How to spot a fake tyre: A visit to the Sharjah market

Tyre stored in racks is the best option says tyre dealers. (SUPPLIED)

“Are these used tyres?” we ask. “Yes, all the tyres that are wrapped in plastic are used tyres, the other ones are new,” answers the salesman.

Under the pretext of being customers interested in buying a tyre for the Honda Civic that we parked outside, we take a closer look at the used tyres, which clearly show cracks in the rubber.

“Isn’t this a problem?” “No, a new tyre will look the same after two months of usage,” the salesman answers. He insists that the sale of such ‘used’ tyres is not forbidden, and that nobody has ever inspected his shop. A set of four tyres will go for Dh400, about the same price as one new tyre of the kind.

The sale of tyres that are non-compliant with the standards applicable in the UAE is banned. Although there are plenty of reputable companies with honest salespeople, the shady tyre sales and repairmen are tarnishing the business.

Emirates 24|7 teamed up with Michelin and paid a visit to the market to learn the tricks of selecting the right tyre. Together with Field Engineer Rami Lawendy and Communication Manager Majid Al Mahmoudi, we see the good and bad examples, talk to company owners and eventually pretend to buy a tyre in a shop where not everything seems to be as it should be.

Summer or winter tyres?

“It was much worse 5 years ago, when there were plenty of the so-called winter tyres on the market,” explains the Iranian owner of a reputed tyre distributer when we visit his shop. According to him, the winter tyre is among the biggest challenges to tyre safety in the UAE.

In the UAE, only the sale of a Type A and Type B is permitted, codes which symbolise the heat resistance of a tyre, explains Rami. “In other countries where temperatures do not come near those in the UAE, tyre Type C might be a perfectly fine tyre, but this is not the case in the UAE.”

Although the Type C tyre is not permitted in the UAE market, some may still ends up in the shops. “There can be tyres available for sale that are not fit for the local market requirements, such as different climate conditions, or wrong car specifications. This is due to import from parallel markets, which can pose a safety risk,” explains Rami.

When buying a tyre, checking the temperature code is therefore a must. It is a simple trick, tips Rami: “The code is engraved on the tyre and can be A, B, or C. C is strictly prohibited in the UAE, while A is most suited and B is acceptable.”

Read the tyreprint

Engravings are important information to check when buying a tyre, Rami continues. Other than the temperature, the information engraved in the tyre tells the customer about the size, speed and the load index, which are car-model specific, so this should adhere to the standards of the particular vehicle.

"We always recommend to respect the specification of the vehicle manufacturer, if not possible then you go higher in speed and load, but never lower. If the numbers on the tyre are higher, this means that a tyre will be able to carry a heavier load or handle a faster speed,” says Rami.

Equally important is the tread wear of a tyre. The tyre tread is the pattern in the rubber formed by the grooves all around the tyre surface. This tread wears off and reduces in depth as the tyres come into contact with the road. It is a natural process that comes along the kilometres driven in the vehicle.

Whereas a new tyre usually has a depth of 8mm, the minimum legal requirement for a tread in motor cars in the UAE is 1.6mm, and motorists are recommended to change a tyre when its tread is 3mm.

A handy tool to determine whether the tyre tread is up to the standard is by observing the tiny piece of rubber that sticks out in between the grooves. “When the tyre tread is at the same level as this tread indicator, it means that the tread has worn out and the tyre must be replaced,” explains Rami.

As straightforward as this may seem, according to the Iranian tyre dealer, it is not. “There are some people in this market who know how to engrave a tyre. They can engrave a date, and even the tyre tread. They can imitate the tread in order to adapt the alignment.”

Suddenly, the search for a safe tyre looks more challenging. Can these tyre dealers really fake essential tyre features and therewith jeopardise safety on the road? “I highly doubt it,” says Rami.

According to him, most tyres are not made in such a way that a tread could be engraved, as there is other material under the surface. Only when the tyre reads ‘regroovable it is possible, which is the case in many truck tyres. And in that case, it is permitted, he explains.

Avoid used tyres

The best way to guarantee that the tread wear is genuine is simple: never buy a used tyre, says Rami. In 2012, the sale of used tyres was banned in the UAE. “It is easy to recognise a used tyre. The tread-wear has decreased, the tyre is damaged or dirty, and in most dealers the used tyres are wrapped in plastic. The dealers do not hide them either; they will tell you which ones are used and which ones are new.”

A common misconception is that the ban on the sale of used tyres includes the sale of old tyres, but this is not true, continues Rami to explain. “An untouched tyre manufactured two years ago is safer than a used tyre manufactured this year.”

Reason for this is that the tyre easily gets damaged when the dealer removes it from the vehicle, says Rami. A removed tyre in one of the shops demonstrates what he means; from the inside the rubber has crumbled off and gathered like the crumbles of a flaky cake.

While a used tyre comes with many safety hazards, an unused tyre can easily be stored for a couple of years. “In the UAE, a tyre may be sold two years after its manufacturing date, which is engraved in the tyre,” says Rami.

The dealer

Further, tyre safety depends on the services of the tyre dealer. “A good tyre dealer follows the protocol regarding tyre storage, tyre fitting, tyre repair and tyre alignment. A tyre can be of great quality, but if these services are not provided up to the standards, it can affect the tyre performance,” Rami says.

“In a storage place, there should be no oil, dust or chemicals on the floor. It should be shaded and ventilated and the tyres should not be piled up too high. Storage in racks is the best option. You can observe these standards as you enter a shop.”

Further, every dealer, distributer and manufacturer should be able to present a Gulf Standardisation Organisation (GSO) conformity certification, which implies that it has been approved according to the Gulf regulations.

The Iranian dealer has been around for 20 years, and says that there are maybe 10 out of every 100 dealers that do not operate through the proper channels. “They operate through parallel channels. Most of them sell exactly the same products, but some of them sell products that do not adhere to the norms.

“They cater to the customer with a smaller budget,” he adds. “Not everybody is able to afford a good quality tyre. As a result, these people search for the cheaper options, which they can find on this market.”

In order to be sure of the purchase of a good tyre, customers should look for premium brands, he thinks.

However, that spotting the brand name is not enough becomes clear as we enter a random shop on the side of the road. The used tyres that catch our attention are of several premium brands, realises Rami. There is still a lot of work to be done to secure the market.

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