The tread on car tyres wears down as you use them, which means you’ll have less grip on the road. When they wear down too much, you’ll have to replace them.
Find out how long the average tyre lasts and what to think about when you buy new car tyres.
In this article
How long do tyres last?
How long a tyre lasts depends on how its driven and stored. Under normal driving conditions, you should get a minimum of 20,000 miles out of front tyres on a front-wheel-drive car.
For rear tyres, it can be double that - around 40,000 miles. We recommend moving worn rear tyres to the front when the front ones wear out.
How does wear affect tyre lifespan?
As you drive, the tread on your tyres will start to wear. Some factors have a big impact on how long tyres last before they wear down.
- Vehicle weight - Heavier cars wear tyres faster, and carrying excess weight around will cause faster tyre wear.
- Driving style – Aggressive cornering and braking increases wear.
- Position – The driven wheels wear faster, i.e. front wheels on a front-wheel-drive and rear wheels on a rear-wheel-drive.
- Speed – Driving at high speeds increases temperature and wear.
- Pressure – Under or over inflated tyres will wear quicker.
- Alignment – Tyres will wear quickly and unevenly if wheel alignment's wrong.
How does age affect tyre lifespan?
If your vehicle doesn’t get driven much, it's possible for the tyres to need replacing due to ageing rather than wearing out:
- Tyres degrade naturally through exposure to heat, sunlight (ultraviolet or UV rays) and rain.
- Environmental damage can cause them to crack if tyres are left outside.
- The amount of damage depends on the exposure and the severity of the weather.
- They’ll last longer if they’re kept indoors in a garage out of the sun and rain.
Damage through ageing is more common with caravans, trailers and other vehicles that are only used occasionally.
How can I check how old my tyres are?
You can find out how old your tyres are by checking for a code on the side of the tyre.
- Check the sidewall for the letters DOT.
- Next to this, there’ll be a 4 digit number code.
- The first pair of numbers is the week of manufacture.
- The second pair of numbers is the year of manufacture.
For example, 0720 means the 7th week of 2020.
Tyres manufactured after 2000 have a 4 digit code. If you see a 3 digit code, this means they were made before 2000 and should be replaced immediately.
When should you replace the tyres on your car?
Aim to replace your car tyres when the tread depth gets below 3mm and before it gets below 2mm.
Tyres don’t usually last long enough to be replaced due to old age. Usually, the tyre tread wears down quicker than that. For older tyres, you can:
- Check for signs of cracking on the sidewalls of tyres 4 or 5 years old if your car's parked outside.
- Replace them if the cracking’s severe.
Any car tyre specialist will be able to give you advice if you're not sure.
Basic legal requirements
Remember that your tyres must always meet these basic legal requirements:
- Be compatible with the others on the car.
- Be in a generally good physical condition.
- Be correctly inflated to the recommended pressure.
- Have sufficient tread and depth of tread – at least 1.6mm in the centre ¾ of the tread in a continuous band around the tyre.
The more tread your tyres have, the better your grip on the road and the shorter your stopping distances.
Tips for buying new tyres
Tyres have to meet a lot of different, and sometimes conflicting, requirements. That means there are a few things to consider when you’re choosing what type of new tyres to buy.
- Tyres designed for long life are made from harder compounds, but these may make more noise.
- Tread pattern can affect noise too.
- Tyres made from softer compounds will give a quieter ride but will wear out more quickly.
- First fit (original equipment) tyres often last longer than replacements.
Buying part-worn tyres
We wouldn’t recommend buying part-worn tyres. You don’t know the history of the tyres, like how they’ve been stored or looked after. You may not know how old they are either.
Original fit car tyres
We’re often asked if it’s important to stick with the same tyres your car came fitted with when it was new.
There’s no legal requirement to stick with the same tyres. But car and tyre manufacturers do work closely together during the development of a new car model to pick the size and tread pattern best suited to the car.
They’ll consider things like noise and handling as well as the look of the vehicle. Changing brand or pattern could affect handling or mean more noise.
New tyres to the front or back?
Check your handbook first for guidance. If it doesn’t give any specific advice, the best or newest tyres should be on the back. That’s a good rule whether your car’s front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive.
Making sure you have your best tyres on the back will favour ‘understeer’ rather than ‘oversteer’ when grip's limited, like in very wet or cold conditions.
- Understeer – The car tends to go straight on even though you’re turning the wheel.
- Oversteer – The back end breaks free and the car is likely to spin.
Tyres with deeper tread grooves are less likely to puncture too. So if you put your new tyres on the back and worn tyres on the front, you’ll be less likely to get a punctured back tyre. It’s easier to control a car that has a damaged front tyre than one with a damaged rear tyre.
Spare wheels and new cars
Don’t assume that any new car you’re buying has a full-sized spare in the boot. Many cars now have a 'skinny' spare or just an emergency tyre sealant kit. There may not actually be enough room to carry a full-size spare.
If you do have room for a full-sized spare, then it may be possible to buy one as an optional extra. You may also have to buy a modified boot floor and/or a jack and wheel removal tools too.
Your spare wheel needs to be in just as good condition as the wheels you drive on. So make sure your spare is in good nick and don’t use an old worn tyre as a spare.
Published: 17 November 2016 | Updated: 15 October 2020 | Author: The AA