If you’re running any kind of courier business or are in the fleet management operation of a company, you’ll know just how important vehicle upkeep is. For many self-employed couriers their vehicle is their lifeline. And that’s why proper maintenance is important, not just to keep your van roadworthy, but because it must remain legally safe to drive on UK roads. If you can’t prove it’s safe, your courier or van fleet insurance will become invalidated – it’s as simple as that.
Perhaps the most overlooked aspect is tyre safety. Department for Transport (DfT) figures place poor tyre maintenance as the most common reason for car accidents in the UK, with more than 440 accidents linked to defective tyres, surpassing faulty brakes to the top spot by 81.
Poor tyre pressure, tread that has worn down below legal limits and wheel damage are listed as the main tyre issues, showing that many motorists are ignoring regularly checking the condition of their van’s tyres.
Driving on tyres with tread below the legal limit or with bald tyres is both extremely dangerous as well as illegal.
Tyres and the Law
In the UK, your van tyres must be fit for purpose and be free from any defects which might damage the road or endanger any person. That means checking for any bulges, bumps or lumps as these could mean structural damage. Any tear or cut bigger than 25mm or 10 percent and deep enough to reach the ply, is considered hazardous as is any exposure of the tyre cord.
If you are involved in an accident and your tyres don’t meet the legal minimum requirements, your van insurance claim is at risk of being denied and your policy cancelled. Also, if your van tyres are seen to be dangerous because of poor tread, this could also leave you with a fine of up to £2,500 and three points on your licence. Remember, that if all four tyres are discovered to be dangerous, you could be facing a £10,000 fine and 12 licence points.
The legal minimum tyre tread depth varies by each type of vehicle. For cars and vans under
3,500kg, you need to see at least 1.6mm throughout a continuous band across at least three quarters of the breadth of the tread and around the entire circumference of the tyre. For most larger vans there should be a minimum of 1.0mm. With all vehicles, the original tread pattern should also be visible in the remaining quarter.
The second requirement is that tyres must be inflated to the right pressure. That means sticking to the pressure recommended by both your vehicle manufacture and the tyre manufacturer.
Tyres on vans and trucks can get quite a hammering with heavy loads and multiple drop-offs, often in towns and cities where road maintenance has suffered due to overuse. Potholes and pavements are also major problems for courier vehicles. That’s why it’s important to carry out regular van safety checks to make sure tyres are still safe and legal. If you don’t, you could witness severe vehicle downtime, lost appointments and huge repair bills.
If your van doesn’t grip the road or handle as well as usual in wet weather or it takes longer to stop when you brake, this could be a sign that your tyres probably need changing. Front tyres wear out faster because of the steering movement and speedier driving, which increases both temperature and wear. Driving with an excess load as well as incorrect tyre pressure via either over or under inflation, can both increase wear and tear.
A quick and easy way to check your van tyre’s tread is by using the 20p test. You just insert a 20p coin into your tyre’s tread grooves. The rim of a 20p coin is just under 3mm wide so if it’s obscured, then your tyre is well above the legal minimum tread depth. If you can see part of the rim of the coin, it’s time to check your tyres more carefully.
Tread wear indicators are a useful way to keep a monitor of your tyres. These are ‘bars’ that manufacturers have moulded into the tread grooves at regular intervals around the tyre to indicate when a tyre is worn to its safety limit. When the tyre is worn to the legal limit, the bars will be flush with the surface of the tread.
Calibrated Tyre Gauges are also placed into the tyre’s groove to see how close you are to reaching the required minimum depth for your vehicle. If you check the tread regularly and at different places across the tyre, you’ll be able to pick up any early signs of uneven wear.
Always remember to check the pressure in all tyres as well as your spares and match them to the manufacturer’s suggested pressures for the load being carried. You should normally check the pressure when tyres are cold or when the vehicle has travelled less than two miles. Get rid of any stones and other objects embedded in the tread and look out for any cuts, lumps or bulges.
Each van has its own recommended pressures. For your own van you’ll find them either inside the driver’s door, near the petrol cap or within the owner’s manual.
There are usually two figures quoted for each tyre size that might be fitted to the vehicle - the first is a normal tyre pressure and the other is a higher pressure given for heavier loads.