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Millions drive with illegal tyres due to cost pressures

The cost-of-living crisis is putting motorists off changing their tyres, leading to more vehicles with illegal tyres on the roads.

New research conducted by Halfords shows that 67% of motorists say they are likely to ‘put off’ changing their tyres and will instead use them for longer, specifically due to rising costs of energy, food and general living. This could result in their vehicle having illegal tyres for a long period, even before an MOT inspection finds the issue.

This is directly impacting the condition of tyres on UK roads. MOT data from Halfords shows that three in ten (30%) cars that have an MOT conducted now receive a ‘tyre advisory’ – a warning that, whilst not illegal, their tyres have less than 3mm of tread remaining, and most likely will reach a level of illegal tyre wear in a matter of months. 

A report from the Centre of Automotive Engineering at Cardiff University, commissioned by Halfords, shows that the average tyre will go from 3mm of tread to 1.6mm of tread (the legal minimum) in just 5,183 miles, far less than the mileage the average UK driver does each year, meaning they will likely be illegal tyres before their next MOT. 

There will also be a large number of cars that receive these MOT advisories when their tyres are already below the 3mm warning limit, meaning some are likely to become illegal far sooner. Furthermore, more than one in eight (13%) vehicles now fail their MOT based on the condition of their tyres, with them arriving for their MOT in an illegal condition. 

Millions could be driving with illegal tyres

Despite this, just 27% of motorists say that they would change immediately if they were given an illegal tyres warning during an MOT. Perhaps most worrying, one in seven (14%) say they would actually wait until the performance of their tyres notably degraded – for example they stopped gripping or braking well – before they changed them. 

As such, the figures suggest that millions of cars on UK roads currently have illegal tyres, and many more will become illegal before their next MOT. And most motorists do not regularly check the condition of the tyres – just 32% do, with 28% admitting they never check. 

This is compounded by the fact that just a quarter of UK motorists (27%) are aware that the current legal minimum tread depth for tyres is 1.6mm – meaning that even if they did check, many would not know what to look for. Meanwhile 8% of UK motorists do not actually know what tyre tread is. 

Dangers abound

The dangers of illegal tyres are very real. The University of Cardiff report demonstrates that the difference in stopping distance between tyres with 4mm or tread and tyres with the legal minimum of 1.6mm is a huge 36%, in the same wet driving conditions. This equates to an additional 89ft at 70mph.

The impact of illegal tyres on safety is very clear. Analysis of the most recent Department for Transport figures shows that there is an accident on UK roads as a result of defective tyres or brakes every seven hours.

“These figures continue to show the impact the cost of living crisis is directly having on the safety of motorists on our roads,” Halfords CEO Graham Stapleton said. When a warning is issued for tyres it could mean that in a matter of miles the tyres could be illegal. Yet the vast majority of motorists say they wouldn’t change them right away.

“Given how few motorists check their own tyres, the reality is that there could be millions of vehicles in the UK at any one time with illegal tyres. We’re seeing this direct impact in the number of vehicles being identified with unsafe tyres during their MOTs. 

Neil Greig, Director of Policy and Research at IAM RoadSmart, added: “The importance of purchasing high quality tyres cannot be understated. Good tread depth is essential for safe driving and facilitates effective acceleration, cornering and braking. We would point out to drivers who are hesitating to purchase new tyres that, financially and emotionally, the cost is much less than a fine or the worry of being the cause of an avoidable crash.

“While we recognise many motorists are facing financial struggles at the moment, cutting back on  the quality of your tyres or not replacing them before they reach the minimum thread depth, is simply not worth the risk.”

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