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Shopping for new vehicle? Don’t take that rolling stock for granted

January 12, 2019

If consumers looking for a new car assessed their tire needs (and tolerances) with as much care as they do selecting their dogs, there’d be a lot more smiles per mile.

Like many of our furry canine friends, tires are developed for specific tasks, display different traits and can require special care.

As we roll into the 2019 auto show season — the North American International Auto Show kicks off Monday in Detroit and the Houston Auto Show opens Jan. 23 at NRG Center for a five-day run — savvy shoppers can enjoy a close and efficient look at today’s daunting variety of sedans, crossovers, sports cars, pickups and sport utility vehicles.

Here’s why shopping for the right tires — along with that shiny new vehicle — can save you time, money and hassles down the road.

Besides being the lowest component on any vehicle, every tire is invariably round and black, so it’s easy to see why many consumers hardly give tires any consideration when they buy a new car — or a car that’s new to them.

But no matter how powerful, expensive or exclusive, a vehicle is not going anywhere without safe, reliable tires. As the car’s only contact with the ground, tires are what get you moving and bring you to a stop.

Not only do they have to perform well in conditions ranging from scorching asphalt to rainstorms, snow and ice, tires play significant roles in fuel consumption, ride and noise.

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 and chemical experts to come up with tires that meet the auto manufacturers’ goals on handling, safety, speed, fuel economy and noise. The tire’s tread life may not be as high a priority as the end user.

A given model’s specified tires may come from more than one manufacturer. If they have the opportunity while checking out inventory at a dealership, consider back-to-back comparison drives using the same roads to evaluate the different original-equipment tires.

In today’s global economy, branding doesn’t necessarily indicate where a tire is manufactured or the national origin of its parent company. Pirelli tires can come from Mexico. Some Michelin tires are built in South Carolina and Ohio. Firestone is a Bridgestone division while BFGoodrich is owned by Michelin. Other brands you might find on the sidewall of a new vehicle include Continental, Yokohama, Falken, Hankook and Toyo.

The stampede embracing larger wheels and tires began more than two decades ago and there’s no sign the industry will put on the brakes anytime soon. Whether they’re chrome, satin or black, or mounted on a commuter car, performance machine, SUV or pickup, wheel ranging from 17 to 22 inches in diameter are stylish and in demand.

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 the tread wider, increasing steering effort and rolling resistance. There’s another rub: the tires’ shorter sidewalls can compromise ride comfort and increase the chances of wheel damage from potholes or curbs.

Even though you may not even approach 100 mph, let alone venture past the century mark, you’ll discover lots of high-performance tires because so many of today’s new vehicles — including SUVs — are capable of impressive performance. These tires have speed ratings (a “V” means up to 149 mph, for example).

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 and the other offering more 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 test driving new cars, we’ve discovered new sedans with tires that were significantly worn before the odometer hit 10,000 miles, making the ride harsh and noisy.

And wouldn’t you 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 slapped with sticker shock when they learn 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 new vehicle you’re considering has four- or all-wheel-drive, it can pay to check the owner’s manual before closing the deal. AWD powertrains can require closely matched tires for optimum performance and reliability. Running a used tire at one corner, for example, can damage the AWD system because the outside diameter of the older tire can be an eighth of an inch smaller.

Just as all-wheel-drive helps deliver peace of mind, run-flat tires can provide a sense of security. They’re engineered to stay intact and serviceable if they’re punctured. Because of that, they can be heavier and ride firmer. Several years into the game, run-flats have improved, in some cases significantly.

Automakers who jumped on the “extended mobility” tire bandwagon also saw run-flats as a way to reduce the vehicle’s overall weight and reclaim the space a full-size tire may have taken up — an important consideration with performance vehicles.

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 tires, which are available for a variety of sedans, crossovers, minivans and wagons. They are designed to withstand speeds up to 50 mph for 50 miles and carry a treadwear warranty of up to 60,000 miles.

One way to get the most out of set of tires is to rotate them according to the automaker’s specifications. Some cars, however, are equipped with tires that require extra care when rotating or even make switching tire positions impossible.

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 front/rear if they’re the same size. The quickest way to spot them is look for an arrow on the sidewall. 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, is not an appealing solution.

And for sports cars like the Chevy Corvette or Nissan 370Z that are equipped with staggered wheels and tire sizes — larger and wider at the back, narrower and smaller at the front, rotations are moot.

So there you have it. This new-car season instead of kicking tires, accord them the respect they deserve.

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