By Jack Biddle
By the time this motoring article is published, the sun could be shining, roads bone dry and the recent appalling wet weather has been well and truly kicked for touch.
But what won’t change is the fact that motorists will be driving on damaged and potholed roads in many regions around the country including the Coromandel for some time yet.
Prior to the recent dump of foul weather across the North Island, including the Coromandel, many of our main arterial roads were already showing heavy signs of wear and tear. Many were simply never designed to handle the amount of traffic they currently bear and were in desperate need of long-lasting upgrades. Instead, motorists have had little option but to put up with a seemingly ongoing official attitude of doing repairs on the cheap, the downside of which is inheriting the high costs of never ending repairs and maintenance. The recent bad weather has only magnified the problem.
Oh what a great time it must be to be in the road cone-manufacturing business! Sadly, the reality is things are not going to change anytime soon, so now is a good time for motorists to be aware of our damaged road network and to drive to the conditions.
It’s also a good time to open the boot and check to see what sort of spare tyre you have on-board or if you actually carry one or not. If you do, then ask yourself, when was the last time the air pressure was checked?
It seems more and more manufacturers are heading down the track of either providing a tyre sealant kit in case of a tyre deflating or fitting their vehicles with run-flat tyres. A run-flat tyre (RFT) is basically a self-supporting tyre which, because of its very stiff sidewall construction, is designed to allow a vehicle to be driven at a reduced speed and for a limited distance (usually around 80kph and 80kms) if a leak is detected. Often the driver will be altered to this situation by way of an in-cabin air pressure monitoring system or there will be a dash warning light of some sort to indicate a problem. Fitting RFT’s also eliminates the requirement for design teams to compromise and make room for a spare wheel and associated tools plus having no spare and kit reduces overall weight.
Punctures are arguably less frequent than they used to be. However, when our roads are potholed or damaged like they are currently, then the chances of suffering from a flat or damaged tyre increases significantly.
The biggest concern with RFT’s is if the side wall of the tyre is badly damaged, causing it to lose its sidewall strength and making the car un-drivable for anything more than getting it off the road and driving it a very short distance to a place of safety. In this scenario, it’s normally a roadside rescue call and a tow to the nearest repair shop which can, in some cases, be some distance away.
Chris Pennell, the Store Manager at Whitianga Tyrepower in Cook Drive, is right up with the play when it comes to tyres in general including run flats. “They certainly have their benefits and some leaks can be repaired if the cause is limited to the tread area of the tyre. A thorough examination of the tyre is required before making the call to repair but that is the case for any tyre repair undertaken in my book,’ says Chris. “The obvious upside of run-flats is the vehicle can be driven safely to a place of repair if tyre deflation is detected, eliminating the need for a wheel change and the associated risks and frustrations involved. The downsides are the inconvenience of not having a spare if the sidewall of the tyre is ruined, the high cost of a replacement and the likelihood of tyre stores outside the main regions not carrying stock of the exact same tyre.” Chris adds, “It’s always good practice as well, to keep a similar wear pattern on each axle at least, so in some cases, owners could be up for the cost of more than one replacement tyre. I’m definitely not against these type of tyres but owners do need to be aware of the potential downsides. I highly recommend they have some form of roadside assistance programme in place if possible, to help cover potential and unforeseen costs”.
Providing a tyre sealant kit is another way to eliminate the need to carry a spare wheel but these also have their risks and benefits according to Chris. “They can get an owner back on the road reasonably quickly if the leak is relatively minor and in the tread area of the tyre once again. Owners should never assume however that using tyre sealant is a permanent repair and they should head to a nearby tyre shop as soon as possible for a thorough and robust inspection of the tyre. Owners should also check the used by date of the sealer, its location and general condition along with fully understanding its limitations.”
Regardless of what type of rubber is fitted to a vehicle, keeping them inflated to the right pressure is vital. Yes, it helps improve safety and fuel consumption, but under inflated tyres and potholes are certainly not a good combination with the high risk of a tyre blow out and subsequent rim damage. And for those who have had nitrogen instead of standard compressed air used to inflate their tyres, they should be aware that tyre pressures still need regular checking. I just happened to look at a friend’s tyre wear pattern recently and suggested his tyre pressures were extremely low. He answered by saying the tyres were inflated using nitrogen some time ago and he understood the pressures would never need checking again. It was quickly discovered that all four tyres on the car were well under-inflated.
In the meantime, drive carefully and keep an eye out for potholes or any other road damage that could easily cause a flat tyre or damaged rim and a potential steering alignment problem.
If the steering wheel has suddenly moved from the straight ahead position, starts shaking when speed increases or the vehicle starts to noticeably drift or pull to one side of theroad, then it’s possible the vehicle has suffered from some form of road surface damage. For some owners the fix can be very drawn out and far more expensive than others.
Note: Most tyre shops including Whitianga Tyrepower will carry out a free while-you-wait check for uneven tyre wear and wheel rim damage and advise accordingly.