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3 reasons why tyre tread depth is so important

calendar Published on: Thursday, 11th January 2018 | male icon Author: Kevin Thorpe

You can expect new tyres to have a tread depth of around 8mm when they are first fitted to your car. Over time though, the rubber starts to wear down, eventually reaching a point where the tread is no longer safe. Here, we take a look at three of the reasons why itís so important to keep an eye on the depth of tread on your tyres, and to replace them once they get below the recommended level.

1. Staying on the right side of the law

Not paying attention to this driving safety detail could land you in legal trouble. By law, motorists in the UK are required to have a tyre tread depth of at least 1.6mm. If youíre found to be driving with less than this legal minimum, you risk being fined up to £2,500 and getting three penalty points on your licence. This is per tyre too, meaning that if all four of your tyres fail this test, you could theoretically face a fine of £10,000 and 12 penalty points. 

Bear in mind that to qualify as legal, your tyres must have tread of 1.6mm or more across the central three-quarters of the tyre and around the entire circumference, not just in one place. 

As well as potentially having legal implications, driving with tyres that donít meet this standard could mean your insurance premiums rise. According to Confused.com, if youíre convicted of using a vehicle with defective tyres, your premiums could increase by as much as 69 per cent - potentially bumping up your motoring costs.

2. Minimising your stopping distances

Having tyres with effective grip can significantly lower your stopping distances, making you better able to brake when you need to. This is especially important when you need to perform an emergency braking manoeuvre. The simple fact is, a good level of tread could make the difference between you bringing your car to a stop safely or colliding with other road users or objects. 

Although the legal minimum is 1.6mm, safety experts recommend that you have at least 3mm of tread on your tyres to ensure you can keep your stopping distance as low as possible. Tests commissioned by the British Rubber Manufacturers Association and conducted by MIRA revealed that stopping distances can increase significantly once tread depth gets below 3mm. 

MIRA carried out tests on five different tread depths ranging from 6.7mm to 1.6mm. It found that stopping distances started to rise markedly at depths of below 3mm. At 1.6mm, they increased by 44.6 per cent on smooth concrete and 38.6 per cent on hot rolled asphalt.

In a bid to combat this, some premium tyre manufacturers such as Michelin are now developing tyres with deep vertical tread patterns that provide effective braking throughout the life of the tyre, even after the tyre tread depth has reached 3mm. However, tyres must always be replaced at 1.6mm for safety and legal reasons.

3. Reducing the risk of aquaplaning

Tyres with a low tread depth also increase the risk of aquaplaning. This occurs when a layer of water builds between the road surface and the wheels of a vehicle, causing a loss of traction that prevents effective braking and limits handling. 

The tread in tyres is carefully designed to help disperse water. As the grooves become less pronounced however, their ability to do this effectively is reduced. Aquaplaning can be a very scary experience and, particularly if you are travelling at speed and there is a lot of water on the road, it can be extremely dangerous. 

The more tread you have on your tyres, the better they will be at keeping contact with the road surface and the less likely you are to have an accident due to loss of traction in wet conditions.

How to check your tread

For the reasons listed above, keeping tabs on your tyre tread is a vital part of staying safe on the roads. If youíre worried that your tyres may not be up-to-scratch, itís time to test them. One way to do this is to perform the Ď20p testí. This simply means inserting a 20p piece into the grooves on your tyre. If part of the outer band of the coin shows when you do this, your tyre tread doesnít meet the 1.6mm legal minimum, so youíll need to change it as soon as possible. Make sure you check the central three-quarters of your tyres as they must have tread of 1.6mm across this area. 

You should also pay attention to the tread wear indicators that are displayed on your tyres, which are moulded into the bottom of the main grooves. When your tread has worn down to the same level as these indicators, it has reached the legal minimum and your tyres will need to be replaced. 

Another way to check your tyres is to use a special depth gauge. These purpose built tools are available at a range of shops and they are designed to make it quick and easy to measure the depth of individual grooves in tyres. They are especially useful if you want to ensure you stay well above the legal minimum and replace your tyres once they get below 3mm. 

Itís recommended that you check your tyre tread depth on a regular basis. As a general rule, try to do this at least once a month, especially if your tyres are getting close to the minimum. If you have any doubts about the tread on your tyres or you have other concerns about their quality or safety, donít hesitate to get expert help. Your tyres play an essential role in preventing accidents and so you canít afford to overlook this aspect of car safety. 

If you need new tyres for your vehicle, the team at TyrePlus can help. Simply choose suitable models for your car and place your order. You can then arrange to visit one of our network of specialist fitting centres or, if itís more convenient, request mobile fitting and we will come out to you. For further information, donít hesitate to get in touch.


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