Blog / Car Insurance
5 Car Tyre and Wheel Checks to Keep Bills Down
Nobody wants to part with hard-earned money unless they have to. And when it comes to cars, there are lots of things you can do to reduce running costs.
You don’t need to be a skilled mechanic to manage some things. Knowing the basics also helps you to avoid being conned at the workshop.
What to look out for with wheels and tyres:
- Tyre pressure
- Wheel alignment
- Tyre wear
- Spare tyres
- Clean tyres
Tyre pressures affect your car’s handling and the longevity of your tyres.
If tyre pressures are too high there will be more wear in the centre of the tread, the ride will be harsher, and grip may be reduced.
If tyre pressures are too low, they will wear disproportionally on the outsides of the tread (there are other causes for this, see Alignment below), and the car may not respond well to steering inputs.
The sweet spot is your car manufacturer’s recommended pressures.
Buy a tyre pressure gauge – compact palm-sized units are accurate enough, and affordable – and check pressures before driving when the tyres are cool. If pressures are too low, and the tyres aren’t actually flat, drive to the nearest petrol kiosk and top them up. Be aware the gauges on the pumps at petrol kiosks are notoriously inaccurate.
If the pressures are too high, most tyre pressure gauges have a small nipple on the rear of the inlet that allows you to release pressure easily.
Properly-inflated tyres will make your car handle and ride better, and your tyres will last longer.
We tend to think that all four wheels should be perfectly vertical and point directly ahead when the steering is straight, but this is not actually the case.
Generally, it is true of rear wheels, but because of steering and cornering dynamics, front wheels tend to toe-in (yes, your car is probably ever so slightly pigeon-toed), and the top of the wheel tends to lean in slightly too – negative camber, in motoring parlance – so that the tyre surface is flatter on the road when cornering.
Because the front wheels are also more likely to suffer impacts with curbs and the like, the front alignment is most likely to be out, but wheel alignment issues can affect the rears too.
There are some telltale signs: If the car doesn’t track straight on a flat straight road; if it steers to one side (be sure the tyre pressures are even first, and that the road isn’t sloping away – most do, for drainage); or if the inside or outside of the tyres shows abnormal wear, it may pay to get the alignment checked.
Get this done by a professional tyre-fitter, using specialised equipment. It’s also advisable to have it done whenever you purchase new tyres.
Properly aligned wheels ensure better handling and reduce tyre wear, saving money in the long run.
Contrary to popular opinion, tyre treads are not there for extra grip: On dry racetracks, racing cars use tyres with no tread at all!
The grooves in tyres are there to clear water from the road surface, so there is not a layer of water between the bitumen and rubber. Continental, the tyre manufacturer, reckons its new road tyres can move 30 litres of water per second at 80km/h.
If the water cannot be moved, you may experience aquaplaning, where the tyres float on the layer of water, and you lose control of the vehicle. This is not good!
Obviously driving slower and with more care in wet conditions is important. So too is the amount of tread left on your tyres. The minimum tread-depth required by the LTA is 1.6mm. Most tyres have tread-depth indicators – little bars of rubber between the tread blocks – that become apparent when this limit is reached.
In reality, the amount of water that can be moved by the tread grooves decreases in line with tread depth, so replacing the tyres before that 1.6mm limit is the safest course.
An easy test involves a ten-cent coin. Insert the coin in the groove with the “10” at the bottom. With a new tyre the “10” will not be visible at all, if you can see half the “10” you should think about replacement soon. If it is the whole “10” you’re in illegal territory.
Because front tyres do more work, they tend to wear faster than rears. Rotating the tyres – swapping the front and the rear tyres – will help save money by maximising the life of the set.
Follow your manufacturer’s recommendations for tyre rotation frequency.
When looking after tyres make sure not to neglect the spare. There’s nothing worse than having a flat tyre and then discovering the spare is flat too!
As part of your regular routine, check the pressure of the spare tyre, and make sure you know where the jack lives and how to use it. At the very least this will buy some peace-of-mind, and may save money on roadside assistance or towing.
It may seem like work, but cleaning the wheels and tyres regularly may help with the resale value of your vehicle.
The black brake dust that accumulates on the wheels can cause corrosion on alloy wheels if left too long, so clean it off regularly. If your regular car wash routine doesn’t remove the brake dust, there are proprietary cleaners for different wheel types.
And while clean tyres aren’t necessary, no car looks properly clean when they’re dirty – it’s the car detailing industry’s dirty little secret that will make your car look like new.
Final money-saving tip?
Pay less for your car insurance. Get a quick quote at Budget Direct Insurance and see how much you can save.