The tyres of your car are one of the most essential components of your vehicle. If there are issues with them, it can affect the quality of your drive and your car’s safety.
There’s more to think about and be aware of your tyres than you may initially think. Here’s everything you need to know about car tyres to help you better look after and maintain them. If you want to learn more about car maintenance, there are countless resources on our website.
As a regular car owner, you can choose to use multiple types of tyres. Each type of tyre will provide slight benefits in certain situations, so it’s a good idea to understand what type of tyres you can use in certain circumstances. Here’s a look at some of the most common and valuable kinds of tyres for the average driver in the UK.
Despite how we typically view British weather, most cars in the UK will be fitted with summer tyres as standard. These tyres are designed to work above temperatures of 7 degrees and, in these conditions, will have excellent braking distances compared to other tyre options.
Despite the name, these tyres are also well suited to wet roads, providing that the external temperature is warm. When things get too cold, these tyres could drop massively in performance.
All-season tyres are a relatively new type of tyre and are an excellent in-between for summer and winter tyres. They’re designed to handle all weather conditions and perform well regardless of the environment. They best suit areas with fluctuating weather conditions, making them perfect for the UK market.
That said, only 4% of cars have these tyres in the UK, but the market is growing. They’re intended to be safe in temperatures between -10 and 30 degrees Celsius, but they’re not as good as winter tyres in really bad conditions. These tyres are also pretty good at dispersing surface water, making them great for wet and rain-soaked roads.
As the name suggests, winter tyres are designed to perform best in cold and icy conditions. The rubber used for winter tyres is perfect for low temperatures, especially below 7 degrees. They also utilise a different tread pattern that grips snow better.
Although these patterns are great for winter weather, they make the car louder to drive and wear away much faster, mainly if you use these tyres in warmer months. This means that winter tyres are not a good option for general usage.
Energy-saving tyres are designed to give your car a much better fuel economy by giving your vehicle a lower rolling resistance. This means that your car uses less fuel to accelerate and break, helping it to go further.
These types of tyres don’t usually perform as well as other options, with the breaking distance and grip in cornering being compromised. Most economy-focused hybrid and electric cars will be fitted with these types of tyres.
As a car owner, it’s easy to neglect your tyres and forget to do the necessary things to ensure that they’re safe and legal. The issue is that there are many things that you need to do to ensure that you’re properly maintaining your tyres.
Here are a few things you need to think about and regularly monitor to ensure you’re using your tyres safely.
When you look at a tyre, you’ll notice that they’re not flat. Tyres will have multiple grooves in them. These are called treads, giving a wheel a better grip and making them safer when on the road.
In the UK, there’s a legal requirement that the depth of the treads is no shallower than 1.6mm. This prevents your tyres from being harder to control, as a smooth tyre is more likely to slip, especially if the road is wet.
One popular trick is to use a 20p coin to check your tread depth. These have an outer ridge that is 2mm. If you insert a 20p into a tread and can see the ridge, your treads may not be deep enough.
If the authorities find you on the road with bald tyres, the term used for tyres that have a fully worn-out tread, you can be punished severely. If you’re caught driving with a tyre with less than the legal 1.6mm of tread, you’ll be issued a fine of £2,500. Plus, you’ll also get a three-point penalty.
What makes this punishment worse is that this is for each tyre. So, if all your tyres are below the legal length, you could end up with a fine of £10,000 and the full 12 points off your license, which will result in a driving ban.
Each specific tyre will have a speed rating. This is the maximum speed that a tyre is designed to travel at. It’s essential to know the speed rating of your tyres, as going faster than this can put it and your car at risk.
The speed rating will be indicated by the last letter in the sequence found on the sidewall. The maximum speed for each letter is:
As most of the tyre top speeds far exceed the national speed limit in the UK, it’s unlikely that you’ll exceed these limits. However, if you’re racing with your car on tracks or occasionally find yourself speeding, it’s helpful to consider what seeds your tyres can handle.
To make sure that your tyres are safe on the road, it’s also essential that you regularly check the pressure within the car. Wheels are usually filled with air to keep them pumped up, and you must keep the pressure of the tyres at the right level.
Each car model will have its unique recommended tyre pressure, and you can find this either in your manufacturer’s handbook or on a sticker inside the fuel filter flap or attached to the door frame.
If your pressure is too low, it can make the car feel unstable and even unsafe to drive. The tyres will also wear away much quicker, impacting your car’s fuel economy. If the pressure is too high, it can affect how well the tyres grip the road, and they’ll also wear more heavily in the central band.
It’s good practice to check your tyre pressure once every three months, especially just before a long journey. Doing this is just one of the many car maintenance tasks you should add to your routine.
Here’s a complete guide on all the car maintenance tasks you need to do throughout the year.
To best look after your tyres and to know the signs that you need to replace them, you should be able to identify indications of damage. If you have a damaged tyre, it’s best to get it replaced as quickly as possible, as it can make driving more dangerous for you and those who share the road with you.
Some common types of damage include:
An impact bulge indicates damage to the tyre’s carcass, also known as the casing. If a tyre has a lump protruding from it, it means that the cords within the casing have been destroyed, compromising the whole tyre as a result.
An impact bulge is usually caused by the tyre being driven over objects at high speed or if the tyre makes contact with something like the kerb at the wrong angle. Most people can avoid impact bulges if they drive carefully and avoid coming into contact with obstacles on the road.
Ignoring a bulge can cause your tyres to fail in the future, so they’re a type of damage that you should get assistance with, with the most likely solution being a replacement tyre.
When a tyre is worn irregularly, it can indicate that it’s been damaged in some way or that there is some issue that needs to be addressed. There are three different forms of irregular wear: heel and toe wear, centre wear, and one-sided wear.
Heel and toe wear usually appear after normal usage and appears as distortion to the tread grooves and sipes in a heel and toe fashion due to the blocks of the tyre deforming. Too much heel and toe wear can indicate improper inflation and the use of low-wear applications.
Centre wear usually happens for high-power cars with high torque and is where the centre of the tyre wears away faster than the outside. This can make the tyres more susceptible to slipping. This issue can be prevented with smoother breaking and acceleration, but it is harder to avoid.
One-sided wear is usually caused by incorrect axle geometry and is where the side of the tyre wears away more than the other side. If this type of damage happens to your tyre, it may indicate that the wheel alignment is wrong. Thankfully, a qualified specialist will be able to make changes to your alignment to prevent this type of damage from happening.
A cut can happen to your vehicle due to bad road conditions or if your tyre comes into contact with a sharp object like a stone or glass. Cuts usually occur in the outer layer of a tyre and usually may not cause the tyre to deflate. However, they do have the potential to impact the tyre’s structure, making it more likely to fail.
Punctures are when a sharp object pierces through the tyre and can cause it to lose pressure if they’re deep enough. A puncture is usually identified by your tyre losing pressure or by finding a nail or sharp object embedded in your tyre. If you notice any of these problems, then you should get the tyre inspected by a mechanic immediately.
To ensure that your car is road legal, you need to replace your tyres the instant the tread depth goes below 1.6mm. The time it takes for a fresh tyre to reach this point will be different for each car and driver, so there's no specific timeframe for replacing your tyres.
That said, most tyres will usually last around five years. If they get older, the rubber might begin to perish, and it could be a good idea to replace them at this point, regardless of how much thread you have left.
Although you need a minimum of 1.6mm of thread, mechanics will start to recommend that you change your tyres once they reach 3mm.
To get the most out of your tyres and to make sure that they last as long as possible, it's important that you consistently keep your tyres inflated to the right pressure level that the manufacturer of the car recommends.
If your tyres have too little pressure, they will wear more quickly, and too much pressure can cause the central band to wear away more than usual.
Another way to improve the lifespan of your tyres is to check the wheel alignment regularly, as even the slightest misalignment can cause tyres to wear out quicker than they should. It would be best if you also tried to drive carefully around corners and avoid wheelspin, as this will help them last longer.
When driving in the UK, no law states that you must always carry a spare tyre with you. That said, many mechanics and road users recommend that you have one, as they can be beneficial if one of your tyres fails due to a puncture.
Being able to replace a tyre with a spare will mean that you don't need to wait potentially hours for roadside recovery. Not only does this save time, but it can also save you money from having to pay for a callout.
Most spare tyres will be the space-saving variety. These tyres have the same diameter as a regular one but are more narrow. When driving with these spares, you cannot exceed 50mph as they're only designed to help you get home or to your nearest garage.
If you're planning on keeping a spare wheel, make sure to store the equipment needed to raise your car and remove your tyre.
You can also use a repair kit if your vehicle doesn't have space for a spare tyre. This kit provides you with expanding foam that can be used to temporarily repair a puncture and reinflate the tyre so that you can get to a garage for a mechanic to replace it.