It seems every time new vehicle distributors launch a new model onto the market these days the list of both passive and active safety features grows longer. Electronic Stability Control, multiple airbags, and high-tensile steel are just a few examples of what is now pretty much a standard feature of most new cars, regardless of size or price. Does that mean car owners are off the hook in terms of personal responsibility and ensuring their vehicles are totally safe on the roads? Well when you consider the safest vehicle still shares a common component with even the oldest and most unsafe vehicle on our roads, then the answer is clearly no.
Tyres would have to be one of the most critical safety features of any vehicle. They are the glue that holds a vehicle to the road in a host of different situations and road conditions.
So what can you do to ensure your tyres are up to the mark in terms of longevity, fuel economy and making the vehicles as safe as possible?
A label normally placed inside either the driver or passenger door pillar has the manufacturers recommended tyre pressures for easy reference. Pressures should be checked every couple of months, or prior to long trips. This can be done at most fuel stations at no cost.
Most surveys and checks undertaken reveal almost 50 per cent of vehicles have underinflated tyres.
Underinflated tyres can have a negative effect on vehicle handling due to excessive side wall flexing and, in wet conditions, water dispersion. They can also cause undue load on a vehicle's steering, especially in an inner-city environment.
Underinflated tyres will increase fuel consumption.
Overinflated tyres will cause uneven and premature tyre wear and can also have a negative effect on a vehicle's handling characteristics.
A vehicle's optimum braking performance can be affected when pressures are set incorrectly.
If four new identical tyres are fitted at the same time, then swapping front to rear (same side) on a regular basis (say every 10,000km) can increase overall tyre life.
BEST TYRES TO REAR
The best tyres should always be fitted to the rear regardless of whether a vehicle is front- or rear-wheel drive. This will help reduce the risk of a vehicle "breaking-away" in the rear and the driver losing control in certain road and weather conditions. It may also help reduce the risk of developing a slow leak or blow out.
Space saver wheels/tyres are perfectly acceptable provided they are fitted and used as per manufacturer's instructions, including vehicle speed and distance travelled. Tyre pressures are set significantly higher than a conventional tyre, so inflate to the pressure stipulated on the warning label which should be clearly visible on the wheel itself.
NO SPARE WHEEL AT ALL
There are some manufacturers who are leaving out the spare wheel completely and providing a DIY pressurised repair kit in its place. If the leak can be sealed, then take the vehicle to a tyre store as soon as possible for them to inspect for possible irreparable damage to the tyre. The tyre may need to be removed from the rim to check for any internal damage. Never assume if the tyre stays inflated it is safe to continue to use. In a worst case scenario the kit won't seal a leak so make sure you have a 24/7 roadside assistance provider.
RUN-ON- FLAT TYRES
The makeup of a run-on-flat tyre is such that it allows a vehicle to be driven at a reduced speed and for a limited distance, much like the space saver, if loss of pressure is detected. The driver is alerted to this situation by an on-board tyre pressure monitoring system. Once again, a visit to a suitably qualified tyre expert should be carried out as soon as possible. And don't be surprised to be told the tyre will need to be replaced. Second surprise will no doubt be the cost of the replacement tyre.
Tread depth and general tyre condition are all part of a Warrant of Fitness (WoF) inspection and should also be a check item during normal routine servicing. If you receive a warning or recommendation on a tyre's condition then act promptly. While it may reach the required WoF standard on the day of the inspection, it may fall short of that standard well before the next inspection or service is due. Advice along with checking tyre pressures is free and will help make your car a lot safer on the road and save on fuel bills along the way.