A women checking the tread depth of a tyre

How long car tyres last and how to look after them

It’s really important to make sure your car’s tyres are in good condition. Our guide explains how to keep them in tip-top shape.

Graham King Cazoo

By Graham King

Published: 29 July 2022

Tyres are the only parts of your car that are in constant contact with the road. That means they’re one of the most important factors in how it feels to drive your car, how fuel-efficient it is and how safe it is. So it’s vital that your tyres are in good condition so your car can be at its best.

Here, we take you through a few simple steps you can take to make sure your car’s tyres are in the best condition.

How long do car tyres last?

You should be able to drive for thousands of miles on a set of tyres before they wear down enough to need replacing (assuming they haven’t been punctured or otherwise damaged). But that’s a very rough ballpark figure, and real-world distances will vary.

Tyres do have an expiry date of sorts. While there is no set rule about how old the tyres on your car can be, industry experts use this rule of thumb: change them every 20,000 miles or every 10 years, whichever comes first.

You can find out how old a tyre is by checking the date code on its side. Once a tyre is more than 10 years old, the rubber tends to get harder and then crack, making it less safe.

How long a tyre actually lasts is determined by many things. For instance, regularly driving on roads with a very coarse surface will wear out your tyres more quickly. Carrying lots of weight in your car can speed the rate of wear, as can the way you drive – keeping things as smooth as possible will minimise wear.

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How often should you change your car tyres?

The short answer is ‘when you need to’. How often that is will vary depending on factors including the type of car you have, the type of tyres you use, how many miles you drive each year and how smoothly you drive.

But if you notice issues with your tyres such as reduced tread depth (more on that below), cracks or bulges in the rubber or air pressure dropping faster than you’d expect, you should replace them. If in doubt, get new ones fitted – this is not an area where it’s wise to take risks.

What is the minimum tread depth required for car tyres?

The tread is the pattern of grooves and slots in the surface of the tyre where it meets the road. When most tyres are brand new, the depth of their tread is around eight or nine millimetres. The legally required minimum tread depth is 1.6mm. With any less than that, the tyre’s ability to grip the road is significantly reduced, making it more likely that your car can skid out of control.

To maintain a better margin of safety, it’s wise to change your tyres before they reach the 1.6mm mark. Many experts recommend changing them when there’s around 2.5mm of tread depth remaining. How can you measure that? Conveniently, the raised outer edge of a 20p coin measures 2.5mm across, so it’s easy to get an idea of how deep the tread is on your tyre by slotting a 20p coin into it.

Checking your tyre's tread depth takes only a few seconds

When is a tyre illegal?

The UK has legal standards for what constitutes a tyre in good condition. If any of the tyres on your car falls short of those standards, you’re breaking the law if you use it on public roads.

The laws are there for everyone’s safety. If the tread wears too low, for instance, the car is more likely to skid out of control. If there’s a cut or an area of wear that goes through the rubber to the underlying structure; if the rubber is cracked, fraying or bulging; or if there’s a puncture, the tyre could break apart and potentially cause you to crash.

Tyres are checked during an MOT test and if their condition is judged to be dangerous, your car will fail the test. You’ll need to get new tyres fitted and have the car retested to pass the MOT.

The police and the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency occasionally carry out spot checks to look for vehicles with dangerous tyres at places like motorway services. If one or more of your car’s tyres are found to be dangerous, you’ll be prevented from continuing your journey until you can get the tyres replaced.

If your tyres look like this, they DEFINITELY need changing

What pressure should my tyres be?

The air pressure needed in a tyre varies according to the type of tyre and the type of car. You can find the amount of pressure that your tyres need in several places: on a label inside the driver’s door opening, in the owner’s manual or by searching online.

You may need to increase tyre pressure if you load the car with lots of weight (for instance when going on a family holiday) or if you’re planning on using motorways in countries that have a higher speed limit than in the UK. There should be guidance on recommended tyre pressures for those circumstances both on the door label and in the manual.

How could an under-inflated tyre affect your car?

Air slowly escapes from a tyre naturally over time, or rather more quickly if you pick up a puncture. With less air in it, the tyre squashes down under the weight of the car. That makes the car less efficient and, crucially, less safe to drive. At worst, the excessive weight on the tyre will cause it to fail and break apart, potentially damaging the car or causing a crash.

Use a gauge to check your tyre pressures

Why is my tyre pressure warning light still on after I have filled the tyre?

Most new cars are fitted with a tyre pressure monitoring system by law. If the system detects that the air pressure in the tyre has dropped too low for any reason, a dashboard warning light will come on. If that happens, you need to pump some air back into the tyre as soon as possible.

Doing that won’t turn off the warning light – you’ll need to reset the tyre pressure monitoring system once you’ve inflated the tyre. There isn’t a universal procedure for resetting the system on different cars, but you can find the procedure for your car in its owner’s manual or by searching online.

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