This month marks the 10-year anniversary of the massive Bridgestone/Firestone tire recall. Although the recall was technically “voluntary,” the action was taken in response to widespread news coverage of issues with tread separation, especially on Ford Explorers. Underinflation of the tires was identified as a major contributing factor in the tread separation incidents, and Firestone and Ford began to point fingers at each other. For many of us, the 2000 tire recall underscored the importance of proper tire inflation to vehicle safety.

As of 2008, all new vehicles have been equipped with something called the Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS). This function is designed to alert the driver when one of the tires is 25% below the manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure. Unfortunately, this well-meaning idea has some shortcomings.

The common warning symbol – a vaguely U-shaped light containing an exclamation point – is apparently misunderstood by one in three motorists. In addition, many systems do no identify exactly which tire is underinflated. While newer, more intuitive interfaces are aimed at reducing this confusion, they tend to be available only on more expensive models.

Driving with improperly inflated (including overinflated) tires can cause serious problems. For one thing, underinflated tires result in decreased gas mileage. More importantly, improperly inflated tires wear down unevenly, and in some cases tires can blow out, causing a loss of control.

The best way to protect yourself is to check your tire pressure regularly. Always take a tire pressure while the tires are cold – driving even a few blocks to a gas station can cause your tires to heat up and your pressure to register high. Be aware of the recommendations of the vehicle manufacturer and the tire manufacturer. Taking these simple steps can save you and your family from serious injury.