The past decades have seen huge improvements in car safety: seatbelts and airbags, ABS and collision-predicting brakes, traction and stability controls. There are even electronic aids to help keep drivers awake and in their lane. But even with all these advancements, the grip of your tyres remains the limiting factor in your ability to safely navigate a corner or stop in an emergency.

Like most of us, you probably replaced your tyres when your old ones failed a WOF, or just before, with something black and rubbery the garage had available at a good price. But, despite all tyres being black and rubbery, their performance can vary widely. The problem is you can’t tell how well a tyre grips the road just by looking at it and our testing shows choosing a well-known brand doesn’t always guarantee good performance.

In daily driving you probably won’t notice much difference between tyres, but it’s under emergency braking or taking a wet corner a little too fast when grip really matters. These situations are where your tyres could be the difference between a crash and a near-miss.

In our latest test, of 215/50 R17 tyres fitted to a Holden Cruze, the best tyre took 31 metres to stop from 80km/h in the wet. That was 15 metres shorter than the worst performer. At 50km/h the difference between them was 7 metres. That’s far enough to find yourself on the wrong side of a pedestrian crossing.

So the next time your tyres need replacing don’t just accept something black and rubbery, get some real data and choose wisely. Of course, our independent tests are a great resource – we report tyre performance for wet and dry corning and braking. You might also consider an Energywise-approved tyre. Energywise approval is only given to fuel-efficient tyres that meet their benchmark for wet braking.

About the author:

Paul Smith manages Consumer’s product test programme. He has spent most of his career pushing user-focused quality into the design and manufacture of cars in the UK, and educating design engineers of the future in New Zealand. Paul wants Consumer’s independent tests to empower people to make informed purchase decisions. He’ll only be satisfied when he rids the world (or at least New Zealand) of underperforming, poorly designed products. Paul’s favourite items are his steel fixed-wheel bicycle and Dieter Rams-designed Braun travel clock.