Old tyres – surprisingly legal, but potentially lethal

APOLOGIES if I’m about to put you right off your tea – but I’d like to start this week by talking dodgy dinners.

Every so often links to terrible viral websites pop up in my Facebook page (“You won’t BELIEVE this amazing make-up trick Kylie Jenner uses”, “What this teacher told her class will change your life FOREVER”, that sort of thing), and occasionally one of them purports to show what fast food, if left unopened for 30 years, looks like.

It’s something to do with all the moisture being removed from the not-so-tasty grub at the point of manufacture – making it drier than holidaying in Death Valley with a dehydrated Jack Dee, and thus inhospitable to mould – but the result is always that burgers and fries made when Maggie Thatcher was Prime Minister look like they could have been cooked ten minutes ago. It looks weirdly appetising. But would you eat it? Of course you wouldn’t.

I was reminded of this the other day when I went car shopping – and ended up coming home with a 1992 Volkswagen Polo. I reckon that with just one owner on the logbook, 47,000 miles under its belt and 11 months on the MoT certificate still to go it was £800 well spent, and its eager little 1.3-litre engine still sounded like it had plenty of life left in it when it thrummed into life.

But it was a different story for the four little bits connecting Wolfsburg’s engineering to the A59 – the tyres, which really were the automotive equivalent of that decent-looking but dangerously healthy dinner. All four of them had legal amounts of tread left on them, and a pleasing lack of worrying cracks, marks of lumps on the sidewalls, but the first helping of snap understeer on a wet bend at 20mph told a very different story.

Award yourself an extra helping of petrolhead points if you’ve already sussed this one – the tyres may well have been well treaded enough to have been given an MoT inspector’s nod of approval just a few weeks earlier, but they were so ancient that they may as well have been made from copies of The Domesday Book. What that means is that the rubber had hardened after being exposed to years of ultraviolet sunlight, and deteriorated after being subjected to year after year of damp, road muck and temperature changes, to the point that they were near enough useless as means of keeping a car planted in a corner. In fact, the date markings on the tyres revealed that one of them had been on the car from new – that’s 28 years without ever being changed.

So the first job I did after snapping the car up was taking the car into a Southport tyre shop to give it a fresh set of boots, and it now handles and stops a lot better as a result. It’ll make it safer too – not only am I less likely to plough the little Polo into a hedge on any more wet bends, but it’ll bring its stopping distance in an emergency down, too.

I know tyres are boring and grey, but they are your car’s only link to the asphalt underneath. If they’re more than five or six years old, get ‘em changed.

Otherwise you might as well eat 30-year-old fast food – it’ll be about as safe!

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