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car tyre safety

the false economy and potential danger of imported used tyres

While the tyre industry in Australia is up in arms at the wholesale importation of used car tyres, consumers should be alerted by the safety aspects of RACV's independent survey. More than 500,000 used tyres were imported in the last financial year. Most are considered technically roadworthy, but as RACV's survey found,30 percent of the tyres purchased were unroadworthy. The majority will have a limited lifespan, accelerating Australia's scrap tyre pile.

Motorists purchasing a typical set of four used tyres, therefore, could expect to have at least one unroadworthy tyre in the set.

There are no restrictions on importing used tyres into Australia, provided a fumigation certificate is provided and the appropriate duty is paid. These tyres come from countries such as Japan, which has a policy of scrapping or de-registering relatively young cars and need to dispose partly used tyres. Imported secondhand tyres are aimed at the bottom end used car yards and motorists who are unable or unwilling to buy new tyres. There are false economics here considering $55 to $75 will buy reputable brand new tyres for small to large cars.

Although many second hand tyres may superficially seem acceptable, there is no way of determining the conditions under which the tyres have been used in their country of origin.

Of the 100 imported tyres RACV purchased from a range of outlets across Melbourne, 31 were classified as unroadworthy for reasons of severe damage to the tyre bead, poor repairs, repairs to tyre wall, side wall damage, shoulder wear, nails in tread and exposed belt wire. These are conditions that make a vehicle particularly unsafe. The age of some tyres was also a concern, with samples up to 10 years old.

RACV's survey highlights the unacceptably high number of secondhand imported tyres that are unroadworthy and therefore not fit to be sold for their intended purpose. The problem is compounded by used tyres generally having an unknown background and a limited life. As a result there are more waste tyres in this country which are difficult to dispose or recycle.

choosing your new tyres and getting the best out of them

Provided your car is in good mechanical condition, the tyres are arguably the most important primary safety feature. They are the only contact between you and the road, and through them you control the vehicle's potential acceleration, braking and cornering forces. Generally the more you spend on tyres the safer your car will be.

To start the selection for the right tyres, look for your tyre placard. That's the small information sticker on the door jamb, under the sun visor or on the inside of the glove box lid. It shows the correct tyre size and pressures for your car.

Confused by the numbers? Well assume the listed tyre size is 195/65r15 91h, which means the tyre is approximately 195 millimetres wide, and is 65 percent as high as it is wide; r is for radial construction, and 15 is the diameter of the wheel rim in inches, - yes they're mixing metric and imperial measurements! - and 91 is an index of the load the tyre is rated to carry. Lastly is the speed rating of the tyre. While it is legal in Victoria, RACV strongly advises against fitting a lower speed rated tyre than listed on the tyre placard. Theres no need to measure your wheels or tyres - simply match the tyre placard specification.

The next consideration is your type of driving. Highway work, or lots of cornering or wet road traction will demand a premium sports tyre, often at a premium price. Popular midrange tyres with a longer wearing life may not deliver the same level of cornering grip or wet road traction, yet are more than adequate for normal day to day driving. Cheaper new tyres can be good value, but usually they trade some wear grip or comfort for the dollars saved. It is not unusual for a commodore or falcon size car to get around 60,000 km from quality Australian tyres. Softer sports tyres usually sacrifice some tyre life for the extra grip. Small, lighter cars can do more kilometres, but front wheel drives need their tyres periodically swapped front to rear for best life. Don't buy long life tyres if you do less than 10,000 km per year because they start to lose some grip after five years or so.

Here's a tip when shopping for tyres; major distributors selling reputable brands will often include an inspection, balance and rotation service free, at around 5,000 km, with a new set of tyres. There's even tyre insurance available for around $5 a tyre to cover road damage, so shop around.

With the right tyres on your car, correctly balanced to prevent vibration and aligned (front and rear) to stop scrubbing, the way to maximise both grip and tyre life is through careful attention to tyre pressure. This needs to be done every two to three weeks and when the tyres are cold. Minimum pressures are listed on the tyre placard, but these can be safely increased by 25 to 40 kilopascal (kpa) or 4 to 6 pounds per square inch (psi). This enables the tyre to run cooler through reduced flexing, improving handling and grip at a slight penalty to ride softness.

ten tips for safe tyres

  1. Don't trust service station tyre gauges, instead buy a simple pencil type gauge.
  2. Check tyre pressures, look for damage and embedded foreign objects every two to three weeks.
  3. Tyre pressures cold should never be below the cars placard specification. Slightly higher pressures are strongly recommended for improved grip, response, economy and life.
  4. Always use valve caps to exclude dust and water.
  5. Rectify the cause of irregular tread wear as soon as possible by consulting an expert. Minimum legal tread depth is 1.6mm across the full tread width.
  6. Have wheels balanced and aligned annually.
  7. Puncture seal compounds are for emergencies only, the tyre must be dismantled, cleaned and inspected as soon as possible.
  8. Avoid second hand tyres. Their history is unknown, while imports may not be up to Australia's high standards.
  9. Retreads are for low speed and low load work only, if at all.
  10. Select tyres by seeking advice from a range of good dealers. Their brochures describe the attributes of tyres in their range to suit your car.

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