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Tyre safety checks: what you need to know

By Stephen Turvil | July 21, 2022

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Basic tyre safety checks that could save your life

Tyre safety checks: what you need to know

Basic tyre checks

Tyres must be properly inflated, in excellent condition, and not too old for your car to be safe. Quick, simple checks confirm whether everything is in order and are more important than many people recognise. Dangerous tyres have been the cause of countless of collisions.

Tyre pressure

Tyre pressure influences how your vehicle brakes, handles, and rides so check it frequently with a pressure gauge. An under or overinflated tyre can also wear out prematurely. To find the recommended pressure, check your owners manual, look inside your door frame or inside the fuel flap. If all of that fails, try Google. There may be varying recommendations depending if the tyre is at the front of your car, the back, if the car is heavily laden, or if it is light. 

Tread depth

A tyre’s tread helps it clear rain, icy slush, and other such things from its path so it can stick to the road beneath. How effectively it works is greatly influenced by the depth of the tread. When the tyre is new, there is plenty of depth so it can clear a lot of debris. As the tyre’s tread wears it clears less debris, so there is less traction. On this basis, it is important to regularly check your tread depth with a digital or manual gauge.

In the UK, the legal minimum tread depth is 1.6mm across the central 75% of a tyre’s width and around its circumference. However, it is better to replace the tyre earlier if money permits.

Rather than a gauge, you can estimate the tread depth via the tyre’s wear markers which are small, black, rectangular bits of rubber. If the tyre is new, the markers sit deep in its tread at the bottom of the grooves. Once the tyre is at – or anything below – the legal limit the markers sit flush with the rest of the tread. 

Tyre damage

A damaged tyre is far more likely to fail than a healthy counterpart. Failure could cause a serious collision. Check the tyre for bulges, punctures, and excessive cracking on its sidewall. 

Tyre date code

A tyre’s performance can diminish with age even if it has only covered a few miles. Constant exposure to hot and cold weather takes a toll. On this basis, check the date code on the tyre’s sidewall to see when it was produced. Code 51 20, for example. The 51 reveals the week of the year. It is week 51 of 52. The 20 confirms the year. It is 2020. There is no definitive age that a tyre becomes unfit, but evaluate it more frequently as time passes. 

Tyre size and specification

When you purchase a tyre, it has to be the right size and specification for your car to be safe. The owner’s manual reveals the correct specification via a code. Simply buy a tyre that has the same code on its sidewall. 215/50 R17 91 V is a common example. 

The 215 reveals the tyre’s width in millimetres. The 50 is the height of the sidewall as a percentage of the width. The R proves the tyre has a radial construction and 17 reveals it fits a 17” wheel. 91 is a load rating which is how much weight the tyre can support. Finally, V is the speed rating. See tables below reveal more.

Tyre load ratings

Code Load in kg Code Load in kg Code Load in kg
62 265 84 500 106 950
63 272 85 515 107 975
64 280 86 530 108 1000
65 290 87 545 109 1030
66 300 88 560 110 1060
67 307 89 580 111 1090
68 315 90 600 112 1120
69 325 91 615 113 1150
70 335 92 630 114 1180
71 345 93 650 115 1215
72 355 94 670 116 1250
73 365 95 690 117 1285
74 375 96 710 118 1320
75 387 97 730 119 1360
76 400 98 750 120 1400
77 412 99 775 121 1450
78 425 100 800 122 1500
79 437 101 825 123 1550
80 450 102 850 124 1600
81 462 103 875 125 1650
82 475 104 900 126 1700
83 487 105 925 127

Tyre speed ratings

Code Speed in mph
N 87
P 93
Q 99
R 106
S 112
T 118
U 124
H 130
V 149
Z 150+
W 168
Y 186

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