The Motability car scheme has been accused of risking the safety of its disabled customers, by refusing to replace their tyres until they are only just above the legal minimum tread depth.
Disabled campaigner Ian Jones, one of the founders of the WOW petition, said that the position of Motability Operations contradicts the advice of one of its partners, the motoring organisation RAC.
He had taken his Motability BMW – which is two years old – into a garage for its annual service and was told the tyres needed to be changed because the tread depth had dropped to just under 3mm.
He asked Motability to replace the tyres but was told its policy was not to do so until they reach a tread depth of 2mm.
But Jones then discovered that RAC warns on its website that safety drops sharply once tread depth falls below 3mm.
The tread is designed to remove water from the surface of the road and provide as much grip as possible, and the legal minimum depth is 1.6mm, but RAC states on its website that most tyre and safety experts recommend a minimum depth of 3mm.
RAC’s website also points out that tests carried out by the government-funded Motor Industry Research Association found that “once tyres are below 3mm, stopping distances increase dramatically” and that the “difference in wet braking distance between a tyre worn to 3mm and one worn to 1.6mm can be as much as 44 per cent”.
Despite that statement, Motability Operations has told Jones that its policy is “fully supported” by RAC, although a senior account manager told him in a letter: “I understand why you feel the information you have provided contradicts this statement.”
The manager added: “In conclusion we do not dispute that there are benefits (ie handling and stopping distance) to adopting a 3mm policy however, when considering all the factors that make our Scheme worry free and affordable we do not feel we are putting our customers at a disadvantage when 2mm is the widely accepted replacement threshold amongst most major fleet operators within the UK.
“Our policy to change tyres at 2mm ensures that our customers are not at risk of breaking the law and the tyres are considered safe and fit for the road.”
But the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents also backs the 3mm figure, recommending “that worn tyres are replaced with an equivalent new unit well before the legal minimum tread limit of 1.6mm is reached – ideally as soon as they reach 3mm”.
Jones has now lodged a complaint with the Financial Ombudsman Service over Motability’s refusal to change its customers’ tyres when they reach a depth of 3mm.
He told Disability News Service: “Why is it OK to let Motability tyres wear down to 2mm when a scheme partner (the RAC) recommends the general population change at 3mm?
“Is it because disabled people don’t matter?”
A spokeswoman for Motability Operations – the company which runs the Motability scheme, and is owned by the UK banks Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and RBS – insisted there was no discrepancy between RAC’s support for its 2mm policy and the statement on the RAC website.
She was unable to say how much it would cost to change its policy from 2mm to 3mm.
But she said its position was “fully supported by our scheme partners (RAC and Kwik Fit) and ensures our customers have tyres safe and fit for the road, and are not at risk of breaking the law.
“Motability scheme cars are brand new and are regularly serviced and maintained by our network of dealers throughout their three-year lease.”
Another spokeswoman added later: “Motability scheme policy, fully supported by our partners, is to change tyres at 2mm, well before the legal minimum tread limit of 1.6mm is reached.
“We are confident that this ensures Motability customers can drive safely, with good grip on the road (this is not a cost issue).
“Though scheme policy, the 2mm tread depth for replacement is not prescriptive, which enables Kwik Fit to use their discretion and decide whether to replace a particular tyre, taking the customer’s situation into account.
“If any customer has concerns, whether it is on tyres or any aspect of motoring, they should contact customer services, who will look into their individual circumstances.”
An RAC spokesman declined to explain why the organisation apparently backs Motability’s policy when its own website highlights the safety risks of a tread depth of less than 3mm.
Despite the discrepancy, he insisted that RAC was “consistent with its advice to motorists that they should aim to replace their tyres when the tread depth gets to around 2mm.
“This is also consistent with motor industry standard practice and that approach [is] followed by the majority of large fleet operators in the UK.
“This is also well within the DVSA’s [Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency’s] prescribed legal limit of 1.6mm.
“While it is possible to argue that replacing tyres with deeper tread depth may offer some benefits, on balance when considering economy, efficiency and safety the 2mm depth is good practice for normal responsible driving and clearly within the law.”