Top 10 car tyre tips and adviceOur hints on buying and maintaining your car tyres
21 October 2011
A well-maintained set of tyres is vital for car safety. These are our top 10 tips on how to get the best from your tyres.
Ensuring your tyres are legal and roadworthy is not only a requirement to get the best grip and ride comfort from your car; it’s also a car safety check you should undertake on a regular basis.
With this in mind, we’ve pulled together our top 10 tips to buying and maintaining your tyres to make sure you get the best deal on new rubber, get the most out of your current set, and take the right precautions so tyre failures won’t leave you stranded.
1. Check tyre pressures on a regular basis
Having your car tyres pumped up to the correct, manufacturer-recommended pressures is essential to get the most life out of your tyres. Under-inflation of tyres is a common problem and it can limit the performance of the tyres if the pressure falls too low. Low pressure will affect the car’s handling, as the rim forces the tyre sideways in cornering. At the extreme, this can lead to the tyre dislodging. The tyre will also have higher rolling resistance, leading to increased fuel consumption, and the increased stress on the tyre sidewalls can cause premature failure. Under-inflated tyres will show excessive wear on both outer edges of the tread.
Over-inflation can cause problems as well, including unpredictable handling and accelerated centre tread wear.
If your car is heavily laden, tyre pressures will need to be increased to compensate, in line with the maker’s guidelines.
The correct pressures will be stated in your owner’s handbook, and on some cars are displayed inside the door sills or in the glovebox. Alternatively, you can go online and find the correct pressures for your car quickly and easily.
2. Always check your tyres cold
This means check them before driving anywhere. As you drive, your tyres warm up, due to friction between tyre and road, and internal friction between the air molecules and the tyre. Once you’ve driven anything more than a few hundred yards, the temperature increase will raise the pressure in proportion. If you then check and adjust the pressures to the maker’s recommendations, they will effectively be under-inflated when measured cold.
3. Avoid mixing tyres
Car makers design cars to work with four tyres that perform to one consistent standard.
By mixing makes and models, which will inevitably perform differently, you can compromise the car’s handling and grip. Ideally, this means all four tyres should be the same make and model, but we know the tyres on the driven wheels tend to wear out more quickly. In this case, replace two tyres at a time, and make sure that if you can’t match the existing tyres all round, the two tyres on each axle match each other.
4. Check your tread depths
Tread patterns on tyres are designed to disperse surface water, and thus maintain contact between rubber and road, where the rubber compound maintains the grip. As the tyre wears, the grooves in the tread become shallower, thus reducing the volume of water they can disperse and increasing the risk of aquaplaning and loss of control. The legal minimum depth is 1.6mm, but the tyre’s ability to disperse water deteriorates rapidly at tread depths below about 3mm. Once the tread depths reach 3mm, begin to look around for suitable replacements.
5. Spare or emergency repair?
With manufacturers attempting to shave off vital weight and also increase boot capacities, spare tyres are becoming less common. Instead, many makers provide an emergency tyre repair kit, including liquid sealant and a 12V pump, powered from the car’s power supply. Familiarise yourself with using it before you get a puncture, and keep all of this kit together and in the car. If you’re buying used, make sure you ask the previous owner where all of this is before you drive away.
If there is a spare, make sure you know where the jack and brace is stored, and that you are familiar with how to change a wheel.
To make sure your spare tyre will be in good working order when you need it, check it regularly for pressure and condition.
If you’re buying a used car, check the spare tyre is supplied with the car and hasn’t previously been on the car and swapped with the original spare once the tyre condition has deteriorated.
6. Check your tyres for damage
It is important to carry out frequent visual inspections of your tyres.
Just because you can’t feel any damage to your tyres when driving, it doesn’t mean they’re always in good working order. Punctures can be caused by nails and any other items that get lodged in the tyre tread and plug the hole for a while before the tyre finally fails. Ageing tyres lose their resistance to the deteriorating effects of ultraviolet rays from the sun. If this happens the rubber can begin to crack and may fail, causing a blowout under normal use.
7. Look after wheels, steering and suspension
Misaligned steering or worn suspension can cause uneven or accelerated tyre wear. Checking the tyres frequently should alert you if this is happening. If you have any concerns, ask a garage to check the wheel alignment and suspension condition and adjust and/or repair as required.
Frequently check the wheels for any damage that could potentially cause punctures.
8. Know your tyres before you buy
You’ll need to know the size and specification of the tyre when it comes to purchasing new equipment.
Check the manufacturer’s recommendations in your vehicle handbook and never fit tyres of a lower specification than this, even if you don’t believe you will be using the car at its limits. Find out more about this at our free How to buy tyres advice pages
9. Shop around online for discounts
There are three main ways of buying tyres – through high street tyre retailers, through fast-fit centres, through conventional garages and online. We’ve recently found some high street retailers offering substantial discounts for customers purchasing online.
Check the size and specification details for your tyres in your owner’s handbook. Read our guidance on how to buy and check our tyre test results to decide which tyres you want to buy. Write down the exact make and models of your first- and second-choice tyres.
Contact the retailers you are considering and ask for a quote for the tyres you’ve chosen in the size and specification you need. Make sure the quote includes new valves, fitting and balancing. Don’t be persuaded to buy an alternative if they can’t supply the brand and model you want.
It’s well worth contacting several different tyre retailers to compare costs. If one retailer offers you a good deal, but is further away, try asking a nearer firm to match the offer.
10. Using a mobile tyre-fitting service
Mobile tyre fitting services are useful for those who use the car on a daily basis. You contact the retailer and ask them to come to a place of your preference (say your home or work). Some retailers charge extra for this service, while some offer it at the same rate as if you visited the retailer’s fitting premises.
The big benefits are that you don’t have to spend time going to the retailer, and the job will be done at a pre-arranged time and place to suit you.
The drawbacks are that you have to plan your purchase in advance (you can’t just turn up and buy on spec as you might with a conventional retailer). If you need a tyre in a hurry (e.g. because you’ve had an unexpected blowout), your car could be off the road for a time before they can come to you.
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