Keep tyres in top condition for safe driving. Tyres are one of the most crucial parts of your car in terms of safety, and as your only contact with the road, it’s vital they’re kept in the best condition at all times. This guide to tyre safety shows how to spot when your tyres are past their best.
Getting to grips with your tyres
Sidewalls: This is the side of the tyre, between the wheel and the tread where the tyre name and size details are stamped. Sidewalls are crucial to the structure of the tyre.
Although they can’t go bald, sidewalls are susceptible to parking damage: scuff them against the kerb and you can cause significant harm, enough to cause rapid deflation.
Tread: This is the most crucial part of the tyre and directly affects how your car performs.
The tread transmits the car’s power from the engine to the road, provides grip, and disperses water when driving in the wet. As the tread wears down, the tyres’ ability to effectively and safely do all these things is diminished.
Top tips for maintaining your tyres
The right tyre pressure will not only keep you safe, it’ll also save you money through reduced fuel usage. For optimum safety and performance, check your tyre pressure weekly or every time you fill up. Always take care not to under or over-inflate car tyres.
* Under-inflated tyres: You’ll see excess wear on the shoulders of the tyre while the centre remains less worn. This can cause the tyre to overheat and fail. It also creates extra drag, which reduces fuel economy.
* Over-inflated tyres: You’ll get heavy wear in the centre of the tread and not on the shoulders. This is even more dangerous as it reduces the size of the contact patch (the area of tyre which actually touches the road), which can dramatically reduce the grip your tyres have on the road.
The legal tread depth is 1.6mm. If you have less than this across three-quarters of your tyre’s width, it’s illegal.
If you’re caught without enough tread you can get a fixed penalty and three points – possibly more if you have more than one illegal tyre. This will affect your car insurance premium. Measure the tread depth with a tyre gauge, available from most car accessory shops.
Top tip: Many modern tyres have wear indicators – little blocks in the grooves of the tyre. When the surround tread is level or close to these blocks, it’s time to change.
Check your tracking, or wheel alignment. Every car has specific settings to ensure the best handling and braking performance, but general driving, and the odd kerb nudge, can put your wheels out of alignment.
You’ll notice your wheels are out if the car pulls to one side, or the steering wheel doesn’t line up when you’re driving in a straight line. If your wheels are out of alignment you can wear through them very quickly. It’ll also decrease the amount of grip and stability you have.
Top tip: Get your wheel alignment checked by a garage every few months – particularly after fitting new tyres.
Last but not least, always keep a spare tyre in your boot in case of accident, plus the appropriate tools to fit them. And don’t forget breakdown cover so you’re not left stranded on the hard shoulder.