Tyre checks: 6 simple rules for car safety

<b> SAFETY FIRST: </b> The Automobile Association of South African has implored motorists to check their tyres for wear and tear on a regular basis. <i> Image: Supplied </i>
<b> SAFETY FIRST: </b> The Automobile Association of South African has implored motorists to check their tyres for wear and tear on a regular basis. <i> Image: Supplied </i>

Cape Town - Tyres remain a dangerously overlooked component of car care in South Africa, sometimes with fatal consequences, says the Automobile Association (AA).

The AA said: “Tyres are a significant safety feature on vehicles. They are the only thing between you and the road, and because of this ensuring their continued good condition is vital. Any tyres which are bald, or under or over inflated, can be dangerous.”

Checking your tyres

In terms of Regulation 212 of the National Road Traffic Act, tyres must have at least 1mm, and if it falls below that figure, motorists may be fined. Some tyres have wear indicators in the tread pattern to show when the tread depth if less than 1.6mm. In these cases, if the tread on the tyre is level with these indicators, the tyre must be replaced as it is considered unroadworthy. Worn tyres will also have an impact on the ability of the vehicle to stop properly, posing yet another danger. 

A simple way to test this is to insert a match horizontally between the treads on the tyre. If the match is level, the tread may still be good. However, if the match protrudes from the tread, it is time for a replacement.

More: Safe tyres can reduce 'road carnage in South Africa' - AA

Another important maintenance routine is to check the inflation on your tyres. Under-inflation can cause tyre bursts. Because under-inflated tyres have more rolling resistance, they will also increase fuel consumption. Over-inflation reduces the cushioning power of the tyre, making it more susceptible to impact, penetration, and abrasion. Over-inflation also means there is less contact with the road surface which has a negative impact on road handling. 

The AA advised: “If you are unsure of the correct inflation for your tyres there are several ways you can check. There should be a sticker on the car, usually inside the driver’s door, that indicates the correct inflation levels. Alternatively, motorists can consult their owner’s manual, or even visit a tyre fitment centre for advice. Given the critical nature of tyres, they must be checked regularly.”

Wheel balancing and alignment 

The Association also encouraged motorists to check the wheel alignment, and wheel balancing, of their tyres. Wheel alignment consists of adjusting the angles of the wheels so that they are set to the manufacturer’s specifications. The purpose of wheel alignment is twofold; it reduces the wear of the tire, and ensures that vehicle travel is straight and true, without pulling to one side. Wheels that aren’t aligned can lead to uneven or rapid wear of a tyre. 

Road hazards such as potholes, debris on the road, crash fragments, and high curbs are some of the daily dangers to tyres, and should be avoided if possible.

More: One of the biggest threats to SA road safety? Second-hand tyres...

The AA noted; “Damaged tyres come in many varieties; there may be cracking on the side wall of the tyre, a distortion of the tyre tread, loss of pressure despite regular pumping up, cuts, bulges or even rubber that has perished or separated. All of these indicate a problem with a tyre that requires urgent attention. And, cost should not be a factor. If it is damaged, it needs to be changed as quickly as possible.”

"Check your tyres often"

The Association urged motorists to check their tyres before the start of a journey, and not at the end. 

The AA concluded: “It’s pointless checking tyres after a journey when problems may have already resulted in further damage or worse, a crash. Checking your tyres often will ensure you know exactly what their condition is before any trip, and give you peace of mind that you are safe.”

6 basic rules for tyre safety:

1. Tyres should always be replaced with the same size designation as recommended by the vehicle or tyre manufacturer. 

2. Tyre brand, size and tread pattern must be the same on each axle.

3. All four tyres should be of the same size, speed rating and construction (radial or cross ply). 

4. Guard against used tyre imports, many of which are beyond retreading but are retreaded and sold illicitly. Similarly watch out for counterfeit tyres - illicit copies of respected brands. The advice is to always look for the SABS stamp of approval. 

5. When two radial tyres are used with two cross ply, put the radials on the rear axle. In some cases (especially commercial vehicles) the manufacturer might recommend different-sized tyres for the front and rear axles. 

6. Never assume that the tyres on your vehicle are correct, even if you have newly purchased it. Unless you bought new from an authorised dealer your vehicle may already be fitted with potentially lethal tyres.

For more guides and lists on tyre safety, visit the Arrive Alive website.

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