Tyre punctures and blowouts cause inconvenience and even accidents for many motorists during the holiday season. Much of this can be avoided by simple maintenance and taking care while driving.
And while crammed family cars struggling with the unfamiliar burden of holiday luggage are prone to tyre failures, the prospect is even more dangerous when boat trailers and caravans are involved.
Here are some tips to keep your tyres rolling safely this holiday season…
1. Check tyre pressure
Follow the recommended tyre pressures for your car, which can be found in the owner’s handbook and on a sticker usually located in the passenger door opening or inside the glovebox lid. Under-inflated tyres are among the most common causes of flats and blowouts. When a tyre has too little air pressure, the vehicle weight may cause it to flex excessively, creating friction, heat and eventually literally to blow apart. Under-inflated tyres also are more prone to being punctured by all sorts of road debris. Low-profile sports tyres are extra-vulnerable. Always check tyres before a long trip and add a little pressure – according to the recommendations – to compensate for the load of extra passengers and luggage and heat build-up from extended high-speed running. Your car will steer and corner more precisely if the tyres are fully inflated and with the specified balance of pressure between front and back wheels. And you’ll save fuel, too.
2. Check the spare
If you have a spare tyre that matches the four on the road, make sure it is inflated to at least the highest recommended pressure, that it has good tread and has been balanced on a machine. If you have five identical tyres, the spare should be included in the periodic rotation schedule so all wear equally. Increasingly, cars that have only a “space-saver” spare, a “run-flat” or a latex repair kit basically have no spare at all. Unlike an identical spare, these types have lower load and speed capacities and are suitable for temporary use only to get you to where a proper replacement can be obtained. You’re in trouble if the spare’s not up to the job when needed on a lonely road, so before leaving on a long trip consider loading a full-size spare, as service for temporary tyres may be a very long drive away.
3. Check tyre treads
Tyres should show even wear across the tread, from shoulder to shoulder. They should be replaced when the wear bars between the tread blocks are level with the tyre surface – usually with 1.6mm tread depth remaining. Worn treads are dangerous. Grip is reduced, especially in wet conditions. Steering, braking and straight-line and cornering stability and predictability may be compromised. Uneven wear usually means tyres need more air, or that your vehicle requires suspension service.
4. Rotate tyre positions
Tyres should be rotated regularly to different positions on the vehicle, according to a specified pattern. Tyres perform best and last longest if they are able to wear evenly and equally. Each corner of a vehicle is subject to different stresses resulting from roads used, driving habits, distribution of occupant and cargo loads and other factors. Tyres wear accordingly, but regular rotation helps to even this out. Do it yourself or ask a garage to do it every few thousand kilometres, including the spare if you have one. Rotation patterns should be printed in the owner’s handbook, or can be found on the internet.
5. Check your suspension
At routine service visits or before a long trip, have the suspension checked for faults that cause tyre wear or failure. Typical items will be worn shock absorbers, suspension bushes and ball joints, tired springs or worn steering. Wheels must be correctly aligned – including the rears if appropriate – and the tyres balanced on the rims so they run true.
6. Watch where you drive
Look well ahead of the vehicle when you drive, to allow the most chance of seeing potholes, stones or debris that may damage your tyres. Drive around potholes, not through them, steer clear of broken edges and pick your path on unsurfaced roads. Low-profile performance tyres are extremely vulnerable to pothole damage.
Keep trailer tyres properly inflated and in good condition. Ask a tyre shop what is the correct inflation pressure for your trailer and the load it carries. On long trips check during breaks that the tyres are not overheating and carry an identical spare. Caravans and boat, car, horse and work trailers and other types of trailers gives tyres a tough time. Loads can be heavy and often concentrated through just two small wheels. If the trailer is used infrequently, store it on axle stands so the tyres are off the ground and do not develop permanent flat spots in the carcass. Cover tyres with an old bag or plastic to protect them from direct sunlight. Trailer tyres tend to last longer because they are used less, but replace them if there are signs of cracking, crazing or bulging in the sidewalls or treads.
8. Correct tyres
Buy the correct tyres for your vehicle. Tyres that look the same are not necessarily the same. Speed and load ratings might be different and fitting wrong tyres – for instance, car tyres on load-carrying utes or small vans – may cause them to fail.
9. Be able to change a tyre
Instructions are in the owner’s handbook and being able to change a tyre yourself could save time and money if you don’t have access to free emergency roadside service. Know how the jack works but, most importantly, ask a garage to ensure the wheel nuts are not too tight for you to un-do. Useful accessories: Gardening gloves, head-torch, plastic sheet or old blanket, wheel chocks and safety triangles.
10. Don’t skimp
Buy quality tyres if you want the best durability and performance. Most of us consider new tyres a grudge purchase, but you get what you pay for and many drivers compromise safety and driveability and ultimately waste money with cheap new or used tyres.
(Disclaimer: this article is general advice. Drivers should consult a tyre dealer or expert for more definitive advice.)