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Choosing car tyres to stay safe and legal

However advanced your engine, however expensive your car, the quality and safety of your drive is all down to the contact your car makes with the road – which makes your car tyres the most important part of your vehicle.

So when should you change your car tyres to keep them legal and how do you choose the right car tyres for your vehicle when you do?

Keeping car tyres legal

The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 have very precise stipulations for your car tyres.

  • For cars, the tread needs to be at least 1.6mm deep in one continuous band over the central 75% of the tyre.
  • The tread must be consistent all the way around your tyre, with no patches or uneven wear, so even if most of the car tyre has a good tread depth, a bald patch will still make it illegal.
  • Damage can also render your car tyres illegal if they are over 25mm long or if they expose the cords below the rubber.

If you are caught driving with illegal tyres, you could face a fine of £2,500 and three penalty points on your driver’s licence, and that is for each tyre, so in theory you could lose your licence if you have all four tyres below spec. The impact on your future car insurance premiums doesn’t even bear thinking about.

Choosing car tyres – what do those numbers mean?

If you need to replace your car tyres, then the first thing to check is the size of tyre you require. Car tyres are labelled with a series of letters and numbers, such as:

P205/55 R15 94H

Each of these numbers represents a different aspect of the tyre:

  • The P indicates the tyre is for a passenger car. T is for spare tyre and LT means the tyre is for a light goods vehicle.
  • The first is the width of the tyre in millimetres.
  • The second the profile (the width to height ratio). The lower this number, the higher the performance of the tyre.
  • R stands for radial and the next number is the diameter of the wheel in inches.
  • The final letter and number show the load capacity and maximum speed rating of the tyre. If you have any doubt, ask an expert tyre fitter to help you.

Most tyre fitters will give you a choice of expensive, named brands and budget alternatives. It is up to you which ones you choose, because all the options will be legal and will do the job. However, there is little point in buying a high performance car and putting cheap, low performance tyres on it. Similarly, there is no point in putting top of the range tyres on an old runabout as they could cost as much as your car is worth.

Spare tyres

It is not a legal requirement to carry a spare car tyre, and it is not part of your MOT, but it is still a good idea, and you should check its tyre pressure as often as your road tyres. Remember, many spare wheels are speed restricted to 50mph and should be replaced as soon as possible.

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