Continental confirms: Checking tread depth is vital, it could save you metres.
Blackcircles.com investigates the importance of regularly checking your tyre tread depth. When it comes to braking, just how wide is the distance between new, 3mm, and 1.6mm tyres? Keep reading to find out.
When was the last time you took a moment to consider your car’s stopping distance? We’re willing to bet the answer is probably never — save for those young enough to endure a theory section in their driving test.
And even if you are well versed in the highway code, it’s impossible for the figures quoted in that little yellow book to keep pace with ever-improving tyre and braking technology. Right. How long does my car take to stop then? Well, as we’re about to discover, tyres play a pivotal role in determining this. From the model and brand you choose to fit, to the depths left on the tread, the rubber on each corner is your car’s only contact patch with the road.
For the final installment in our Continental tyre series, we’re back at the Contridrom, Hannover, for arguably the most important test of them all: stopping distance. Using Continental’s PremiumContact 7 as a strong and consistent benchmark for all three tread depths, we provide a simple and hard-hitting illustration of why tread depth is key.
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Tread test: breaking down stopping distance
To get this tyre deep dive rolling, we must revisit Cupra’s award-winning Born EV for the last time. Representative of the sort of ubiquitous hatchback that many already daily drive, the Born acts as a great yardstick on which to base this test.
Unlike our previous comparisons where more driver finesse was paramount for testing EV range, today’s objective is simple: reach 50 mph on a sodden wet test straight and slam on the brakes as hard and fast as physically possible. So that’s exactly what we did.
First up, the brand new PremiumContact 7. With its punchy EV power delivery, the Cupra doesn’t break a sweat as it whisks us up to 50 mph and, on cue, we jump on the brake pedal with all our might — triggering the ABS to pulse rapidly, and a torrent of water to shower the windscreen. With surprisingly little drama, the fresh rubber brings the Born to a safe stop in an arrow-straight line.
The part-worn, 3mm Continentals were next to face the challenge. As before, the apparent result remains the same, executing a textbook emergency stop without any histrionics — despite the harsh conditions making life difficult.
Finally, the legal-limit, 1.6 mm tyres took the test. Again, no dramatic counter steering or correction is required as the heavily worn Continental tyres track straight and true right down to the last metre. But, while it certainly seems like we have travelled further in the process, our initial response is that the difference between new and old seems unremarkable. Were we right, though?
Thanks to the composed and controllable character of the PremiumContact 7, the difference in stopping distance certainly doesn’t feel profound from the cabin, but the numbers tell an entirely different story.
The equipment measures a huge 10m (just shy of a bus-length) difference between the new and legal limit tyre. To put that into perspective, this means that the worn tyre was still travelling at 26 mph when its new equivalent had reached a dead stop. Certainly fast enough to drastically change the outcome of the incident which the driver was trying to evade.
As you might expect, the part-worn tyre (3mm) faired a little better, however it was still clocking 21 mph when the new tyre had come to a rest. Clearly, deeper sipes are more effective in dispersing water quickly, and thus stopping the vehicle sooner.
Also worth considering is the fact that this test was conducted with premium rubber which, when new, is one of the strongest performers in its class. A less versatile option might have evidenced an even more pronounced drop-off in performance between tread depths.
As winter draws closer and road conditions become more treacherous, is it time to check your tread depth? Afterall, it’s crucial that you can rely on your tyres to perform when you really need them to.