More to the point, are you checking that your drivers are checking their tyres regularly?
You should be. Recent statistics suggest that business drivers are not nearly as diligent as they should be. A survey of 800 business drivers at petrol station forecourts across the UK found that 11% never even thought about their tyres and 18% said they only checked them once a quarter. And a check (by the RAC) of 9,000 vehicles in a major fleet found that 14.4% – almost 1,300 vehicles – would have failed an MoT because of illegal tread, damage, under-inflation or a puncture.
Adrian McCarthy, head of inspection services for the RAC, says: “This example comes from a well-managed and maintained fleet, which is audited monthly, so you can imagine the level of the problem with poorly managed fleets.
“The issue of tyre safety has been complicated by longer service intervals and drivers simply not making regular checks.
“Whoever is responsible for the fleet needs to ensure tyres are checked as part of a wider audit process of the vehicles.”
But checking tyres is not just a safety precaution, it’s a financial one too. Low tyre pressures can reduce a car’s fuel economy by as much as 3%.
Fleet and fuel management company Arval, which commissioned the forecourt study, believes businesses should include regular tyre checking in fleet policies signed by every business driver and should consider regular monitoring by the company or a third party.
Such a move would place an onus on the driver to keep their vehicle roadworthy.
Mike Waters, head of market analysis at Arval, says: “If tyres are not regularly checked, at best a company will take a hit on its fuel expenditure, at worst it could lead to drivers being banned or being involved in collisions. To avoid any corporate risk employers need to make sure they are meeting their obligations in this important area.”
“Tyres are the vehicle’s only point of contact with the road,” says Duncan Vernon, road safety project officer for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).
“The actual area of contact between the car and the road through the tyres is small, roughly equivalent to four size- eight men’s shoes. Tyre treads are designed to pump water from the road surface and provide maximum grip. By the time the tread is worn down to the legal limit, they will be unable to perform this task efficiently.”
The minimum legal tread depth is 1.6mm across the centre three-quarters of the width of the tread throughout the entire circumference of the tyre.
However, RoSPA recommends tyres are replaced when the tread reaches 3mm – tests show that tyre performance falls dramatically below this level. There must also be no damage to any part of the tyre, which means no bulges or cuts.
The pressure that a vehicle’s tyres should be kept at will be listed in the handbook, and often printed on a sticker on the car itself. Pressures should be adjusted according to the load they are carrying, and should always be checked when cold. Once the tyres are warm there’s no telling how hot the air inside is and how much it has expanded, so tyre pressure readings will be inaccurate.
Over or under-inflating tyres can seriously impair performance. Over-inflation increases the overall diameter of the tyre and reduces the amount of tread in contact with the road. Sidewalls become less flexible, which means the tyres don’t stick to the road surfaces as effectively. Under-inflation decreases the tyre diameter, increases sidewall flex and makes tyres run hotter, which affects vehicle handling and can cause the tyre to fail.
Tyres degrade with age, which increases the chance of a failure or blowout. Look for cracking on the sidewall or distortion.
A Department for Transport spokesman said the penalties for illegal tyres vary according to the type of vehicle.
A goods or passenger vehicle with more than eight seats can attract a fine of up to £5,000 and three points for each defective tyre, while other vehicles can attract a £2,500 fine and three points.
If the vehicle is involved in an accident and the tyres are substandard, your insurance company could refuse to pay out.
Case study: Nick Purkis, fleet manager, Pickfords
“For our company cars, the onus is on the driver. Part of the fleet risk management training they do includes a presentation on how to do it and they’re given a depth-checker card which is issued by the road safety charity Brake. They also get a guidance leaflet published by the National Tyre Council.
“When the cars go in for service the tyres are checked, and we carry out random checks as well.
“Branch managers do monthly walkarounds on commercial vehicles and complete audit forms with the drivers. Line managers also do quarterly checks on company cars.”
Case study: Michelle Hallam, fleet manager, Fischer Scientific
“It’s written into the car policy that drivers must check the tyres on their vehicles on a regular basis.
“But we also have Kwik-Fit Fleet come on a monthly basis and check tyre depths.
“I chase and email the sales force people on a regular basis –usually every three months – to make sure they check tyre pressures and depths.”