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Budget tyres or premium brands: Does it matter?

Is opting for cheap tyres false economy? Or are budget tyres as good as premium ones? We interviewed a top engineer to uncover the science behind your wheels.

A faulty tyre can pose a serious safety risk and could invalidate a car insurance policy, yet for many drivers choosing the right tyre is an impulse buy that involves little research.

October is National Tyre Safety Month so what better time to make sure your wheels are in tip-top condition - vital for road safety and for protecting your licence.

Sven Kruse is a tyre development engineer for international tyre brand, Falken. He develops tyres for some of the world’s fastest racing cars as well as everyday cars in the UK.

He says: “Tyres are a distress purchase. It’s something you do in a rush when you need them. But it’s a very scientific process. It’s your last point of contact between you and the road so getting it right is very important.”

So what do you need to know about your tyres to make sure you’re getting it right?

Budget vs. big brands

According to Kruse it’s about what the driver wants from the car, not the tyre itself.

“There’s not really a good or bad tyre,” he says. Budget tyres can also be of a good quality, it just depends what you expect from the tyre.”

He says drivers should do their homework before purchase and speak to a tyre dealer beforehand to get recommendations.

“Some tyres are very special: if you have a Porsche and you choose the wrong tyre you can’t drive the car.

“But then even some high cost cars can run on budget tyres so it really depends on the car and what you want from it.”

And there’s no such thing as an average lifecycle for a tyre, according to Kruse.

“You should check the air pressure once a month to get the best from your tyres,” he says. “The air inside the tyre dictates the life of it. If you hit a curb or pothole then check your tyre.

“A tyre’s life is always related to how you drive. So if you drive in a city and do lots of braking and accelerating that’s bad for your tyres."

Watch the tread

In the UK, regular tyres have a tread depth of between 7mm and 8mm brand new.

The legal road limit is 1.6mm and falling below this can land a driver with three penalty points and a maximum fine of £2,500.

But Kruse advises that tread depth should never fall below 3mm in order to stay safe, particularly on wet roads where tyre grip is reduced.

“The tread depth dictates how much water you can shift. In dry weather, it’s not so important but when it’s wet it’s a real safety issue.”

He also says that when fitting new tyres, the newest ones should always be on the rear wheels.

“Most drivers naturally have a better chance of handling an under steer [front wheel skid] than an over steer [rear wheel skid] so always mount your best tyres at the back,” he adds.

Watch our video to see some tyre horror stories and learn how to check your tread depth.

Winter tyres

As UK winters have got colder, motoring experts have advised drivers to fit winter tyres.

The main difference between winter tyres and normal tyres is the tread depth. On a winter tyre it starts at between 8 and 9mm.

The special compounds help retain the rubber’s flexibility and experts recommend that they’re suitable for conditions below 7C.

Learn to look after your tyres

If you use tyre shine products check it is tyre-approved. If not it could be harmful to the natural rubber.

The same goes for jet washes: always use them a safe distance from your tyre because the powerful spray could damage your tyre.

Storage is also important. Tyres should be stored on the rims and should be separated, not just stacked on each other as this can damage the sidewalls.

They should be kept in a dark, dry environment. Tyres can degrade if they are not used so look for cracks in the sidewall or in the tread.

Learn more about your tyres and see some tyre horror stories in our exclusive video.

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Lois Avery

Lois Avery

Lois joined Confused.com in 2010 after working for Dyson and as a local newspaper reporter in Wiltshire. After a year writing financial journalism at Confused.com, Lois won the 2011 'most promising newcomer' at the BIBA journalist of the year awards.

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