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21 May 2019
Tyres advice

You probably don’t give your car’s tyres much thought until a garage tells you they need replacing, but they are one of the most important safety items on your car. They provide the only contact between your car and the road and ensure that it makes it around each corner and stops when you want it to. 

In fact, every manoeuvre you make in your car relies on the tyres, so it’s vital to ensure they are in first-rate condition and that when you replace them, you do so wisely. 

When should you replace tyres? 

Although the legal limit for tyre tread depth is 1.6mm, many safety organisations and tyre makers recommend replacing tyres when the tread reaches 3mm, because their effectiveness – in particular, their ability to stop a car on a wet surface – is reduced once the tread is below this level. They must also have the minimum tread across three-quarters of their width, without any gaps in it. 

Tyres advice

The other legal requirements for tyres are that they are in physically good condition – they can’t have any gashes or bulges in the sidewalls – and that they’re inflated to the recommended pressures. The tyres also have to be the same size across both axles, although you can fit larger tyres on the back or front axle of your car. 

Fall foul of any of these rules and you could get three penalty points on your licence and a £2500 fine. You could lose your licence altogether and be fined £10,000 if all four tyres are below the legal limit. 

Although there’s no legal requirement to stick with the brand of tyre fitted to your car when it was new, the car maker will have worked closely with the tyre company during the car’s development, so changing to a different brand or tyre with a different tread pattern could affect the car’s handling and road noise. However, if you stick with a similar tyre from a different premium or mid-range brand, the differences should be minimal.  

One thing you should consider doing, however, is changing the two front or rear tyres at the same time, unless you’re replacing a new tyre that’s been damaged. If you change a single tyre and the new one has 8mm of tread and the one on the other side has 4mm, they won’t provide the same grip. While this isn’t likely to be an issue on dry roads, in wet, wintery conditions the stopping distances will increase. 

You might be able to save money by looking for retailers that offer a discount for buying more than one tyre.

Should you fit new tyres on the front or back?

Most modern cars are front-wheel drive, so the front tyres have to work harder than the rears and are likely to wear out quicker. However, whether your car is front- or rear-wheel drive, most safety experts advise switching the tyres around when replacing the front pair so that the new ones are on the rear. 

This is because if a car loses grip in a corner, it will either understeer or oversteer. Understeer is when the car’s front tyres lose grip first, making the front end slide outwards. Oversteer is when the rear tyres lose grip first, making the back end of the car swing out. 

It’s easier to get a car that’s understeering back under control than one that’s oversteering – simply slowing down should help to regain grip – and this is why the new tyres should be on the rear wheels to minimise the potential to oversteer and risk a serious accident.


Next: Tyre labels and the writing on your tyre sidewall explained >

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