When the tyres hit the road - make sure they are safe
Last month I lamented the poor state of some of the cars on our roads – blaming what I suspected was an over reliance on a ‘current’ Warrant of Fitness sticker on the windscreen to satisfy owners and drivers that their vehicle is roadworthy. It is worse since the 12 month warrant was introduced for cars registered after January 1, 2000. Something crucial can easily fail the day after a warrant was issued and another 364 days to identify the issue is too long. In June I gave practical tips for checking your lights and taking remedial action to make sure they all work – especially during winter when it is not only darker for longer, but often foggy or wet. This month I want to look at possibly the most crucial safety element on your vehicle – the few square centimetres of tyre that connects you and your loved ones to the road. There are several elements to tyres that affect the safety, reliability, performance, handling and Checking your tyres economy of your vehicle. For a start there is the type of tyre and whether it is correct for your vehicle and your style of driving. No one tyre will meet every requirement, but there is one that will best suit your driving and your budget. Rather than guess, it is best to talk to experts in the business and give them information about how your vehicle is used - and then take their advice. There will be options for better grip, better handling, better braking, improved fuel economy – even tyres that are quieter on the road. I suggest you weigh up what is most important for you and buy the best you can afford. It is recommended tyres are purchased as sets of at least two, if not all four at once. Matching tyres should be on the same axle of the car and the tyres with the best tread should be fitted to the rear. That doesn’t preclude tyre rotation when the rear tyres wear and front tyres have more tread. Tread depth: Checking tread depth is something you can do yourself, and is recommended rather than waiting for a WoF check and driving on potentially dangerous tyres. The minimum legal tread depth is 1.5mm – but at open road speeds with just a small amount of surface water grip is reduced to almost nothing – so it is safer to replace tyres before then. You can buy a tyre depth gauge to check yourself, or simply ask at your garage or tyre shop on a regular basis. And don’t just check the best part of then tyre – check the most worn tread for depth. Tyre wear: Hopefully your tyres will show an even wear pattern, but that isn’t always the case. This is another area you can, and should, check yourself on a regular basis. It only takes a visual inspection to see uneven wear, bald patches or damage. You don’t have to be an expert – if you see something unusual get an expert to take a look. There are various factors than can be wrong, and all make the vehicle less safe and are costing money be prematurely wearing out the tyre. These are incorrect tyre pressure, out of balance wheels and incorrect wheel alignment. Tyre pressure: The easiest and cheapest part of the equation to fix yourself is incorrect tyre pressure. Every vehicle has a recommended tyre pressure which you can usually find in the manual or on a sticker on the inside of the driver’s door. It is recommended you check the pressure monthly as all tyres will slowly lose pressure. The best way is to own a tyre pressure gauge and check the tyres (and spare) when the vehicle has been sitting so the tyres are cold. You can top them up if need be at a service station. If you don’t have a gauge, drive to the nearest service station with cool tyres and set the tyre inflator to the desired pressure and fill each tyre. Any tyres that are low will be topped up. Balance and alignment: Wheels are balanced when new tyres are fitted, but over time it is possible a wheel could lose weights and go out of balance and this could cause uneven wear. At worst, and out of balance could be noticeable to the driver. Check with a professional and they can test, and if necessary, rebalance a wheel. A wheel alignment ensures all four wheels are pointing in the right direction according the vehicle specifications. Bad alignment might show as uneven wear, and can be checked and rectified. An alignment should be carried out when new tyres are fitted, or as part of regular servicing depending on the manufacturer’s recommendations – probably annually or every 10,000km. False economy: Neglecting some, or all, of the recommended settings for tyres is false economy – and makes driving unsafe. Air to ensure tyres are at the correct pressure is free – so no excuses. Wheel balancing is a small cost on the price of tyre fitting and wheel alignments cost about $65. That is a small cost to get better fuel economy and increase the life of the tyre – it would pay for itself. But mainly it is a small cost to be safer on the road and have a better chance of enjoying your drive and getting to your destination in one piece.