x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Tyre blowouts pose an inflated danger on UAE roads

We have all had to dodge the remnants of tyres scattered about the motorways of the UAE. Here is how to avoid it happening to you.

Make sure when buying new tyres that the shop stores them inside and away from damaging sunlight. Sammy Dallal / The National
Make sure when buying new tyres that the shop stores them inside and away from damaging sunlight. Sammy Dallal / The National

It's a question that has been bugging The National's Motoring desk for some time now: just why do we see so many blowouts on the roads of the UAE? We're a well-travelled bunch here, and we're all in agreement that no other country has so many drivers stricken on the sides of the roads, battling to fit spare tyres. Is it the heat? Is it a lack of care? Is it down to spurious or counterfeit tyres being fitted to save costs? Whatever it is, we felt compelled to dig around for answers and some of the resulting information took us by surprise. So read on; your life may depend on it.

Every day we see them: trucks, buses, cars - their tyres exploded, scattering rubber and metal carcasses all over the carriageway. We sometimes have to swerve to avoid them but hardly ever stop to offer their drivers or passengers any assistance. We're busy people; there isn't enough time in the day and, besides, it's a bit hot out there, isn't it?

Still, there must be a reason for this automotive phenomenon, and recently we caught up with Aftab Khan and Raghavendra Sanga - two leading experts at Zafco, one of the UAE's largest tyre and car accessory distribution companies - to find out what's going on. As it turns out, there's not just one reason, but many.

Blowouts

As opposed to a puncture, which causes a gradual loss of air pressure from an inflated tyre, a blowout is basically an explosion that rips apart a tyre without warning. It can be a terrifying experience and often leads to casualties because many drivers are unaware of how to control a vehicle when it happens.

First of all, prevention is better than cure. Regular inspection of your tyres (including the spare) can pay dividends and you should carry out a visual check every few weeks, especially if you are heading out on a long journey. A tyre with a bulging sidewall is ripe for a blowout, as is one with little or no tread. So if it's looking like it's seen better days, replace it without delay.

A well-worn tyre, agrees Raghavendra Sanga, Zafco's technical insight manager, is deadly, especially in the UAE's summer temperatures. "Heat is a tyre's worst enemy," he advises.

"When you're driving, heat is generated due to friction between the rubber of the tyre and the road surface. If your tyre is damaged, gradually the sidewall will start flexing and touching the road surface as you drive. The excessive heat build-up causes further deterioration to the casing, the rubber loses its bond with the steel belts that give the tyre its strength and the result is a blowout."

So, heat within the tyre, combined with scorching hot road surfaces, is a major factor at play here. It's vital to adhere to your vehicle manufacturer's recommended tyre pressures, but more on that later.

If the worst happens and you suffer a blowout, keep calm and take your foot off the throttle. If it's a front tyre that's gone, you will find it difficult to steer but reducing speed gradually will help. Pull over to the side of the road (we've seen drivers changing wheels in the middle lanes of the Sheikh Zayed Road, which is lunacy) and change it for the spare but remember to have the damaged item replaced as soon as possible.

Tyre pressures and tread wear

"Irrespective of whether it is summer or winter," continues Sanga, you should always use the recommended tyre pressures. If you go off-roading or dune bashing, it's common practice to drastically reduce tyre pressures so they roll in the sand without getting stuck. However, once the vehicle leaves the desert to join the roads, the pressures need to be immediately returned to the manufacturer's specifications.

Last year, a YouGov Siraj poll found the majority of people questioned only tested the air in their tyres every three or four weeks, or longer. For safety's sake, this should be done at least every fortnight. You can find the recommended pressures in the owner's handbook and often they are printed on a sticker found on the inside of your car's door aperture. And, while you can inflate your tyres at any number of fuel station forecourts, it's best to not rely on the gauges there. You can get a far more accurate reading by using your own, if you have one.

Apart from correct pressures, tread depth is another vital area of tyre safety. Zafco's vice president for marketing, Aftab Khan, has some information for us: "All tyres are equipped with tread wear indicators and they're at a depth of 1.6mm, which is the legal limit for car tyres in the UAE. For light trucks, the limit is 2.4mm and, for large trucks and buses, it is 3.2mm." He goes on to add that tyres have a five-year shelf-life, beyond which their safety cannot be guaranteed, and that storage conditions also impact on condition. In essence, make sure your supplier stores new tyres indoors, away from direct sunlight.

Your car's only contact with the road is the small area where each tyre meets it -about the size of the palm of your hand at each wheel. If the tread is worn away, it doesn't take a genius to realise that extra strain will be put on each tyre and the inevitable will happen. Checking your tyres' tread depths should be a regular task and it's important to inspect the entire width in case irregular wear is occurring, particularly on the inside edge. It's not uncommon to find the steel braiding poking through on the inside of the rim - if you do then you're looking at a potential death trap.

Trucks

Truck tyres are often enormous things that can cause huge amounts of damage if they explode. And they do, all the time here in the UAE. "With trucks, if the tyres are not adequately inflated, the probability of blowouts increases, especially when trucks are overloaded by operators to maximise returns from their trips."

However, unlike other countries, the laws here do not take into account load restrictions or regulations governing maximum loads of lorries and trucks.

"It is important that the government should step in and put regulations in place to tackle vehicle overloading and prevent accidents on the roads," says Khan.

It's scary stuff. In other countries this is tightly controlled. Trucks are often pulled over by the authorities for spot checks, weighed on special bridges and, if found to be overloaded, are prevented from continuing their journey. Fines can be enormous, too, which keeps operators on their toes. It's a life-saving measure - and it could help to prevent a lot of accidents here.

Counterfeits and legislation

As reported in The National on June 21, new legislation could soon come into force here which enables authorities and consumers alike to track a tyre's history from manufacture to destruction. If this comes to pass, tyres will be given a registration number in the form of a barcode. This can be scanned, even using a smart phone app, to show details of manufacture, storage, date of sale and information relating to any accidents occurring when the tyre was in use. It would cover cars, motorcycles, buses and trucks, and would also eliminate the issue of counterfeit tyres - something that has been a problem in the Emirates for some time.

Saving a few dirhams buying tyres that aren't what they purport to be is one of the ultimate false economies. Khan says it's the responsibility of suppliers and government alike to ensure the right product reaches consumers. "Considering the severity of the situation, the life threatening impact it has and the increase in the number of vehicles being driven, it is imperative that the government in any country be involved in safeguarding its citizens. But it is also the responsibility of consumers to be more aware and ensure their own safety."

So if you see a set of Pirellis for sale and the deal seems to good to be true, it probably is.

Budget tyres

Even cheaper tyres have to meet the highest safety standards, so don't think the budget brands are no good. "More value-added features may result in some tyres being priced higher than others," says Khan. "For instance, new technology that allows lower rolling resistance, higher fuel savings or makes tyres more environmentally friendly will cost more."

So even though a tyre isn't branded Dunlop, Michelin or Pirelli, it might still be worth considering if price is an issue. What should be at the forefront of our minds, however, is whether or not it's a genuine item and what it will be used for. Deep rainwater isn't really an issue on our roads like it is in other parts of the world, but if you're planning on taking your car onto a racetrack you need suitable rubber and the budget tyres might not be up to the task. A reputable dealer will be able to advise what's best for your pocket and your car.

Disposal

Ever wondered what happens to your old tyres once they've been replaced? Fortunately, the image on this week's cover, a tyre dump in Sharjah, isn't entirely representative because, as is the case with so many perishable items, recycling has come a long way. Companies have begun springing up in the UAE in the last couple of years to help dispose of the mountains - literally - of old tyres that have been discarded over the years. The tyres are either ground up or cryogenically frozen and smashed to bits to make new products such as jogging tracks, rubber tiles, mulch and even asphalt for roads.