or alignment problems that need to be addressed.


Even when he or she is not coping with a cold wave, every driver at some point deals with a flat tire. Click here for a step-by-step video that shows how to prepare for and repair or replace a flat tire.  


Keep in mind: incorrect tire pressures and/or under-inflation can cause sudden tire failure, including a blowout, loss of control, collision, serious personal injury or even death.


            AAA Mid-Atlantic advocates on behalf of its nearly four million members in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. It provides a wide range of personal insurance, travel, financial and automotive services through its 50-plus retail branches, regional operations centers, and the Internet.  For more information, please visit our web site at                                                                     ###

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Contact: John B. Townsend 2nd or Lon Anderson
Phone: (202) 481-6820

Contact: Jeanette Tejeda de Gomez
Phone: (202) 481-6820