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Tread carefully

06.10.2016

A recent report by the Road Traffic Management Corporation found that new vehicle registrations increased by two million between 2011 and 2016, meaning a total of 11 897 737 cars now frequent the country's roads on a daily basis.

More disturbing though was the report's discovery that 35 people die on the country's road each day, that eight million vehicles are currently uninsured, and perhaps more alarming, that last year’s death toll of 12 944 casualties cost the economy R14.9-billion or roughly 3.4% of its total Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

While it is sure that common causes such as drink driving, vehicle overloading, speed and un-roadworthy vehicles played a big part, a more serious problem many tend to overlook, is the condition of your vehicle's sole point of contact with the black stuff, i.e. tyres.

As part of transport month, the Automobile Association (AA), hosted its inaugural tyre safety conference at the Gerotek Testing facility outside Pretoria this past Tuesday, where stakeholders and the media had the chance to experience what potential dangers could arise when nearly worn tyres are mixed with wet weather.

The first demonstration involved a simple braking test from 60 km/h using two Ford Fusions; one fitted with a set of brand new tyres, and the other where the tread depth had been worn-out to 1.6 mm. On Gerotek’s wetted skidpan, the braking performance of both vehicles made for a troubling site as the new tyres translated into a controlled stop, while the Fusion on worn tyres travelled significantly further before coming to a halt.

Even more eye-opening was experiencing the test from inside the respective the vehicles. Whereas the new tyres gripped with immediacy when the brakes were applied, the worn tyres caused a great deal of squirming as it struggled to provide adequate levels of stopping power.

The next test, a slalom using two Audi A4’s and tyres similar to those of the Fusions, proved even more shocking as the worn out tyres made turning and gripping on the wet surfaces virtually impossible. With huge amounts of understeer, the A4 simply slid out of the designated line due to a lack of grip.

It was however the next challenge, a high speed run through standing water at 85 km/h and then 100 km/h, that was to have a chilling effect on us all.

Again making use of the two Audi’s, the first run on new tyres turned up no surprise as the water was dispersed with little effort. Upping the speed to 100 km/h, noticeable aquaplaning was evident although the tyres soon gripped to avoid the A4 spinning out. 

As shocking as the worn tyres had proved so far, matters soon took a turn for the worse with the inclusion of speed. At 85 km/h, the tyres’ inability to clear the standing water quickly resulted in the A4 twitching wildly and nearly out of control. At 100 km/h, they failed to clear the water quick enough, causing the A4 the break traction and understeer for well over a 100 metres before it could be brought back inline.

With most of us more than little a shaken, the final test consisted of a two lap blast around one of Gerotek's many handling tracks with two Volkswagen Polo GTI's and Renault Megane GT-Line's. Getting in the back of the Megane with the freshest set of boots, the grip on each turn-in was relentless with every apex being clipped to perfection and understeer minimal. Swopping for the Megane with worn tyres was completely different matter.

Heading into each corner, it was clear that our pro driver had to work much harder with additional steering input just to safety negotiate the corner. Braking for the final corner, the reduced grip levels caused the nose of the Megane to wash-out when turning, while tyre sequel was also much more prominent than on its freshly treaded counterpart.

"When you talk about tyre safety, many people don't make the connection; they simply get in the car switch it on and go without realising why the function of tyres are so important," AA PR Manager Leyton Beard said.

"They support your car's weight, absorb road shocks, provide traction and braking, and ensure a comfortable ride. With poor tyres, you get reduced performance, increased stopping distances, greater chance of skidding and heavier fuel consumption".

He stated that monitoring your tyres will have a significant advantage in the long run, as "they take the brunt of the abuse".

"You have to make the time and get your tyres checked. You get good shoes to wear when you walk, hence you need good shoes for your vehicle as well. Leaving your tyres unattended will eventually cost more, put more strain on your vehicle and risk your life as well as the lives of others, " Beard said.

"Tyres are not a trivial matter. Have them checked regularly, try and avoid hazard such as potholes and curbs, and have them balanced and rotated often. Rather be safe than sorry".

Article written by Charl Bosch
06.10.2016
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