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Know Thy Tires

June 09, 2011

Know Thy Tires

What type of tires do you have? Don’t know?

You’re not alone. Most people don’t have a clue, and, truth be told, they aren’t all that interested in knowing. Even though tires are one of the most technologically advanced part of a car, as well as the only bits that actually touch the road, they are not top-, middle- or even bottom-of-mind for most consumers.

Fact is tires are the black hole of cars: round, rubbery nondescript objects that are expected to perform forever.

“It’s a shame tires are largely ignored,” said Fred Koplin of Yokohama Tire Corporation, “Because they influence the braking, steering, comfort, handling, fuel efficiency and driving safety of every vehicle. Tires are technical marvels. They take a daily pounding over all sorts of surfaces in all kinds of weather conditions, yet they continue to perform with incredible effectiveness. They are just misunderstood by most consumers.”

One reason some people pay little attention to tires is because there are so many types of tires, says Koplin. “There are about 3,500 sizes and types from a dozens of manufacturers, and that could cause confusion for any consumer. But the more information consumers collect and understand, the better prepared they will be for the vast selection that awaits them.”

Having the wrong tire on a vehicle is akin to wearing shoes that don’t fit -- they don’t work well and may be harmful. “Cornering, acceleration, wet road traction, tire wear, fuel economy, ride and styling can be modified by changing tires,” Koplin says. “Choosing the wrong wheels and tires, however, can result in a disappointment with handling, ride and tread wear.”

In short, knowing what types of tires are available is important because it can save money and fuel, and vastly improve a vehicle’s ride and handling.

“A tire generally delivers both mileage and performance, but not both equally,” Koplin says. “Tires using a harder rubber compound will last longer and boost gas mileage, but could deliver less traction and more noise, while softer tread compound tires handle well but wear more quickly.

“The first step to selecting the right tires is to consider how they will be used,” he advises. “Consumers should think about how far and fast they typically drive, the weather and road conditions they encounter, how they want the vehicle to perform and look, how much money they want to spend, how long they plan on keeping the vehicle, and the weight and type of vehicle the tires will be mounted on.”

Koplin offers some basic definitions on different tires to help pick the best tire for your vehicle:

* All-Season Tire: As stated: a tire designed for all four seasons. They can eliminate the need for snow tires in some moderate winter areas.

* High-Performance Tire: Tires designed for handling at higher speeds.

* Light Truck Tire: Tires designed for sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, recreational vehicles and some small commercial vehicles.

* Radial Tire: Radial describes the way the tire is constructed. These tires are on most passenger cars as well as light trucks.

* Touring Performance Tire: A tire providing the ride comfort of a standard passenger car tire, yet possessing some high-performance tire characteristics.

“Replacing tires is like buying insurance or going to the dentist,” Koplin says. “No one wants to do it, but it’s necessary. The more you know, the less painful it will be.”

For more information on tires, visit www.yokohamatire.com or the Rubber Manufacturers Association’s Web site at www.rma.org.