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Understanding your car tyres

calendar Published on: Monday, 26th March 2018 | female icon Author: Aminta Gagnon

When it comes to car tyres, it can be difficult to get your head around whatís what. From understanding the labels and markings, to checking the tread depth and pressure, to buying new tyres and knowing when they need to be adjusted, this aspect of car maintenance can be confusing if youíre not sure what to look for. 

However, your tyres have a significant impact on the safety of your car, as well as its steering, handling and performance, so itís important to get it right. Whatís more, if you drive with the wrong tyres you could be breaking the law, which can have serious consequences. If you need to brush up on your knowledge, this simple guide should provide you with some useful information and tips.

EU regulation labels

Since 2012, all car tyres sold in the EU come with a standard regulation label. This label contains important information about the tyre and is similar to what you might find on a household appliance. The aim of the label is to provide the driver with the details they need to ensure they make the right choice when purchasing new tyres. 

The information on the label is sorted into three categories: fuel efficiency, external noise and wet grip. Each of these categories has a rating which is expressed in performance grades ranging from A, which is the best, to G, which is the worst.

Fuel efficiency is to do with the tyreís rolling resistance. In other words, how much energy is lost when the car is in motion. The lower the rolling resistance is, the better the energy rating will be. 

The wet grip refers to its stopping distance in wet conditions and is a vital safety feature of a tyre. Although stopping distances can be affected by a number of factors, the grip and pressure of the tyre are the main influencers. The lower the stopping distance, the better the wet grip rating on the label. 

Exterior noise is rated in decibels and represented by black sound waves, starting with one for the lowest level and three for the highest. Tyres that generate the least amount of noise pollution have reduced environmental impact.

Tyre markings

Tyres also have a series of markings that provide further information for drivers. This sequence of letters and numbers refers to the width, height of the sidewall (shown as a percentage of the tread width), diameter, construction, load index, diameter of the inner rim and speed index. 

The letter R shown next to the diameter indicates if the tyre is of radial construction. Most vehicles now use radial construction designs, which means that they have improved grip and steering, a more flexible wall and produce less heat. 

The speed index indicates the maximum speed the tyre can cope with, while the load index expresses the maximum amount of weight it can support. Remember that a car that has been loaded with too much weight can be dangerous and increase the risk of an accident. It can also reduce fuel efficiency.

Checking for wear and tear

Itís also a good idea to carry out regular maintenance checks on your tyres to make sure theyíre in good condition and safe for the road. As a general rule of thumb, you should check for damage every couple of months or so, as well as before and after long journeys. Make sure you look out for any cuts, bulges, rips or damage to the side wall, and check for stones, nails or other debris that may have become lodged in the tyres. If you do notice any of these problems, take your car to a specialist technician to get it looked at, as it may be that your tyre needs to be repaired or replaced.

Tyre pressure

Itís also essential that a carís tyres are inflated to the recommended pressure. Over or under inflation can be dangerous and cause problems with braking, suspension and fuel efficiency. When checking the pressure, make sure that the tyres are cool so you can achieve an accurate reading.

Itís also worth bearing in mind that the recommended tyre pressure will vary for each vehicle and this can change during the winter and summer months. It can also differ depending on the load. You will be able to find information about the optimum pressure inside the driverís door, inside the petrol cap or in your ownerís manual.

Tread depth

Another important consideration is tread depth. The tread depth of a tyre is what gives your car grip and control, and is especially crucial in poor weather conditions. The legal minimum requirement for tread depth is 1.6mm across the central three quarters of the tyreís width and around its entire circumference. If the tread wears down below this level, youíll need to get the tyres replaced as soon as possible as your braking distance will be compromised and thereís an increased risk of an accident occurring. Some motor specialists advise that you replace your tyres when the tread depth is down to 3mm, as thatís when the performance of the tyre starts to decrease. 

To see if your tyres have enough tread depth you can use a gauge. Make sure you check several places along the grooves as some areas may be more worn than others. Tyres also have tread indicators in the base of the main grooves. When the surface of the tread wears down to the same level as these indicators, itís time to get them replaced.


By understanding you carís tyres better, you can improve its safety, performance and fuel economy. Most of these checks will only take a few minutes of your time, and they could make a big difference when it comes to preventing more serious problems from developing in the future and reducing the chances of a road accident. Itís also worth remembering that driving with illegal tyres can result in a hefty fine, points on your license and in some cases, you could even be banned from driving altogether.

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