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Tyre care and maintenance

25th September 2019

Your quick and easy guide to good tyre care and maintenance

As vehicle owners, the majority of us understand the importance of looking after our car or van. Making sure to maintain good brakes, having the engine regularly serviced – even treating it to a thorough clean now and again – are just some of the things we know to keep an eye on. But just as important – some experts would say arguably more so – is the ongoing maintenance of our tyres. Taking good care of them on a regular basis is vital. If we don’t, and they fall below their optimum best, there could be serious consequences for your driver safety – and bank balance, too.

Bank balance? Yes. Are you aware that if stopped by the Police and found to be driving on defective tyres, you are most likely to be prosecuted and, if found guilty, incur a fine of up to £2,500 for each illegal tyre? It’s true. It’s also the case that you’ll likely get three penalty points on your license for each defective tyre, too. More and more, authorities across the country are clamping down on illegal tyres – so much so that figures from 2016 show that UK drivers were fined a whopping £27m for driving with dangerous tyres. The message is clear; don’t drive on defective tyres. But how to avoid doing so?

General tyre condition makes a difference

Dirty tyres can affect your vehicle’s performance, and also conceal damage. Regularly cleaning them is essential, and this includes removing dirt, grease or oil from the tyre surfaces. Don’t forget to clean around the valves and valve caps, too. This will save you trouble in the long run. Also, watch out for any stones or other objects that have become embedded in the treads of your tyres. If you spot something, be sure to carefully remove it. If you leave it unchecked, and the object is sharp, there’s a significantly increased chance of it piercing your tyre, and that will inevitably lead to a slow puncture.

Tyre damage can also occur on the sidewalls. These are the vertical sides of your tyres. Your sidewalls endure the vast majority of the stresses and strains your tyres undergo, so it’s essential that they retain their structural integrity. Protect your sidewalls by looking out for any signs of bulges, lumps, cuts or tears. If any number of these are present, the tyre will ultimately become compromised, endangering your driver safety.

Merityre says: By regularly inspecting of your tyres you can minimise the possibility of exacerbating any of the aforementioned issues. That said, if you are in any doubt about the condition of your tyres, seek professional advice from your nearest Merityre specialist.

Comparison image courtesy of TyreSafe.

Tyre tread depth

Of the £27m in fines mentioned above, the overwhelming majority was for ‘bald’ tyres. This term relates to tyre tread depth. If you’re unsure what treads are, they are the grooves that run the length of your tyres. They are there to safely channel water away from between your tyres and the road surface. Treads are vital for generating the grip you need to drive safely. 

In this country (and across much of Europe, too) the road legal minimum tread depth for cars and vans 1.6mm. If you’re treads are less than this, you’re driving on illegal tyres and at risk of incurring severe fines and penalties. You’re also endangering your driver safety, as well as that of fellow road users.

Your tread depth will reduce over time through natural tyre wear (both even and uneven) and is something all drivers need to keep an eye on. This is easily done with a tread depth gauge.

Merityre says: Not everyone has their own tread depth gauge. If this is you, instead undertake the quick and easy ‘20p test’. All you have to do is place a 20p coin into the tyre tread, at multiple points along its length. If at any point you can see part of the banding around the coin’s edge, the chances are your tread is under 1.6mm – and therefore illegal. If this proves to be the case, immediately arrange to have the tyre replaced. Merityre can assist you with this.

Additionally, many tyre professionals, including Continental Tyres, recommend that you change your tyres long before they reach the UK legal minimum tread depth. They, along with the majority of independent tyre safety experts, suggest you replace your tyres once the tread is down to 3mm. Why? Because research unequivocally proves that from 3mm down, tyre tread – and the grip it is able to provide – degrades rapidly. This reduces the tyre’s ability to perform optimally, especially when the road is wet. Continental take the matter so seriously that they’ve ensured that all of their series 5 and later tyres feature tread wear indicators (TDIs) that clearly indicate when your tread is down to just 3mm. Not all tyre manufacturers do.

Tyre wear

Wear on the tread will lead to a reduction in grip that your tyre can provide. This tyre wear can occur both evenly and unevenly. The latter will take place if any of your tyres are incorrectly aligned. The affected parts of your tread will wear down quicker than the rest, and this will result in irregular tyre tread depth. This is problematic because it can adversely affect the way water is channelled away from the tyre.

Merityre says: Make an appointment with your nearest Merityre specialist and we’ll realign your tyres.

But it’s not only incorrect alignment that can lead to irregular tyre wear. It’s also likely to occur if you have the wrong…

Tyre pressures 

The right pressures are vital for the condition and performance of your tyres. Typically, you’ll find them inside the driver door, or under the fuel cap. Having the right pressures helps to ensure that your tyres are inflated correctly, and subsequently able to perform at their optimum best. This also helps to maintain even tyre wear.

Today, modern cars have a tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS) as standard. This indicates if the tyres are under or over inflated. Either way, both possibilities are problematic since they’ll lead to uneven tyre wear.

Under inflated tyres result in too much contact with the road, especially around the edges where additional wear will occur. This unnecessary contact also means that over inflated tyres need more power to be turned, resulting in extra fuel expenditure – and nobody wants that, right?!

Over inflated tyres result in contact with the road being focused at the centre of the tyre. This means the tyre edges are inadvertently lifted off the road. As a consequence, excessive, uneven tyre wear takes place at the centre of the tyre. This additional erosion of tread occurs just where you need grip the most, and with the edges not making contact with the road the tyre’s contact patch with the surface is lessened, further reducing the available grip. This is dangerous, particularly in wet conditions.

Merityre says: Act on any warnings your TPMS indicates. If your car or van doesn’t have a tyre pressure monitoring system, ensure that you regularly check your pressures. If you don’t have a pressure gauge, pop into your local garage or petrol station. They will typically have the facilities to check and top up / top off your pressures (usually for free, or a nominal fee).

Other important considerations

As well as regularly inspecting your tyres for damage, and ensuring your pressures and tread depth are as they need to be, there are other important considerations that you need to be aware of:

Tyre storage

Some UK drivers take the sensible precaution of switching from standard ‘summer’ tyres to ‘winter’ tyres when the temperature gets cold. This is because each tyre type performs at its optimum best in warm and cold conditions respectively. It’s all down to the different types of compound used to make each tyre, which are optimised for temperature.

In this instance, drivers need to store their alternative set of tyres. If this isn’t done correctly, over time the tyres may become compromised. There are six key considerations to bear in mind when it comes to storing tyres. Learn how to correctly store tyres here.

Retorquing wheels

Just like with shoes and your feet, when you first fit a new tyre it needs time to settle with the wheel. Your wheel is attached to the axle with nuts, and the way these are applied is crucial to the performance of your wheel and tyre. Incorrectly torqued wheel nuts will negatively impact on performance, and also affect driver safety, so it’s important to retorque every now and again – especially when a new tyre has been fitted. Learn more about retorquing here.

Balancing tyres 

Balance is crucial for ensuring the even weight distribution of your vehicle over all of its tyres. If your wheels are out of balance, they can cause vibrations while you drive. It can also lead to premature wear of your vehicle’s suspension, its steering components, any rotating parts, and of course the tyres. All of these problems reduce your driving comfort and vehicle performance, as well as your driver safety. Learn more about tyre balancing here.

The quality of your tyres really matters

Your tyres are the only thing in contact with the road. They’re arguably the most important component of your vehicle, and essential for your driver safety. With this in mind, take time to care and maintain your tyres on a regular basis. Their quality could be the difference between avoiding or having an accident. If you’re unsure about the quality of your tyres, speak to the professionals at your local Merityre specialist. Find yours here.