Beware the bald killers: How poor tyres are putting our lives at risk
Published 08/06/2016 | 02:30
Since April 17 last, defective or worn tyres on your car could land you with an €80 fine and two penalty points. It's a welcome development and it may lead to Irish motorists taking the state of their tyres seriously for the first time.
On the day before the new regulations came in, I visited a local tyre fitter.
He told me that he had done a week's worth of business that day alone as drivers rushed to replace their tyres.
What shocked me to the core was the state of the tyres as they came off various cars. A 141-reg Audi had four tyres with no tread showing on them. This is a car two years away from its first NCT test, making a mockery of the notion that the NCT is the last word when it comes to car safety.
A set of equally bald tyres came off an 08 Ford Focus saloon. I checked the side of the tyres for the year of manufacture which turned out to be 2007. They were on the car since it came out of the factory and were only now being changed because of the threat of penalty points.
Even when Irish motorists finally come in for new boots, there's still the problem that as a nation, we're famous for spending the least amount of money possible.
All tyres sold in Ireland must have an 'E' mark. A capital E shows that the tyre has been tested to international standards and a small 'e' graces tyres that have just met European standards, but either one is legal.
The problem is that there's a world of difference between a decent tyre, usually made by someone you've actually heard of, and some cheap ones.
While a cheap tyre will be grand for tipping around town, in an emergency you run the risk that some of them will not perform nearly as well.
After testing premium tyres against their cheap competition on many occasions I would never put anything other than a decent, respected brand of tyre on my car.
The most popular tyre size in Ireland is a 205/55 16 and the cheapest new option is around €55.
A decent, mid-range tyre will cost around €80 while spending €100 will get you a premium one.
It may look like a lot of money but the difference between mid-range and premium is €100 for a set of five tyres.
For several years now, new tyres come with a label giving some performance ratings.
Wet grip is scored from A to G, fuel efficiency is scored in a similar way and finally, a rating for noise levels is given.
It's well worth your while to study the performance figures for any tyre you're considering purchasing and that might encourage you to spend a little more.
At the other end of the scale, some motorists fit secondhand, or part-worn tyres.
These are generally imported from countries such as Germany where tyres with 4mm of tread are considered to be at the end of their useful life. Nothing is known about their provenance though.
Generally, these tyres are priced at around €35 and if we assume it's half-worn, you'll have 2.4mm of tread left before you hit our legal minimum of 1.6mm. That works out at just under €15 per mm.
Conversely, if you bought a brand new tyre for €80, you would get 6.4mm of usable tread, which works out at just over €12 per mm, blowing any economic argument for used tyres out of the water. Tyres should be checked regularly for correct pressure, damage and for tread depth and should be replaced at 3mm for safety.
The 1.6mm legal limit is woefully inadequate.
When new tyres are fitted, they should be balanced and aligned as a matter of course and any tyre over 10 years old should be replaced even if it has tread left on it.
The threat of penalty points shouldn't be the sole reason to keep your tyres in good order.