Be Smart About Tires Part 2: Choosing the Right Tires

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By Courtney Evans

baby in tires

Select the right tires

In part one we learned a new language.  The language of reading and speaking “tires”.  We made sense of all the important, yet confusing information written on the sidewall of every tire.  If you missed that issue, you can find it here.  We learned how to determine the tire’s size, construction type, and physical characteristics.  Now that you’re fluent in this new language, let’s take it to the next level.

In this week’s essay, we’re going to clear up any confusion you might have regarding which tire to choose when the time comes for replacement.  We’ll identify the different tire categories and we’ll even shed some light on the services and warranties frequently sold with tires.  Let’s dive right in!

Tires are purpose built.  In other words, they are built using the specifications that are best suited to the job that the tire will perform.  These specifications determine the materials that the tire is made of as well as the tread patterns and the overall look of the tire.  These build specifications can be broken down into the following categories:  Touring, Performance, All-Season, Light Truck, and Winter.

Touring
I’m sure you heard the term “touring”, but what does that mean?  Touring means traveling at highway speeds for prolonged periods.  Touring tires are designed to give a quiet, excellent ride with top notch handling at highway speeds.  This type of tire has a non-aggressive tread pattern with straight ribs that allow the channeling of water.  Another characteristic of the touring tire is long tread life.  Long tread life is certainly a plus but the downside is that the hard compound that makes up this tire tends to freeze in winter, which in turn, sacrifices traction in bad weather.

Performance
This type of tire does a great job at highway speeds.  It has an aggressive tread pattern that provides great traction and handling during cornering and aggressive driving.  These tires have heavy or large shoulder lugs for cornering traction and a wide smooth face for gripping the road surface.  Evacuating water is usually not a strong point of this type of tire.  They are made of a softer rubber compound which aids traction but wears out quickly.  Performance tires are usually short-lived.  Most “Summer” tires fall under this category.

All-Season
This category includes the most versatile tires.  All-season tires have a dual purpose.  First, the tread patterns squeegee, or remove water from underneath each tread block maximizing rubber-to-road contact.  Secondly, the tread patterns allow the “pumping” of water, ice, and snow away from the tire.  These tires are also made up of a compound that resists freezing, ensuring better traction during icy conditions.

Another great characteristic of the all-season tire is its performance in great weather.  They are comparatively quieter than performance tires and their blocky tread pattern allows good traction and handling in the wet and dry.

Light Truck
This type of tire is built for work.  They are constructed to work under heavy loads and in rough conditions.  The rubber compound is hard, ensuring durability and the steel plies help the tire resist punctures and tears.  The tread patterns vary widely and is determined by whether the tire will be used on or off-road.  You will find lots of variation for light-truck tires, so thinking through the truck or SUV’s mission will go a long way.

Winter
This category of tire is built for inclement and severe weather.  Its whole mission in life is to move and break through snow and ice.  The rubber compound resists freezing temperatures and remains flexible.  The treads open and close as the tire moves down the road creating a “crunching” effect on ice and snow.  This “crunching” keeps the treads clean which gets them ready for the next bite, ensuring traction.

They are excellent at evacuating water.  The sharp edges on the treads break through ice so that the tire can find the road or a surface that provides greater traction.  If you experience an abundance of ice, snow, or inclement weather, the winter tire is your best bet.

Here’s a quick guide for category characteristics.

Touring-quiet, good highway performance, long tread life
Performance- great handling and grip for aggressive driving in the dry, poor performance in wet and snow, short tread life
All-Season-good highway performance, good wet, dry, and snow performance, moderately quiet
Light Truck-  good for heavier loads, hard compound, aggressive tread pattern, good on and off-road performance
Winter-  great in ice and snow, resists freezing, best at evacuating ice and snow, great winter traction

Let’s discuss a few other things to consider when purchasing tires.

Lifetime balance and rotation
This is a service that is offered at most tire retailers.  What is it?  In order for a tire to rotate properly it must be balanced on the wheel that it is installed on.  You don’t want the tire to “wobble” as it turns, so balancing the tire prevents unwanted vibrations from coming through the chassis which may manifest itself as excessive steering wheel shaking.

Tire rotation is moving tires from one position on the vehicle to another, for example, moving the left-front tire to the left-rear position and vice versa.  Tire rotation ensures that all 4 tires will wear evenly, prolonging the life of each individual tire.

Once you pay for this service, you can have these services performed for free for the life of the tires.  I highly recommend this purchase as it will save you money in the long run.

Road Hazard
This type of protection guards you against hazards that might puncture, damage, or destroy the tire during normal use.  These hazards may be nails, screws, twisted metal, or pothole impacts.  The replacement value is determined by the percentage of tire tread use.  For example, if your tire is punctured and it has 70 percent of its tread life remaining, the retailer will give you a 70 percent of what you paid for the tire to put towards a new one.  It is essentially an insurance policy.  I do recommend it if you can afford it.

Mileage Warranty
This is given by some tire manufacturers and it states that the tire is guaranteed to last a certain amount of mileage as long as the tire is properly maintained.  Maintenance in this case is proper rotation and inflation.  You must keep good records of the maintenance performed.  This replacement credit is also determined by the percentage of usage.

What type of tires should you buy?
First, determine what how the vehicle will be driven.  You must also determine what weather conditions you will encounter for the majority of the tires life and usage.  Do you live in an area where it snows a lot?  Is it particularly rainy where you live?  Do you love to drive aggressively in you weekend ride?  Do you only drive your vehicle in fair weather?  Do you do a lot of highway driving in all sorts of weather?  Asking these questions and finding answers will help you guide you through the myriad of choices available to you.

Now that you can “speak” tires and you know the difference between the types of tires available, you can make an informed purchase.  Informed consumers cannot be taken advantage of.  Make the right choice for your safety and for your wallet.

 

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