Rubber roadkill: How to keep you and your car safe from shredded tires on the highway

Drivers encounter potentially dangerous hunks of rubber and steel strewn on and along highways here in the Miami Valley.

These tire pieces — and sometimes nearly full tires — are often blamed on semitrailer tire retreads.

>> Retreaded tires: The danger they pose and how to stay safe

News Center 7 investigated this dangerous road hazard to find out where these tire pieces come from, the hidden damage they can cause your vehicle and the one simple thing everyone can do to prevent this tire problem.

Therese Garison of Vandalia said these chunks of tire — sometimes called “gators” because they resemble an alligator’s tail — are a big safety concern.

“All the gator pieces that fall off the trunk tires and big tires. It’s just making havoc for our cars,” Garison said. “You see it everywhere and you don’t know whether to swerve and if you hit it, it is going to hit underneath and tear up your car, so it’s a real problem.”

Gators are the most common type of vehicle debris, according to AAA.

“I’ve seen where people have hit semi tire treads and it’s ripped components out from underneath the car where the car has stalled,” said Mike Ganka, AAA fleet tow driver.

The destruction can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars and it is often hidden, according to Brad Hamilton, the general manager of Subaru and Collision Center of Dayton.

“It can shred your fender, your liner, go underneath your vehicle and maybe take out some wiring,” said Hamilton.

How many crashes and how much damage do tire retreads and other tire chunks cause in Ohio?

It turns out there is no clear answer.

The Ohio Department of Public Safety lumps tire failures in the general equipment failure category.

The most recent stats from 2017 show the total for these crashes is 761 with two fatalities.

As for just how many tire pieces are found on and along area roadways, the Ohio Department of Transportation said it does not categorize the items they clean off of the highway.

Butch Settles, Grismer Tire commercial division operations manager, took News Center 7 behind the scenes to show their eight-step tire retreading process.

Grismer has been retreading tires since 1932 and the result is a safe tire, according to Settles.

“Everybody thinks ‘Oh there’s a gator on the side of the road, somebody’s retread came apart,’” he said. “We have a less than one percent failure rate on our retread products and we are the only retread plant that can say that.”

The finished retreaded product costs about half that of a new tire, which saves money for school districts, trucking companies and airlines, said Settles.

Retreads also save tires from landfills and use less oil to produce, according to Settles.

A 2009 study from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found tire failure due to the retread manufacturing process is under 15 percent.

The study concluded that the best way to keep gators to a minimum is simple — maintain proper tire inflation. It will save money and lives.

>> 6 tips to avoid rubber roadkill and safely share the road with semi trucks

If you spot a gator in your lane on the highway, do not swerve, said Ganka.

To avoid an accident, it is best to run over any tire pieces you encounter and check for any damage as soon as you can do so safely.

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