Conflicting advice issued over when to change your tyres

Published 19 September 2019

Drivers are being left confused after tyre companies issue conflicting information about when to change their car tyres.

Although the law states that a car tyre must have at least 1.6mm of tread across the central three quarters of the tyre, some tyre manufacturers advise changing at 3mm. Is this good advice or a money-making ploy intended to encourage drivers to change their tyres early? approached a number of leading tyre brands for their guidance on when drivers should change their tyres - with Michelin telling us changing your tyres at 3mm is "bad for the environment" and "should be unnecessary."

"It’s bad for the environment because more tyres have to be made and transported, which uses more energy and more raw materials and encourages deforestation," said a spokesperson.

Tyres -2

"Not only that, vehicle fuel efficiency drops as a tyre becomes more fuel-efficient as it wears. Changing at 3mm means getting rid of tyres just as they are entering their most fuel-efficient stage. It’s also bad for the motorist because they have to spend more money on tyres and fuel."

Michelin is calling for compulsory wet-braking tests for tyres at 1.6mm, which would require companies to produce tyres that can still perform well when they're at the legal limit.

However, a number of companies we spoke to disagree and recommend changing tyres well before they reach the legal limit.

Continental says that, during wet weather testing, a tyre with 1.6mm of tread remaining can displace just half of the amount of water compared to a new tyre. A tyre with a tread depth of 3mm can displace 80 per cent.

Tyre company Tread depth
Continental 3mm
Falken 3mm
Michelin 1.6mm
Goodyear  See below
Hankook 3-4mm

Hankook's lead engineer at its European Technical Centre, Torsten Ideker, agrees that tyres with more tread operate better in wet conditions.

"The deeper the grooves in the tyre surface, the higher the safety while driving. In particular, sufficient tread depth prevents the occurrence of dangerous aquaplaning. Regular checking of tread wear can reduce the risk of accidents," he said.

Hankook recommends replacing tyres from a tread depth of only 3mm for summer tyres and 4mm for winter tyres.

Goodyear refused to be drawn on an exact tread depth at which you should change your tyres, saying it's "more important to check a tyre's general condition."

Tyre safety organisation TyreSafe says it campaigns in-line with current legislation, meaning it encourages drivers to change their tyres when before they reach the legal limit of 1.6mm.

"Our key message is the importance of people regularly checking their tyres in the first place," said a spokesperson. "If they don’t check, they won’t know what tread depth their tyres are at, which makes it a moot point."

You can check your tyres using a 20p coin. Place a 20p coin into main tread grooves of the tyre. If the outer band of the coin is hidden, then your tread is comfortably above the legal limit. If it's visible, your tyres could be illegal. It's worth carrying out the test regularly and at different points across the tyre - motorists are often caught out when a tyre wears on the inside edge where it's less visible.

Drivers could be fined up to £2500 per tyre if they're below the legal limit, along with three penalty points. That means, if your car has four bald tyres, you could face a ban and a £10,000 fine.


   on 21 September 2019

I think there should be a clear difference for those minimum measurements, as it is clearly a matter of tyre types and where are they used mainly.

There is no doubt a winter tyre would perform better with deeper grooves, in snow but have no significant advantage in a warm and dry climate.

Also, tread depth is not the sole factor - what about wet braking ratings? You can have a brand new tyre with a poor quality compound that has a lousier wet braking rating than an almost worn-out decent one.

Flexicase    on 21 September 2019

I believe that, apart from the differing needs of emergency service drivers, running tyres down to 1.6mm is quite safe provided driven carefully in the wet, with the should-be-usual minimum 4 second separation distance, advanced observation, anticipation, planning and early gentle braking.

Edited by Flexicase on 21/09/2019 at 19:16

Vivien Barber    on 23 September 2019

I believe that, apart from the differing needs of emergency service drivers, running tyres down to 1.6mm is quite safe provided driven carefully in the wet, with the should-be-usual minimum 4 second separation distance, advanced observation, anticipation, planning and early gentle braking.

Michelin advised change at 1.6mm some time ago - and I do. You're wasting tyres changing earlier, and have followed their advice for some time. I do allow a little more distance in the wet, although I'm not sure that it's really necessary. No loss of grip down to 1.6mm anyway.

I dumped my Audi garage when it kept pestering me to change tyres with 4mm on!

Ben79    on 23 September 2019

Michelin say their Primacy 4 tyre is as good in the wet at 1.6mm, so they have a point!

Mandatory testing at lower treads would highlight stark differences between manufacturers

Mr Richard Fitch    on 23 September 2019

I'm sorry but it sounds like a money making exercise by the tyre manufactures .

briscs    on 23 September 2019

"Not only that, vehicle fuel efficiency drops as a tyre becomes more fuel-efficient as it wears"

Michelin come out best in the above.

Edited by briscs on 23/09/2019 at 14:35

Polaris63    on 30 September 2019

Fuel efficiency improves when there is less rolling resistance i.e. LESS GRIP !

   on 23 September 2019

Better to change early i change at 2mm but i think the govt should make manufatorers add 1mm to tyre diameter and make it 3mm the percentage of grip lost at 1.6mm is too much compated to 3mm

John7110    on 23 September 2019

I help out in tyre bay selling new and top quality part worn tyres sourced in Germany. Daily, I am appalled at the amount of people who come in for tyres with the ones on their vehicle below the legal limit of 1.6mm and some with the canvas and steel braiding showing through. Most want to buy the cheapest tyres they can get no matter the quality because; I believe, they are running vehicles that they cannot afford to maintain correctly.
When I point out the benefits of better quality but more expensive tyres often they reply with: ‘If they cheaper ones were not safe you wouldn’t sell them’. At that point I give up, stop giving advice and just fit what they want.
Many people never check the tyre pressures or the condition of the tyres on their vehicle. I advise weekly.
When people arrive with bald tyres I always point out the fact that tyres are the only point of contact between their car and their life and theirs loved ones and the road. I have difficulty keeping my cool with the replies that I get to this advice. I also point out the 3 points and the £2500 fine per tyre and that is met with the same less that serious response. If the minimum was 3mm it would not matter to many people. These people will only change their attitude after an accident where it is proved the tyres on their vehicle was the major contributing factor and they receive a substantial fine as a result.

Husbandofstinky    on 4 October 2019

Bang on there and very well put.

They are of course just all the same 'black and round'.......

Not concrete, but generally you get what you pay for.

I always use the tyre reviews and go for the consistent top performer.

Just bought a set of winters for the Audi (Conti TS850's) and all I get is 'we don't get much in the way of snow in this country'

7 degrees......

Having had winters for quite a number of years, there's no way I would go back to summers during the winter. The cold doesn't help the rubber.

David Finlay    on 23 September 2019

Of course tyre companies want us to change tyres earlier, they want more sales.....

999pez    on 23 September 2019

I'd be interested to know if anyone has ever been fined this £2500 figure per tyre that is bandied about. As with most other traffic offences, now that Police patrols have been replaced by speed cameras there is very little chance of being stopped.

Andrew Greening    on 23 September 2019

A new tyre has 8 mm of tread and at 60MPH will shift as much as 10 gallons of water per second in wet weather conditions.
A tyre with 1.6 mm of tread will shift at 60 MPH next to sweet damn all which is why it will aquaplane at lower speeds.
The only time the lower tread will be more effective is in dry conditions when the tread will suffer less from 'shuffle' going round corners.
3mm is a best sorts compromise nothing else, risk your life if you wish but don't involve me in your screw ups.

gordonbennet    on 23 September 2019

Some makers are now moulding them with as little as 7mm, makers that won't be seeing my business.

I'm champing at the bit when they have 4mm remaining, they are most definately off by the time 3mm is reached, this is not in response to any supposed marketing spam from tyre makers, its common sense for your own and everyone else's safety.

As said, last time i looked there was nothing else in contact with the road, it might be enlightening for some people to switch off all the electronic stability and anti skid aids on their car and go out for a normal drive on a wet day and see for themselves from their position in the hedge or armco just how little grip their worn tyres are providing.

Edited by gordonbennet on 23/09/2019 at 19:31

Cloverleaf4    on 24 September 2019

I'm pleased to read that many people still care about safety - both others and their own. Walking around sometimes I often notice cars parked with barely any tread on their tyres. Unfortunately, in a world where Alexir, Google and Co. help people turn their house lights on a lot of folk have no inclination about real life matters like the state of their car in general and in many cases will wait until the annual MOT tells them that their car is dangerous!

aethelwulf    on 24 September 2019

If manufacturers recommend replacing at 4 mm then they should see them with 10 mm of tread instead of teh usual 8 mm. Motorists have to pay. Years ago we used to see cars with 'baldies' driving around which was not a good idea and I don't know how many accidents were ascribed to this situation. Remoulds were very common and I used them 50 years ago as I had little money.
Now I go for the highest rating in wet braking for safety purposes notwithstanding ABS and Traction Control.

john harrison    on 24 September 2019

I always remember a local TV shop owner in the 50s driving down to Wembley to watch the cup final, in a Bentley on bald tyres, he and four friends were killed on the way when the car skidded on a wet road. Always keep good tyres on.

DrTeeth    on 24 September 2019

I wish they would stop this 20p coin rubbish when all types have tread Wear Indicators (TWIs) are several places around the tread, indicated by a mark on the tyre's wall. Tread checking takes seconds this way.

BrendanP    on 24 September 2019

When I had a lease car with maintenance included, the lease company wouldn't authorise new tyres until the tread depth was less than 2mm.

prdisaac    on 25 September 2019

Same here - I had a Golf GTD (and got through front tyres every 8-10k and they only changed at 2mm). The lease company always fitted Michelin tyres so could easily compare identical Michelin pilot sports going from 2mm to new. In the wet the change was instantly noticeable with new tyres, much less aquaplaning and significantly better corning grip. Tyres are the most important safety feature of a car. I like to know I've go the best chance of stopping in the wet in an emergency, which certainly isn't the case with only 1.6 to 2mm of tread left! Different people clearly put less value on their (and others) safety though, given the number of low tread budget tyres on the road!

willboy    on 25 September 2019

Recently bought 4 new run flats and within 10 days had one punctured by a pozidrive screw-thought uh uh new tyre again as not many campanies will repair run flats(as you probably know).Took it to A.T.S who said "bet you are glad you bought Michelin as we will repair these.

paul robert watson    on 30 September 2019

I was watching the touring car racing yesterday,it wasn't untill about
half the race and it was chucking it down that some changed there
slicks for wets.I know this is racing and the cars are modified and the
drivers have very good reactions,but i think it speaks for itself that the
usual greed comes into play.

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