Why you need to pay attention to your tyres

Updated: Feb 16 2013, 09:05am hrs
As essential as your brakes, more important than your engine, but largely ignored. We tell you why tyres are the most important part of your car and what you should look for when buying a new set

What kind of tyre you exactly need

What is tread Tread is the pattern of grooves on the surface of the tyre that makes contact with the road. Tread dictates the tyres performance and grip levels.

When the depth of the grooves is worn down to less than 2mm, tyres run out of usable tread, and its best to replace them rather than let them go completely baldthis is highly unsafe in wet weather conditions. The conditions in which you intend to drive your car dictate what kind of tyres you need.

Different kinds of tyres will have different tread patterns. These patterns may be symmetrical or asymmetrical, again, depending on their purpose and intended use. Here are some of the different options you have:

Standard all-weather tyres

For most car owners, standard road tyres should be the way to go, and are usually what will come fitted from the factory. They have a tread pattern that is suited for driving on tarmac in a variety of road and weather conditions and are usually made to last long. While they have decent grip in both dry and wet conditions, these general-purpose tyres are no match for special-purpose tyres when it comes to their specific special conditions.

Off-road tyres

SUVs are often equipped with off-road tyres that use a thick block pattern, where blocks of rubber protrude from the tyre surface, enabling them to dig into the loose sand or slush. They also have tall sidewalls that help them absorb bumps, but these are made sturdy so that they dont flex too much. On/off-road tyres are good for road use as well as mild off-road use, although for extreme off-roading, even more specialised tyres are best.

High-performance tyres

Most sportscars are equipped with high-performance tyres that are designed to withstand very high speeds and provide better grip around corners. These tyres are generally made of softer rubber and consequently wear out quicker; they are also pricey to replace. They have lower sidewall profiles which flex less during hard cornering and so the ride quality is hard.

Take care of your tyres

Just as a car needs to be serviced at regular intervals to keep it in good working order, tyres too need to be maintained and looked after. Since they are the only contact point between the car and the road, their health determines how the car behaves on the road and the fuel economy the car returns. Heres what keeps the tyres in good health.

Once a week

We see a lot of cars with under- and sometimes over-inflated tyres. This not only escalates uneven tyre wear, but also affects the cars braking and handling characteristics. Be diligent and take five minutes to get the air pressure checked once a week. Not only will this keep the tyre wear even, but also allow them to last much longer.

Once a month

Take a walk around the car, look closely at the tyres and pay particular attention to the tread. If you notice uneven wear on this inspection, its a sign that there may be issues with the suspension and steering systems that are not plainly noticeable. The type of uneven tyre wear can also tell you exactly the kind of trouble plaguing your car.

Once in six months

With a yearly running of around 10,000km on average, we recommend getting the wheels balanced, rotated and aligned every six months or every 5,000km to keep the wear even. Over time, some parts of the tyre may wear out more than others thanks to hard braking, steering the wheels when stationary and other factors. This leads to an uneven weight balance on each tyre, and when the car is driven, this generally causes the tyres to wobble. This can be felt through the steering wheel, especially at high speeds, and can be fixed by getting the wheels balanced.

The other problem that you might notice while driving is the car tending to drift to one side. This is because the alignment of the suspension needs looking into. Allowing any of these to continue for a long time will lead to premature tyre degradation.

Fixing a puncture

Punctures are an evil one has to learn to live with. Road conditions may not always be favourable and punctures have a knack for occurring at the worst possible time.

In the rare chance that you still have old-school, tube-type tyres, they will go flat instantly and must be changed immediately. Tubeless tyres, however, deflate more slowly, so unless its a serious rupture, you can carry on driving (slowly) till you can get the car to a tyre repair shop.

In case the tyre does go flat, there is the option of repairing it yourself with a puncture repair kit and a portable tyre inflator. Tubeless tyre repair kits arent very costly and are widely available in the market, with prices starting from R250. The kit consists of rubber threads, a screw tool, a needle tool and silicon-based lubricant.

Heres how you fix a puncture

* Remove the wheel and locate the puncture

* Pull out the errant nail/screw

* Clean the puncture with the screw tool

* Thread the needle tool with the rubber thread and apply the lubricant on the thread

* Place the needle tool on top of the puncture and press the rubber plug into the tyre until about a quarter of the rubber thread is sticking out

* Twist the tool a couple of times and, with one swift pull, yank it out. This will leave the thread in the puncture

* Some part of the thread will be sticking out still, simply cut it with a blade.

Jargon buster

* There are many numbers and letters on the sidewall that tell you about the tyre. Its important to know what they mean when youre buying a new set. Lets take the example of a tyre which has the following lettering on the sidewall: 175/65 R14 82T

* Width175 is the width of the tyre in millimetres. This is helpful in describing the contact patch of the tyre, or the part of the tyre that is in contact with the road surface.

* Aspect ratio65 is the height of the tyre from the outer edge of the wheel rim to the tread. This is a percentage representation of the height; in this case, it is 65% of the width of the tyre.

* ConstructionR stands for radial, and represents the tyres construction. Most tyres today are radials.

* Diameter14 is the diameter of the wheel rim, measured in inches, on which the tyre can be mounted.

* Load rating82 is a weight rating that corresponds to the maximum weight the tyre has been designed to bear.

* Speed ratingT is a speed rating bracket denoting at what maximum speed the tyres can be driven.

Watch out!

Tyres should be inflated to the correct pressure. Rotation, balancing and alignment schedule should be followed rigorously, as missing this can lead to premature balding of the tyres. In India, summers can be very hard on the tyres. Road surface temperatures can get very high and a badly maintained tyre can even burst. During the rains, one has to check that there is enough tread to ensure grip. Under-inflated tyres cause the most damage. The sidewall is under more stress and there is a chance of the sidewall cutting open on the inside.