Tyres are so easy to take for granted, always there doing their job and not much thought about. Unless you happen to be in the tyre business, and therefore keenly interested, that is. To the rest of us they’re just the really rather boring, round black things that cars ride on. But they are also our cars’ only points of contact with the road surface, and so our lives depend on their state of health.
For the next few weeks there is going to be a lot more focus on those circular lumps of rubber. October is Tyre Safety Month. Yes, I know that every day, week and month of the year is now designated as a focus point on something or other. But going into winter is maybe a good time to be paying tyres a bit of extra attention – at the very least, checking the pressures and taking a close look at treads and sidewalls for wear or damage.
Punctures tend to occur at the most inconvenient moments. My worst one happened just after leaving home on a snowy winter day, with resulting traffic problems, when I was on route to meet my mother off a flight at Heathrow.
It was not a fun journey. Changing the tyre to the car’s skinny emergency spare meant a lengthy trip on the M25 in the inside lane at 50 mph, with irate truck drivers glued to my back bumper. Even if I had put a sign in the rear window saying ‘running on emergency spare, can’t go faster’, I doubt whether it would have placated them. It was a huge relief, having met the plane in time, to route home via a tyre dealer for a repair.
On another occasion, while driving on the A1 in Yorkshire, a sudden change in the steering told me that a tyre was going flat. So it proved, and the chum with whom I was sharing the drive wanted to call the AA for help in changing the wheel. Not relishing the inevitable wait for roadside assistance, I decided we’d tackle it ourselves.
So we set about doing so, and I still recall the cold chill down my spine when I spotted that he had put the wheel nuts down beside a roadside drain. One incautious nudge of the foot, and they would have been lost beyond reach!
Punctures tend to be less irksome now that many cars ride on run-flat tyres, with a dashboard warning to let you know when there is a sudden drop in pressure. That’s how I knew when my most recent puncture happened a couple of months ago. The cause was a sharp-edged pothole that caught the sidewall of a front tyre. At least, with a punctured run-flat, it was safe to drive on cautiously to a garage for assistance.
If it sounds as though I have a lot of punctures, they have actually been fairly uncommon considering the high mileage I do. Typically, an average-mileage motorist has a puncture roughly once every six years. So if your last one was more than five years ago, maybe a tyre check during October will be timely.