Tread Carefully – Your Car Tyres’ Grip Depends on their Treads
Here’s something about car tyres that’s both interesting and thought provoking. Take a look at the sole of your shoe. Why? Well, you may not know it like the back of your hand but here, you’re looking at your shoe’s sole for a reason. The area of the sole of your shoe is approximately the same as that of a car tyre’s contact patch, the amount of tread it has on the road at any one time. Multiply this area by four and it represents all that’s stopping your car, and anyone on board, from sliding off into the scenery when travelling.
Now, say your car weighs one tonne. The car tyres’ four contact patches therefore have to keep one tonne on the straight and narrow. Or do they? In fact, they must often cope with greater loads. When you drive round a corner, you feel centripetal force (not centrifugal force) pushing you towards the outside of the car. Your car tyres create this force and while it’s unlikely that your car can create a cornering force of 1g, it might well do so under very heavy braking. So, during accelerationg, cornering and braking, that four shoe soles’ area is coping with keeping you on the road, rain or shine, summer or winter.
The law says that the minimum depth of the tread on your car tyres must be 1.6 millimetres, across the central ¾ of the tread around the complete circumference of the tyre. If you haven’t this amount of tread on your tyres, you might get 3 penalty points on your driving licence and a £2,500 fine. This is per tyre, so multiply it by four for the worst-case scenario.
There is, however, an even worse case scenario that affect car tyres. RoSpa, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents carried out some tests. On a hot rolled asphalt surface, a car with barely legal tyres travelled 36.8 per cent further before stopping. On a smooth concrete surface, the same car went 44.6 per cent further. Unsurprisingly, RoSpa recommends tyres be changed when the tread depth falls to 3 millimetres.
There’s another risk that worn car tyres create in the rain. You may have winter tyres, summer tyres, asymmetric tyres or run flat tyres. All have treads and when the treads are badly worn, their contact patches lose their ability to quickly dispose of surface water. When a tyre aquaplanes, it’s riding on a thin film of rainwater it can’t get rid of. Then, you have no appreciable grip and therefore very little control. There’s a memorable black and white picture, taken when Dunlop Tyre’s technical team identified aquaplaning in 1962. In it, a Mark Two Jaguar is shown at speed on a wet test track. White segments painted on its tyres’ walls show that the front tyres aren’t rotating at all – scary. Car tyres may have improved since then but like its cause, aquaplaning remains.
So, running your car tyres down the hilt tread-wise may be economical but it could cost you far more than you thought possible. Happily, you can keep a check on your tyre treads’ health. All tyres have tread wear indicator bars moulded into the tread pattern. When – or preferably a little before – these are no longer lower than the tread surface, it’s new tyre time. You can also buy a tread depth gauge from most motor parts outlets. Failing all else, you can check the tread depth using an old 10 pence piece. The ring of dots around the rim indicates 1.6 millimetres when the edge of the coin is pushed into the remaining tread. However, Matthew Dent didn’t retain this element when designing the ‘Royal Shield’ coins introduced in summer 2008.