If your tyres are worn, bald, flat or bulging, they’re dangerous.

If your tyres are worn, bald, flat or bulging, they’re dangerous.

02 Mar

By Tom Boote

The team at Protyre know from experience that these days, modern cars are so reliable that most drivers have almost completely stopped lifting the bonnet between services to check things like oil or coolant levels. And if truth be told, we probably don’t need to – the annual service is usually enough to take care of these things.
But this perceived sense of reliability has a worrying knock-on effect: we’re not checking our tyres either, and we should be. It’s vital to regularly undertake visual tyre inspections, but since most drivers aren’t tyre experts they can’t always tell if something’s amiss, and this can be dangerous.

So in our latest tyre safety article, Protyre team provide an overview of the three major types of tyre damage you’re likely to encounter, what you need to look out for, and how to avoid tyre damage in the first place.

First up: Worn tyre treads

Tyre treads are super-important, arguably the most important element of a ‘healthy’ tyre. Tyre treads are the grooves in the rubber that remove water from the “contact patch” that connects the tyre itself and the road, enabling grip and traction. It’s this grip that allows the driver to accelerate, steer and brake safely – the essentials that keep your vehicle under control, and the people in and around it safe.

Premium tyre manufacturers – such as Continental – spend vast amounts of money each year researching and developing new tyre technologies. These include tyre compounds and tyre tread patterns. Why? Because the quality of their tyres is central to their core principle of ensuring driver safety – first and foremost.

If your treads are too worn down, the tyres become dangerous. It’s the reason why there’s a legal minimum tread depth of 1.6mm in the UK. To give you an idea of how much tyre wear has occurred to get to the legal minimum, brand new tyres come with a tread of 8mm.

And while 1.6mm may be legal, the DVLA recommend that drivers change their tyres when the tread is worn down to 3mm. So do all tyre industry experts and manufacturers, including Protyre and Continental. This extra tread is vital in wet weather conditions for achieving shorter stopping distances.

How to spot dangerous tyre tread wear

Take a look at your tyre treads. If they’re looking shallow, and the tyre surface is somewhat shiny, the treads are too worn down and it’s seriously time to get a new set of tyres. As well as driver safety, there’s a road-legal consideration too.

To ensure that your tyres are legal, place a 20p piece into the tyre treads at different places across the tyre’s width. If at any point you can see any of the coin’s outer rim, it’s not just time to think about a new set of tyres, it’s legally time to act. There are two types of wear to look out for – “centre” and “one-sided” – as these images above show.

Failure to replace badly worn tyres not only exposes you – and your passengers and fellow road users – to accidents, you’re also at risk of incurring severe fines. For each tyre found to be below the legal tread limit you can expect to have to pay £2,500 – and have points docked from your licence too.
(H3) Three top tips for minimising tyre tread wear
  1. Regularly keep an eye on your tyre pressures
If your tyres are inflated at the correct level they’ll not only wear more evenly, they’ll be both safer and more fuel efficient too.
  1. Make sure your wheels are aligned correctly
If your wheels are incorrectly aligned, your tyre treads will wear unevenly. As a result you’ll have less tread and grip on one side of your tyre.
  1. Invest in premium tyres, rather than cheaper tyres
Why spend a little more? Because cheaper tyres are typically made from inferior rubber compositions, compared to premium tyres. As a result, these cheaper tyres typically wear down faster than those from premium tyre brands, like Continental (exact, like-for-like driving comparison only).
Remenber though that all tyres – even if they’re correctly inflated – will ultimately wear down gradually over time.

Spotting sidewall damage

The sidewalls of your tyres are built to be robust, so that they can withstand driving forces and pressures, keeping your vehicle stable. But as strong as they are, they’re still vulnerable to damage.

Do a visual inspection of your tyres. If you notice any tears, cuts, nicks, bubbles or bulges in the sidewall, experience says it’s normally a sign of very serious damage to the tyre’s structure, and dangerous. If left in place, you, your passengers and those around you – both fellow road users and pedestrians – are at risk of a serious accident caused by a blowout.

The Protyre team cannot emphasise strongly enough the importance of getting sidewall damage checked by an expert right away, and if appropriate getting your tyre(s) replaced.

Tyre sidewall in excellent condition

Four tips for reducing the chances of sidewall damage

1. It’s best to avoid contact with kerbs
It’s always irritating when we scuff our tyres against the kerb, but it can be dangerous too. In may cases, tyre sidewall damage begins with a knock against a kerb or pavement. While most bangs won’t necessarilly be immediately dangerous, if you regularly scuff the tyres – for instance when parking on the roadside – this can ultimately cause long-term problems.
2. Do what you can to avoid driving into potholes
While we know that it’s not always possible for drivers to avoid driving into them,  we cannot stress enough the importance of avoiding potholes. It’s never a pleasant experience, and the bangs and scrapes can seriously damage your tyres.
3. Regularly check your tyre pressures and make sure they’re correct
This is especially true of under-inflated tyres. When your tyres don’t have enough air in them, the sidewall is exposed to harsher forces and pressures. Why? Because the tyre has to  compensate to keep your vehicle stable. As a result, this can cause premature wear to the tyre structure, making them unsafe.
4. Spilled oil on your tyres? Clean it off
Very important. If you’ve inadvertently spilled petrol onto your tyres, or find that you’ve had the misfortune to have driven through some really dirty water, be sure to clean off whatever’s left on the tyres. Water and washing up liquid will typically do the trick. If you don’t, the prolonged exposure to solvents and oils results in a softening of the tyre rubber, and this can damage the structure of the sidewall.

Nails, glass and other sharp objects

Despite the very best efforts of councils and local authorities to try and keep UK roads clean and debris-free, the sad thruth is that there is still plenty of it around. Unfortunately there’s pretty much nothing you can do about while you’re driving.

As we’re talking about small, impossible-to-see debris, most of the time you won’t even notice a nail or stone lodging itself between your tyre treads. This is problematic, since – left to linger – these foreign objects can cause lasting damage, such as punctures and sidewall failures.

How to try and avoid punctures from small, sharp objects

1. Visual inspections help you detect foreign objects
Get in the habit of regularly checking your tyres and you’ll dramatically increase the chances of spotting foriegn objects – such as nails, bits of glass and sharp stones– that you may have had the misfortune to have picked up in your tyre treads.
2. Don’t be afraid – prise them out
Assuming your tyres are in otherwise good condition, damage caused by a small nail may not be too serious and lasting, if you remove it quickly. As such, get a pair of pliers and prise foreign objects out. That’s not to say you should then forget the matter; rather, keep an eye on the situation and be sure to get it checked by a Protyre professional if you’re in any doubt.

If you’re in any doubt about tyre damage, seek expert advice

Regular visual checks and ad hoc maintenance will undoubtedly help you to not only to prolong the life of your tyres, they’ll also save you fuel too. But most importantly, checking your tyres will to keep you, your passengers, and those around you safer on the road.

However, if you’re in any doubt about what you’ve seen while checking your tyres, it’s always best to get it seen by the experts. Speak with your local Protyre professional for experienced, impartial advice. We’re here to help, and can also offer you expert fitting services.

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Tom Boote

Tom has over 5 years’ digital marketing experience within the automotive industry in both B2B and B2C environments. Through this, Tom has honed his skills in digital communications, marketing, branding and web content management.  At Protyre, Tom is responsible for creating engaging and informative content across the website that provides consumers with expert advice on MOTs, servicing, vehicle maintenance and tyre care. As a motorsport enthusiast, Tom enjoys documenting the Protyre Motorsport team’s involvement in major motorsport events across the UK.

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