Just recently I was in Germany finding out about tyres and car safety. I always knew how important tyres are of course but I didn’t know how much I had yet to learn about them…
The purpose of the trip was the launch of Continental Tyres’ new look and brand encapsulated in the strapline ‘The Future of Motion.’ We quickly got a feel for the professionalism and enthusiasm of their staff, the precision of their operation and that Continental is a lot more than just tyres. Expect to hear more about this and their onboard systems in particular in future.
I was with a group of motoring journalists and bloggers at the Contidrom circuit in Hannover. We were to test a variety of budget and premium car tyres in different weather conditions, fitted to different cars, driven at different speeds and with different pre-prepared tread surfaces.
This was a packed programme including modules titled ‘False economy,’ ‘When braking counts,’ ‘Mixed Up,’ and ‘Tread carefully’. Each was supported by compelling support statistics to confirm what each of us had just experienced on the track.
During the course of the day I drove a Mercedes A250, a BMW 335i, various Minis and Golfs and a memorable Porsche Panamera that sounded wonderful… Cars were fitted with different tyres and tread levels ranging from 8mm (new) to 4mm, 3mm and 1.6m. We drove in wet and dry conditions and saw tyres tested on ice too.
We took Minis round a short, circular and wet circuit then BMWs round an oval circuit that was dry-ish in the main but you couldn’t see the wet stretch just around the corner…
We were told what to do via an internal car speaker system. “Drive at 60kph, at 70kph and at 80 kph…” we were told, bearing in mind that’s a maximum of just 50mph in real money. Which is when the characteristics of the tyres made themselves known. Drive with premium tyres and 8mm tread and you felt safe. Drive with budget tyres and 1.6mm tread and you instantly felt the difference. It was impossible to hold the BMW fitted with Asian tyres (1.6mm) tread in a straight line through the wet; most cars skidded spectacularly at just 80kph.
If you’d driven the car with the 8mm tread tyres first and had the car with 1.6mm tyre tread next you could probably tell which was which from the look on the driver’s face because we all knew what we were in for …
The same was true with the Minis although they had traction control which was reassuring at times and certainly made driving a lot easier.
Predictably the premium tyres outperformed the budget ones in all departments other than cost. And yet motorists are buying cheaper tyres to save money we were told. But I saw for myself that the cheaper tyres were the false economy and that braking performance was considerably worse when you needed it most.
We’re not talking about straight line braking here, we were emulating the sort of conditions I regularly find myself in on rural roads in Sussex. A nice long and familiar road then a tight bend and the possibility of a swollen river overflowing onto the road, for example. And if I was driving on legal tyres (1.6mm is the legal limit) doing c50mph I now know I’d struggle to keep the car on my side of the road. With all the implications that could have.
Top Ten Tyre Tips
On the strength of the evidence and my hands on test experience my Top Ten Tips are…
- The condition of your tyres is the single most critical safety factor on your car; they are also expensive to replace so it makes sound financial sense to look after them.
- Always buy the best tyres you can afford, reviewing the wet braking performance ratings on new EU tyre labels.
- Premium tyres will last longer than budget tyres. Always take professional and independent advice before buying cheap tyres which are often a false economy.
- Your poorest tyre will give you your overall tyre performance ie matching top of the range 8mm tread tyres on one axle won’t change your car’s tyre performance if you have budget tyres with c1,6mm tread on the other.
- Never mix tyres per axle ie always fit the same tyres on the front or rear axis.
- To prevent tyre deterioration due to ageing and if your annual mileage is low, it may make sense to move partly worn rear tyres to the front axis, fitting new tyres to the rear.
- Whilst the legal minimum tyre tread is 1.6mm, FOXY’s experience is that poor tread WILL add to the time your car takes to stop and COULD result in an entirely avoidable accident in an emergency situation. We also recommend you consider changing your tyres at c3mm tread and not leave this until they are borderline on legal at 1.6mm tread; the better the tread the safer your road handling at modest speeds, in the wet and in any emergency.
- Get into the habit of walking round your car on a regular basis to spot signs of tyre wear and tear, alloy damage or a slow puncture. Get any obvious damage seen to straight away before this becomes safety critical and a much more expensive repair. Know what your tyre pressures should be and check them regularly; an under-inflated or over-inflated tyre will let you down when you need it most, will wear out quickly and premium tyres are expensive to buy.
- Do you know what to do if you are ever stranded on your own after a puncture? Does your car have a spare wheel (many don’t)? Do you know where any wheel locking nut key is? If you ever needed to, could you change a wheel or use a puncture repair kit to get you going again? You might consider attending a local Ladies Garage Evening to find out how to do this; if this isn’t you, be sure to have current breakdown cover, a topped up mobile (and good phone reception)when you need this. If you are determined to DIY, practise changing your wheel enough times until you feel confident to do this for real…
- Finally, buy tyres from a FOXY Lady Approved garage that has signed the FOXY Promise to ‘never overcharge, patronise or sell women anything they don’t need.’ This means you won’t be sold tyres you don’t need by a sales person motivated by commission.
Of course I had a great time in Germany but the purpose of going was so I knew how to run safer cars and could spread the word so other women might benefit from my experience.
Remember that if your tyres are illegal you could be fined £2500 and receive 3 points on your licence FOR EACH TYRE. That merely serves to remind us all how important our tyres are.
NB: Recent VOSA figures confirm that 1 in 5 cars fail their MOT and that 96k cars fail each year because of illegal tyres. Think about it. These are cars that could not stop as quickly as they should be able to because their owner was unaware of this.
Just think of the possible consequences…