Tyres 101: A Guide to Your Tyres and Everything Else You Need to Know

Car shoes. Wheels. Rims. Rubber. Whatever you call them, car tyres are one of the most important parts of your ride. They give us traction and provide grip. They are crucial to braking and can even stop our cars from aquaplaning in water. Most importantly, though, they are the only points of contact your vehicle has with the road. But there’s a whole lot more to these inflatable rubber tubes than meets the eye.

Tyres are one of the most discussed issues when it comes to cars. These essential pieces of equipment are always degrading, can cost a lot and come in endless different designs and sizes.

This guide explores the world of car tyres. From choosing the car tyre types that are best for your car and understanding their different shapes and sizes to proper tyre maintenance and replacing them, we unpack the ins and outs of vehicle tyres and your car.



Tyres: A quick history

 The world’s earliest tyres were very different from the ones we use on our cars today. The first modern car had three steel wheels covered with a thin layer of inflated rubber. John Dunlop patented the first practical modern pneumatic tyre in the 1880s.

 Since then, tyres have been used on almost every car on Earth, on aeroplanes, for tools, in industry and even on the Moon. In that time, tyres have evolved rapidly, with designers using different materials and new, innovative ways to make them stronger, more dependable and safer.

Today, car owners can choose from many tyre brands, sizes, car tyre types and even colours.

Why tyres are so important to your car

Your car tyres are the only thing in contact with the road, and they suffer more wear and tear than any other component on your vehicle. But tyres can also affect your car’s condition, performance, and value in the long run, and bad tyre maintenance can lead to problems in your vehicle.

They can affect your whole car

 Car performance and your tyres are directly related. Wheels that aren’t aligned correctly can eat into your fuel efficiency and degrade your tyres much faster than they should. But tyres that are damaged or in poor condition can also affect your car’s other vital components. Your brakes, shocks, and even electronics can all be affected by your tyres.

They impact your driving experience

Tyres also play a big role in your driving experience. There’s nothing worse than having to correct a car that’s pulling off to one side all the time or a vehicle that feels slow and sluggish. Tyres can create too much noise inside the cabin, they can cause the ride to become bumpy or uncomfortable, and smooth tyres can often lead to wheelspin.

They are your top safety feature

Since your tyres are the only point of contact with the road beneath you, they are also your number one safety line of defence. Smooth tyres lacking grip can severely reduce braking efficiency. Punctured or weakened car tyres can lead to a devastating blowout at high speeds, not to mention the damage done to the rim and dangers posed by driving on a deflated or flat tyre.

 Tyre treads disperse rainwater and help to prevent aquaplaning. They absorb much of the impact when going over large bumps or through dips in the road and can even reduce the risk of injury. Tyres are the first thing checked for car roadworthiness, and many police stops involve measuring tyre treads.

Tyres aren’t cheap

 Vehicle tyres cost a lot, not because they’re so essential but because they are expensive to manufacture. Tyre brands use as many as a dozen or more materials when manufacturing tyres. These include different types of rubber, chemicals like sulphur, oils and antioxidants and minerals such as rayon, polyester and steel.

All vehicle tyres are carefully inspected and tested for faults before being shipped around the world to be sold. But cars have four wheels, and that’s where the big cost comes in. While we can buy each tyre separately, most of the time, we need to replace all of them at once. And four tyres cost four times as much as one does.

Tyres: Types, sizes, makes and designs

 Tyres come in many different options. Some are designed for going onto 4x4 or off-road vehicles, while others are made for speed. Some tyres optimise fuel efficiency, while others are designed to last longer. Most cars come with a standard wheel, or rim, that determines the size and specifications of the tyre you can put on it.

  • Types of car tyres

There are many different car tyre types available. These are some of the main categories used for different vehicles.

  •  Regular – Standard radial tyres used on most cars.

  • Sport – High-performance tyres designed for traction and speed.

  • 4X4 – Heavy-duty tyres with large block tread patterns that can grip rugged offroad surfaces.

  • SUV – Similar to regular tyres but made to fit larger vehicles.

  • Whitewall – Classic tyres with white rubber sidewalls. We see them on many taxis in SA.

  • Tyre sizes and what the numbers mean

Next time you’re near your car or doing some tyre maintenance, pay attention to the numbers, letters and symbols on the sides of your tyres. This series of markings tells you all about your tyres. Here’s what they mean.

  • Width – e.g. ‘205’. This is the width or thickness of the tyre, in millimetres, measured across the treaded surface from wall to wall.

  • Profile – e.g. ‘55’. This number tells you how ‘high’ the tyre surface is from the rim. It’s a percentage of the tyre’s height-to-width ratio.

  • Diameter – e.g. ‘R16'. Indicates the diameter of the wheel rim. It is the standard used for typical tyre size and is shown in inches.

  •  Load index & speed rating – e.g. 91V. Tells us how much weight each tyre can handle in kg at a specific speed. Each number and letter corresponds to a maximum weight taken from a universal load index and speed rating table (91 = 615 kg) and speed (V = 240 kph).

  • Your rims and your tyres

 Car tyres need to be supported by rims – the wheel itself that attaches to the car via the face or hub. Rims determine the size of the tyre and come in different configurations, styles and materials. Different rims require different car tyre types.

  • Rim types – This refers to the design of the rim. Solid rims are the most common rim type. They come in different styles and designs. Split or multi-piece rims aren't usually used on non-commercial vehicles.

  • Rim materials – Here, you’re looking at what the rim is made out of. Usually stainless steel, alloys (like aluminium) or composites such as carbon fibre.

  • Rim finishes – This details what the rim looks like. Hubcaps, chrome finish, or painted powder matte finish.

Tyres: Maintaining your tyres

Taking care of your vehicle tyres is an important task for car owners. Since tyres are prone to wearing down, punctures, cuts and leaks, it is important that we keep an eye on them. While a tyre losing pressure is a big red flag, there are many other things to look out for. Bald spots on the surface, vibrations or pulling on the steering wheel and the condition of the tyre tread are all things we should monitor.

  • Rotating your tyres

Rotating your tyres means swapping them out and moving them around into a different configuration occasionally. Since you can rotate your tyres yourself, this is a basic tyre maintenance task you should do regularly.

  •  How to rotate your tyres – Simply swap out your front tyres with the rear ones and change the back tyres to the front. Here’s how to do it.

  • Why you should do it – Rotating your tyres spreads wear out more evenly, keeping tread depths more uniform and extending their life.

  • When to rotate your tyres – Once every six months or every 8,000 to 10,000km.

  • Checking your tyres regularly

Monitoring the condition of your car tyres can be done daily before getting in your car. However, adding a comprehensive tyre check to your weekly car maintenance routine is always a good idea.

  • Inspecting your tyres – Every now and again, check each tyre, visually looking for any damage or wear.

  •  Testing your tyres – You can check for leaks by submerging your wheel in water or by taking your tyres to a specialist to test them out for you.

  •  Measuring your tyre tread – In South Africa, tyre tread cannot be less than 1mm. Click here to learn how to measure your tyre tread depth.

  • Keeping your tyres clean

Keeping your vehicle tyres clean is basic tyre maintenance. Keeping your wheels free of mud, dirt, grime and foreign objects not only keeps them looking great but also helps them last longer.

  • Washing tyres – Clean mud, dirt, and grime off with a high-pressure hose or using soapy water.

  • Protecting tyre walls – You can buy special paints and tyre protectants to protect your tyres from UV radiation and cold.

  •  Repairing minor damage or leaks – While most tyre damage means replacing tyres, you can repair small punctures and damage yourself.

  • Checking your tyre pressure

Whenever you visit the local garage or petrol station, take a minute to check your tyre pressure. Low tyre pressures can decrease fuel economy and lead to serious tyre damage. But don’t forget to look out for overinflated tyres, too. High pressure can be caused by increased temperatures or errors made by the attendant. All car tyre types must be correctly inflated to the right pressure range.

  • Know your pressures – Look on the inside of the driver’s door or refer to your car’s user manual for recommended tyre pressures.

  • How often to check tyre pressure – Every time you put petrol in your car, take a moment to check your tyre pressure.

  • Type of air or gas – Nitrogen is the safest and best type of air to use in tyres.

  • Wheel Alignment

 Wheel alignment relates to how straight your wheels are on your vehicle. Speed bumps, potholes and general wear and tear can cause your wheels to lose balance, degrading your car tyres and consuming more fuel.

    1. to check wheel alignment – If your car is constantly pulling off to one side, you likely need to check your wheel alignment.
  • Where to get wheels aligned - You can take your car to most service centres or wheel specialists to check and correct your wheel alignment.

  • Cost of wheel alignments – Prices vary depending on your car and service provider, but usually cost between R200 and R500.

 For more on how to properly maintain your tyres, take a look at our blog on how to do so.

Tyres: Replacement and Cost

Many people underestimate how much it costs to replace their car tyres. New tyres aren’t cheap, and using old or second-hand tyres is a very bad idea. Most tyres are designed to go for at least 25,000km to 50,000km, though different car tyre types have varying lifespans.

Some people can even safely extend their tyre life to over 75,000km before replacing them. While changing a wheel is pretty straightforward, you’ll need a professional to help you change the tyre itself, though.

  • Knowing when it’s time to replace your tyres

Most car service professionals will let you know when it’s time to replace old tyres. But rather than waiting for your annual vehicle service or getting caught by a metro cop driving on illegal tyres, keep track of your wheels yourself and watch out for tread that gets too low.

  • Checking the tread – If your tread is less than 1.6mm (min. 1mm) deep, it’s time to get your tyres replaced.

  • Damaged or weakened tyres – If your tyres develop a bald spot, are starting to crack, or have damage on their walls, replace them.

  • Slow punctures and leaks: Always refilling a pesky tyre? You may have a slow puncture. Also, watch out for faulty air nozzles.

  • How to replace your tyres

While replacing your wheel with another one that already has a tyre on it is pretty straightforward, getting a new tyre onto the rim itself is a task only the pros can handle. There are various options you can pick from.

  • Tyre specialists – These experts specialise in car tyres and wheels and can even check your brakes, shocks and exhaust system for you.

  •  Car service centres – These are your best option since they are able to provide comprehensive checks on your car and complete a full service along with changing your tyres for you. Find one near you here.

  • Private mechanics – While some independent mechanics can change tyres, many of them don’t have the necessary equipment to do so safely.

  • Cost of replacing your tyres

Getting new tyres installed means paying for more than the new rubber. You’ll also have to compensate the people doing the work.

  • Price – Tyre prices range from budget tyres costing around R500 each for new tyres to premium tyres for larger high-performance vehicles, setting you back over R6,000 per tyre.

  • Labour – Each service provider provides their own labour costs per hour or ask for a fixed rate.

  • Warranty – Most vehicle tyres come with a fixed warranty, but you do have the option of buying additional cover for certain tyre risks.

Tyres: Everything else

 Car tyres are part of your car. But they are still equipment that can be removed and even stolen. While taking good care of the four tyres on your wheels is crucial to tyre maintenance, it’s important not to forget about that fifth tyre in the boot or the equipment needed to swap it out with a flat one in an emergency.

  • The spare wheel

 The spare wheel is there to help you out in an emergency. If you get a puncture or can’t fill up a flat tyre, the spare wheel is your go-to reserve. Most cars either have a spare wheel identical to the others or a different car tyre type that some people call a ‘Marie-biscuit tyre’ – a smaller, lighter spare wheel intended for short-term use. Don’t forget about your spare wheel just because it’s packed away in the boot. Maintain your spare wheel by keeping it pumped up and in good condition.

  • Equipment

 Changing a tyre means using the equipment and tools available to do it. There are various tools to do this, but all should be in working order. The jack is used to lift your car up so you can change the tyre. The wheel spanner is used to remove and replace the nuts holding your wheel in place. Check that these vital tools are working and are capable of being used for your car.

  • Keeping them safe from crime

In South Africa, we have to unfortunately deal with crime almost every day. And car tyres aren’t safe from criminals either. Keeping your car in a safe, secure location will help stop criminals from stealing your wheels in the dead of night. Cover up your wheel nuts and secure any hubcaps that people may want to snatch off your car.

  • Warranties

All tyres should come with a manufacturer warranty stating that if the tyre is faulty or fails before the warranty expires, they will repair or replace it. Ask about the details of your tyre warranty and don’t be afraid to claim on it if something not your fault goes wrong.

  • Disposal

 What do you do with your old vehicle tyres? While most service centres or tyre replacement outlets will offer to take them off your hands for you, you may have to dispose of your old tyres yourself. Always do so responsibly, never burn car tyres and try to recycle where possible.

Conclusion – Finding the right tyres for your car and keeping them in good condition

Car tyres are crucial to your car’s performance and are a vital safety feature. Ignoring tyre problems or observing proper tyre maintenance can lead to serious problems for your vehicle and even get you into trouble with authorities.

 Like your car, take care of your vehicle tyres and ensure that you’re using the right car tyre types for your vehicle. But tyres need a car to go on. Find yours here from Auto Pedigree’s extensive inventory. If you’re in need of some tyre TLC, bring your vehicle into one of our 13 accredited service centres countrywide, and we’ll take a look at your tyres, too.