IAIN ROBERTSON 

It is very easy to tinker with tyres and become overly-zealous, hints Iain Robertson, yet there are still thorny legal issues surrounding them that we ignore at our peril, however, as the seasons turn, our thoughts also turn to slippery winter roads.

Pickup a newspaper, or a motoring magazine, at this time of the year and you may spot a plethora of advertisements from the car tyre industry. They are usually accompanied by a review of the latest tyres available. Of course, I might launch into an educational diatribe that would turn you off instantly and harbour no benefits. Instead, I am going to short-circuit this story by stating that, if you do not know, or understand, the legal implications related to vehicle tyres, then you should dig out your Highway Code (last spotted around the time of your Driving Test!) and start reading…you should be delighted to know that my hectoring is over.

In truth, the only time we think about modern car tyres is when one gets punctured, or bursts, and leaves you distressed on a motorway hard shoulder, upon which you may cry. With increasing numbers of new cars not being supplied with a spare wheel, because a ‘puncture repair kit’ is deemed as being adequate (check below the boot carpet for confirmation), those tears may be of regret. Yet, when you think about it, apart from criminal damage, some of which may stem from the sometimes-shocking state of our roads, when was the last time that you needed to fit the spare?

There is a simple reason for it. Tyres are made stronger and are less susceptible to punctures and even incident damage these days. Most of them will last for around 30,000 miles, or three years, which is almost the average ownership period for most new cars. Dependent on whether you have a full service package with your car, which may include tyre replacements, you will feel obliged to have your vehicle-supplying dealer, or the local tyre and exhaust specialist, fix, or replace, as necessary.

Of course, cost of tyre replacements can be horrendous. While some brands can be as little as £35 per tyre, the industry average is around £70. Of the main manufacturers, Michelin, Dunlop-Goodyear, Pirelli, Kumho and Bridgestone, immense resources are spent in developing their next new tyres. Apart from a high usage of natural rubber (which is very costly), introducing man-made fibres such as Kevlar, various chemical compounds and increasing amounts of research and development, which demand human as well as computer involvement, all create high-cost factors, for which the consumer pays, often through the eye-teeth.

As stated earlier, my personal experience with car tyres extends across the entire industry. I have been involved in destruction testing, circuit and rally stage driving, as well as specific set-ups at the various headquarters’ test facilities of every major tyre-manufacturer in the world. However, the most important aspect has been the on-going experiential one.

This is the right time of year to start contemplating your tyre options. The possibility of a hard winter on the horizon is very good. Due to a combination of car designers’ and consumers’ demands, we now have tyres that possess seasonal strengths, fortunately divided between just summer and winter rubber compounds. For the past thirty years, I have invested in seasonally viable tyres on my own cars. My reasoning is simple: summer compounds are harder and dropping temperatures make them decreasingly resilient and, thus, less ‘grippy’ in adverse conditions. Winter, or all-weather, tyres feature more compliant tread compounds that allow tread block movements to enhance grip and stability levels, thus enhancing safety.

Although I own a set of Kumho Wintercraft tyres (held for me at my car’s supplying dealership), as the new Bridgestone Turanza T005s fitted currently to my car since March this year are showing tremendous promise for their all-season balance, grip and positive characteristics, I shall be testing them over this coming winter, to warrant their capabilities. Yet, the outcome of my test may be that refitting the Kumhos becomes a priority. All car tyres are compromises. However, Bridgestone is proving already that it is capable of ironing-out their more severe peaks and troughs.

If you think that you are throwing away good cash on car tyres, notably winter covers, just bear in mind that they may be fitted for only four months of the year and that they are unlikely to ever wear out for up to eight, or nine, years of repeat seasonal usage. In the meantime, the summer covers are only being used for eight months of the year. The on-costs actually average out, while safety is improved considerably.

So far, the overall ride quality of the Bridgestones on both bone dry and streaming wet surfaces is exemplary. They are quiet in operation (i.e. no squeal arising from tread flex) and provide a compliant and free-running connection to the road surface, as they are perfectly matched to my Suzuki’s suspension. Splashing through standing water causes neither unwelcome steering pull, nor unsettling feedback through the steering wheel. Grip levels are exceptionally high, even though less than 1mm has been shaved off the tread depth through normal wear and tear since fitting the covers earlier this year. In fact, the wear rate suggests that the Bridgestones have a potential life expectancy well in excess of 30,000-miles, before needing to be replaced.

Being able to rely on assured responses from the car, whether the surfaces are wet, or dry, provides an aura of confidence in its dynamic capabilities. Regardless of conditions, my car’s steering responses are surgically crisp and, even under extreme duress, such as making an emergency stop, there is no untoward behaviour and the stopping distances are both consistent and dependable. I have seldom been so impressed with a new car tyre and I am looking forward to experiencing its performance this winter. If they can provide high levels of competence in adverse conditions and lower temperatures, their value will be even more deeply underscored.

However, that is the current situation. All tyre-makers are essentially chasing the same business. Each of them produces a better example than either its rivals, or its previous best, regardless of which brand, renowned or not. The choice is yours. The fact is, you can’t live with them…but you won’t live without tyres.

Conclusion:    Even if your car is a recent acquisition, new or used, and, thus, you may not have to contemplate its tyres at all, it is worth being aware of what is out there and how good it is. If you have any specific questions about tyres and tyre replacements, just drop me a message and I shall give whatever assistance I can. I do this stuff, so you do not have to!