Prepare your car for all road conditions as forecasters warn weather will become severe

With Christoph the latest in what is likely to be a string of storms this winter, TyreSafe is urging motorists to check their tyres to reduce the risk of an incident while out on the road.

While snow is forecast for some parts of the country, it is unlikely to remain on the ground for long. Thawing snow will add to the risk of flooding, which is also forecast across many regions. When driving in these conditions, tread depth is essential to ensure the vehicle remains in contact with the road.

When there is significant standing water, the biggest risk is ‘aquaplaning’. Also known as ‘hydroplaning’, aquaplaning is caused when a layer of water builds up between a vehicle’s tyres and the surface of the road. When this happens, tyres are not effectively in contact with the road, making any attempts by the driver to steer, brake or accelerate ineffective – in other words, they’re out of control.

Signs which may alert the driver to their vehicle aquaplaning include increased engine sound without a change in speed, the steering becoming ‘light and unresponsive’, and feeling the back end of the car drifting from side to side – known as ‘fishtailing’.

A survey* by TyreSafe revealed 80% of drivers were aware of the phenomenon of aquaplaning, however, a concerning number do not know what to do if they experience it while driving. In fact, more than half suggested actions which would make the situation worse.

Should drivers find themselves aquaplaning, they should gently lift their foot from the accelerator and allow the vehicle’s speed to naturally reduce. This will allow the tyres to regain grip on the road.

To help avoid the situation, drivers should first of all make sure their driving behaviour is appropriate for the road conditions and, if there is a lot of standing water, reduce their speed. Greater distance should also be allowed when following vehicles.

However, to reduce the risk, it is essential to check your tyres to ensure they all have adequate tread depth of at least the minimum legal limit of 1.6mm. Tread clears water from between the road surface the tyre - as much as a bucket full every seven seconds on a new tyre. The lower the tread, the less water it can clear, thereby increasing the chances of aquaplaning.

You can check your tyres’ tread depth with a 20p piece if you do not have a tread depth gauge. The outer rim of the 20p is approximately 2.6mm, so drivers can insert the coin into the tyre’s tread and gauge how much of the border remains exposed. If the border is completely hidden, tread depth is likely to be above the legal limit; if any more than the slightest amount of the coin’s rim is visible, the tread needs to be checked by a professional.

Stuart Jackson, TyreSafe chairman, said: “Regularly checking tyres are in good roadworthy condition is essential to minimising risks of an incident on the roads. Of course, that becomes more apparent in times of extreme weather, as we experience during the winter. Aquaplaning is dangerous and frightening for the driver so, drive to the road conditions and ensure your tyres have the tread they need to keep you safe on your journey.”