DIY Guide to checking your tyres

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You may think that simply giving your tyres a quick look every once in a while is enough – but think again, checking your tyres regularly and properly is simple and very important!

For many of us, tyres are something we only ever think about when something goes wrong. Whether that's coming back to the car to find you've got a flat tyre or the nice MoT man pointing out your tyres are bald. But we should all check our tyres at least monthly. They're incredibly important from a safety aspect, and a quick check should take no more than 5 minutes of your time. So what should you look for?

Legality

The first, most obvious area to check is the tread. The legal requirement is for there to be no less than 1.6mm of tread in a continuous band across the centre 75% of the tyre. A 20p coin is 1.7mm thick, so you can use that as a guide, or buy a simple tyre depth gauge.

Most tyres also come with tread wear indicators – which are small raised blocks in the tread which are around 1.6mm high – so when the tread is at the same level as the indicators you know your tyres need replacing!

It's recommended that you should really look at replacing the tyres when they get to around 3mm of tread. This is the same thickness as the outer band on the face of a 20p. So if you stand the coin upright in the tread, it should give you a good indication as to how much tread you have left.

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Tyre wear

Once you're ascertained whether you have sufficient tread, it's worth looking at the tread wear, to see if everything's as it should be. Commonly tread wears on the outer shoulders first, particularly on the inner edge (more so if your car is lowered) so you need to have a good investigate with the wheels fully turned so you can inspect all of the tyre. Although the law only requires 1.6m of tread across the centre three quarters of the tread we'd strongly advice replacing tyres where the edges of the tread are 1.6m or less.

Uneven tyre wear can be caused by under, or over inflation and suspension misalignment, so if you experience it check your tyre pressures, and get the alignment checked!

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Slow punctures

Often you first time you discover you've got a nail in your tyre is when it's flat! But sometimes the nail/foreign body either isn't in far enough to puncture the inner carcass, and sometimes it's properly imbedded in the tyre, but only letting a small amount of air out. If you've got a slow puncture, and find you have to fill the tyre up every few days or weeks – then you need to inspect the tyre thoroughly – preferably by removing the wheel to check. If there is something in the tyre, and there's plenty of life left in the tread then you can sometimes get the puncture repaired – but only if the puncture is in the tread area, and not the corner/sidewall. If it is, the tyre is scrap. You can attempt a DIY repair for a puncture in the tread – but unless you're thoroughly confident leave it to the professionals! Valves can occasionally be defective and leak slowly, in which case a professional repair is the only solution. On some cars the wheels can corrode (both steel wheels and alloy wheels) and allow air out between the tyre bead and the wheel rim. Having the tyre removed, and the trim examined is the only way to diagnose it. If you've ever had a problem with a slow puncture, and the same with a replacement tyre – then the wheel is more than likely to be to blame.

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Tyre aging

As tyres get older, the condition of the rubber deteriorates. The tread and sidewalls can crack and discolour, and the performance takes a nose dive. If you notice that your tyres are looking like they've seen better days, then that's a sure sign (even if you've got tread left) that a replacement is due. You can also tell how old the tyre is – Look for a four digit number after the letters 'DOT' – the first two digits relate to the week, the second two the year – so 1303 would be a tyre that was made in the thirteenth week 2003. The bottom line is never to take risks. If it looks like an old tyre, it is an old tyre – replace it. And don't forget the spare. They can be unused for years, to the point that when you really need it it's way past its best.

Damage

Have you clouted a kerb, or banged into a pothole? If so always check the tyres throughly afterwards, even if it looks at first glance that everything's ok. Tyres can sustain damage to the sidewall which can have catastrophic consequences. Feel for bulges, tears, or rips. If you find ANY damage at all replace with the spare. It's simply not worth the risk of driving on a defective tyre.

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