Shopping for new vehicle? Nail down the right tires
If consumers gave the tires that come with their new car as much thought as they do selecting a family dog, there’d be a lot more smiles per mile.
Like our furry canine friends, tires vary widely and are developed to excel at different things. But because all tires are round and black, it’s all too easy for car shoppers to give tires short shrift when buying a new car or truck (or at least one that’s new to them).
That oversight can lead to a rude awakening - in the form of sticker shock - when it’s time for a new set of tires, especially if you insist on having the same rubber the vehicle originally came with. For example, replacing the four original-equipment Pirelli P Zero run-flats that BMW installs on its 2019 X7 SUV with 22-inch wheels, will total over $2,000.
“The key is to make sure you are getting the exact match. Unfortunately that can be harder than most people realize,” said Woody Rogers, production information officer at Tire Rack, a popular online source of information as well as tires and wheels. “The tire manufacturers often supply different versions of the same tire line in the same size and speed rating, which look the same on the outside. In a few instances we have seen over 10 different versions of the same tire in a given size.”
Tire Rack has helpful manufacturer information, specs, test results, surveys and a tire decision guide at TireRack.com.
As a car’s only contact with the ground, tires are what get things rolling, grip the road and bring the car to a stop. So no matter how powerful, expensive or exclusive, a vehicle isn’t going to go far without safe, reliable tires. Not only must they perform well in conditions ranging from scorching asphalt to drenching rainstorms or slippery sand, tires play a significant role in fuel consumption, ride and noise and security.
Vehicles aimed at consumers may be equipped with touring tires, performance tires, run-flat (also known as extended mobility) tires, SUV tires, all-terrain tires, extreme performance and extra-load tires. Automakers work with the tire suppliers’ engineers to come up with tires for each model that best meet the auto manufacturers’ goals on handling, safety, speed, comfort, fuel economy and noise. The tires’ tread life, however, may not be as high a priority to the automaker as it is to the end-users.
Any given model can have two or more tire suppliers, so if you’re checking out the new-vehicle inventory at a dealership and have the opportunity, consider back-to-back comparison drives along the same route to evaluate each brand’s tires.
In today’s global economy, the brand doesn’t necessarily indicate where a tire is manufactured or the national origin of the brand’s parent company. Pirelli tires can come from Mexico. Some Michelin tires are made in South Carolina and Ohio. Firestone is a Bridgestone division, while BFGoodrich is owned by Michelin. Other tire brands consumers may find on a new vehicle include Continental, Yokohama, Falken, Hankook and Toyo.
The stampede toward larger wheels and tires began more than two decades ago and there’s no sign the industry will put the brakes on that trend anytime soon. Whether they’re chrome, satin or black, or mounted on a commuter car, performance machine, SUV or pickup, wheels ranging from 17 to 22 inches in diameter are stylish and popular.
But bear in mind that if the vehicle is offered with two or three differently sized wheels and tires, the larger ones will be heavier and wider and may increase steering effort and rolling resistance. There’s another rub: the lower-profile tires’ shorter sidewalls can compromise ride comfort while making the wheels more vulnerable to pothole or curb damage.
Even though you may never even approach 100 mph, let alone crack the century mark, you’ll encounter lots of high-performance tires because so many of today’s new vehicles — including SUVs — are capable of impressive performance as indicated by the tires’ speed ratings (a “V,” for example, means up to 149 mph).
A manufacturer may also offer two versions of a tire as original equipment, with one being a “summer” tire that’s built for maximum performance on a track and designed for dry conditions while the other offers better wet traction and tread life.
And don’t be surprised if the summer rubber wears out sooner, even if the car never sees a track. In the course of testing new cars over the years, we’ve received new vehicles with tires that were significantly worn, making the ride harsh and noisy, before the odometer hit 10,000 miles.
And who wouldn’t rather put off the expense of a set of new tires as long as possible? Nowadays it’s not just owners of luxury rides or hardcore performance cars stung by sticker shock when they are informed that a set of four new name-brand tires can easily exceed $1,000 once mounting, balancing and wheel alignment are thrown in.
If the vehicle you’re thinking of buying has four- or all-wheel-drive, it pays to consult the owner’s manual before closing the deal. AWD powertrains often require matching tires for optimum performance and reliability. Running a used tire at one corner, for example, can damage the AWD system if the outside diameter of the used tire is an eighth of an inch smaller than the new or almost-new tires.
Just as all-wheel-drive helps deliver peace of mind, run-flat tires can provide a sense of security. They’re engineered to remain intact and serviceable in typical puncture situations. Because of that, they can be heavier and ride firmer. Fortunately, several years into the game run-flats have improved, in some cases significantly.
Automakers who jumped on the “extended mobility” tire bandwagon use run-flats to trim the vehicle’s overall weight and reclaim the space a full-size tire would take — an important consideration with performance vehicles or convertibles.
Run-flats depend on the tire pressure monitoring systems that are required on all new cars sold in the U.S. since the fall of 2007. If your car didn’t come with run-flats but you like the concept for yourself or a loved one, you may be able to retrofit Bridgestone’s DriveGuard run-flat tires. If punctured, Bridgestone said they’re capable of up to 50 mph for as many as 50 miles. The tires carry a treadwear warranty of up to 60,000 miles.
Michelin’s tackling the problem from another direction. Its new Selfseal tire’s sealant is said to prevent air loss 90 percent of the time if the punctures are a quarter-inch or less in diameter. The Selfseal tire will be standard on Explorer Platinum and Explorer Limited Hybrid four-wheel drive models and optional on the Explorer Limited in either two- or four-wheel-drive.
A key to getting the most miles from a set of tires is to rotate them according to the automaker’s specifications. A vehicle may be equipped with tires that require extra care when rotating. Or rotations may not even be possible.
For instance, tires may be directional (or “unidirectional”), meaning that front and rear wheel/tire units on the same side of the car can be swapped if they’re the same size. To run on the opposite side of the vehicle, they’d have to be taken off their wheels and remounted, which, from a practical standpoint, isn’t appealing. One way to spot them is to look for an arrow molded into the tire’s sidewall.
Modern tires can also have asymmetrical tread designs with the inner portion of the tire optimized for wet road surfaces while the outer portion is designed for dry road surfaces. The tires may have indicators like “outside” molded into the sidewall.
As for performance cars like the Chevy Corvette or Nissan 370Z, to name just two, that run staggered wheels and tire sizes s— larger and wider at the back, narrower and smaller at the front — tire rotations are one thing you can’t worry about.
So this spring, instead of kicking tires, give them the respect they deserve.