Now be honest – when did you last check your tyre pressures? Yesterday? Last week? Last month? Can’t quite remember?
Like most of us probably, I’m guilty of not checking them as frequently as the tyre companies recommend. Which is why road safety groups and tyre makers are trying hard in October – Tyre Safety Month – to bring home to all of us the importance of looking after those four unloved black things at each corner of our motor, whose hand-sized contact with the road is the only thing keeping us from slipping & sliding into danger.
Yes – hand sized, that is just how small the contact patch that each tyre has with the road surface, come rain or shine. Not a lot is it? So surely it’s a good idea in terms of safety to make sure that that contact patch is as effective as possible. And yet so many folk buy their new tyres purely on price, the cheaper the better. If you want proof that this is false economy, just check out some of the comparative tyre tests published on the web, the results are scary, to say the least. To take just one example: a tyre with good wet grip will stop from 50mph an incredible 60 feet shorter than one with poor grip – four car lengths!
How do you know whether the tyres you are thinking of buying have the best possible grip? Easy: one of the (few?) good things to come out of Europe is a tyre labelling system which scores the tyre brand and type in 3 ways – wet grip, noise & fuel efficiency – in a simple A to F rating system. Aim for A rated tyres for grip if you want the best. That might mean a trade-off against a slightly worse fuel efficiency rating, but could just save someones life.
Even if the tyre apparently has a good wet grip rating, be very wary if it’s a brand you have never heard of, as there are many “brand X” tyres being shipped into the UK from the Far East which are of doubtful provenance. According to one well-known tyre manufacturer, these are often shipped in by the container load, with the brand disappearing once the batch have been sold, to be replaced by a container load from another unknown brand. Can you trust the tyre labelling of such dubious sources – I leave you to decide!
Returning to the theme of tyre pressures, even the best tyres in the world will only function safely at their recommended pressures. And here I was shocked to discover just how little pressure needs to be lost before a tyre becomes unsafe. Michelin classifies tyres that are only between 7 to 14psi below the manufacturer’s recommendation as “dangerously underinflated”, while 14 psi or more underinflation is deemed to be “very dangerous.”
You may think such underinflation is highly unlikely. Think again – Michelin have collated the data collected on customers tyres over an eight-year period, and depressingly discovered that 37% are so underinflated that they fall into the ‘dangerous’ or ‘very dangerous’ categories. Scary stuff.
Why is underinflation so dangerous? In most cars, a moderate deflation is unlikely to be noticed in everyday driving, only showing up under more extreme conditions, such as swerving to avoid an obstacle, or heavy braking. What happens then is that the underinflated tyre runs out of grip, then lets go suddenly and entirely without warning, sending the car out of control with potentially disastrous consequences.
As if that was not enough, running a car with tyres underinflated by 7 psi decreases fuel efficiency by about one mile per gallon, as well as reducing the life of the tyre significantly, and making it much more susceptible to punctures.
Now here’s a confession. Writing this feature prompted me to go out and check the pressures on the family cars. Most were within a couple of psi of the manufacturers limits. One, however, was 12psi below spec., which could well have been an accident waiting to happen.
So, don’t ignore those four lumps of rubber – please, please fit the best you can, and look after them properly: it could save lives! If you don’t believe me, consider this: Department of Transport statistics show that over the past five years, in accidents attributed to vehicle defects, over 1/3 have been the result of defective tyres. Put it another way – some 200 motorists die or are seriously injured every year as a result of tyre problems.
Your life in their hands, literally!
Interested – find out more here: http://www.tyresafe.org/campaigns/tyre-safety-month-2015
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