After being in the automotive industry for more than 30 years I was never more surprised what a difference a good car tyre made to the handling, performance and safety of a car.
Like a lot of males, I have always had an interest in cars. As a younger fellow I owned some really nice old American Muscle cars a Limited-Edition Monaro and a few others. Back then car tyres to me were round black things that dressed up the car and kept it on the road. Like most people the importance of a car tyre was never really understood, and nor did I really care. If it stayed on the rim, had air in it and looked the part, the rest was useless information. When it came to replace my car tyres, I was only interested in how wide I could get them and if it meant grinding out the inner lip of the guard to make them fit, so be it. Quality never crossed my mind and retreated car tyres were used wherever I could. Spending money on tyres might mean I couldn’t afford the new stereo, or the bigger speakers or a night out with friends. I still see young people and people in general taking the same attitude with their car tyres as I did in my younger less informed years.
Everybody has a Budget
About 25 years ago I was driving in the rain and found that on every roundabout the tail of my car would start to slide out and every time I accelerated my car tyres would spin and spin. Within 10 minutes I pulled into a tyre store to have them checked and was told they were fine. I also found out that they were the original tyres that were factory fitted to the car. The car tyres were a well-known brand, but they simply weren’t doing the job they should be. How can that be, they are a well-known brand, they are factory designed to go with the car, but they are terrible in the wet. The answer is that car tyres and tyres in general are made to a budget. Premium brand tyre companies like Bridgestone, Dunlop, Michelin, Yokohama, etc all make different tyres to suit the varying budgets of the consumer. Not everyone wants the top of the range premium tyre on there car, because you may only travel limited distances, only travel on freeways, never carry heavy loads and never corner hard. Tyre manufactures understand that, and so does the car tyre retailer.
The day I pulled into the tyre retailer unhappy with the performance of my tyres I decided to make a change. I asked a mate what a good brand was, and I also asked the tyre retailer. I made a change to a Japanese made tyre and left the store and immediately the car felt so much more responsive and the spinning a sliding of the car tyres stopped. It stopped because it was a better-quality tyre.
15 Years ago, I was fortunate enough to head up the retail division of that same Japanese tyre company in Australia. My very first day was spent at Eastern Creek Racetrack test driving their latest tyre soon to be released in Australia. Several cars were fitted with the new car tyre and the others were fitted with a competitor brand. We did slalom comparisons, wet track testing, braking, wet braking and general driving at speed. The tyres were amazing and the difference between the two brands was incredible. What I got out of that experience opened my eyes and solidified my thoughts on the need for good quality car tyres.
Manufacturers of car tyres spend millions if not billions of dollars yearly on R&D (Research and development) to improve the performance of their car tyres. Without going into technical mumbo jumbo some of the key area’s manufacturers look to improve are
- Wet and dry road holding
- Wet and dry braking
- Wear and tare or longevity of the tyre
- Speed capability
- Weight carrying
- Rolling resistance
These would be the main topics that would also concern the public.
Manufacturing costs for tyres are very similar for a cheaper tyre or a premium tyre with the main variant being
- The amount of material that goes into a smaller car tyre compared to a truck or earth mover tyre as an example OR
- The amount of R&D (research and development) that went into the car tyre they are producing. To explain further:
If a manufacturer is making a tyre four a 4-cylinder car that travels 5 kilometres a day, to and from the shops, that tyre is made to a lower budget and specification. As you could understand it would also have less R&D spent on it and will not perform under extreme driving conditions. So, let’s say the car was your grandparents, and they lent the car to their grandson who jumps in and races down to the shops in the rain faster than his grandparents would. For whatever reason he needs to corner or stop in an emergency, the chances are the car tyres will not perform at the level required and an accident can happen.
Now, that is an example however the point, I am trying to make is, when buying car tyres, the retailer should ask you about your driving style and the conditions you would generally drive in. Too often we hear “Mate just put on something cheap, it’s just for the wife’s car to take the kids to school”. A car carrying family requires special attention. If the the wife and kids need to visit friends or family and need to travel 20-100 kilometres to get there it is important the tyres are suitable for the drive.
It is best to think of the worst-case scenario when discussing the driving conditions the car maybe used for. That does not mean putting racing tyres on your car, it might mean the cheapest tyre is not the correct tyre and an extra $20 a tyre will keep the driver and their passengers safer.
How to identify cheap tyres
There are literally hundreds of tyre brands in the Australian market, so how do you know which is a reasonably brand?
It is important when purchasing a car tyre that you understand the quality of the car tyre and the support behind it. The Australian market is made up of several players.
- Manufacturers who have their own distribution warehouses, staff and normally would have their own retail chains which they control. The main brands sold by this group are quality brands to quality budget tyres with full manufactures warranty supplied and supported.
- Wholesalers who independently import a variety of brands from overseas and wholesale to all or a select number of chains or independent stores. The main brands sold by this group are quality brands to quality budget with full manufactures warranty supplied and supported.
- The third are sub wholesalers who import from anywhere they can get their hands-on cheap product. These importers may or may not supply the manufacturers warranty others supply and the tyres can be known brands or brands that have never been heard of. This area should be a concern for the consumer and here are some tips for you to avoid buying and being stuck with tyres that potentially are inferior and has no warranty, support.
- Google the brand and see that it is distributed throughout Australia. In some countries you can buy a container of car tyres and have any name/brand and specification you want stamped on them. If you want to import a cheap tyre, the manufacturer has old moulds whose technology is out of date and will produce old technology tyres for you at a price. When the one-off importer has to pay warranty insurance which is expensive, they may fail to do so. If the car tyre fails and there is an investigation by insurance companies, be prepared for them not to support claims and the importer not to be found. This is something to consider. Make sure the importer is reputable and the brand is easily googled in Australia.
- Buying a common brand tyre from a reputable supplier ensures replacement is easy. Buying a very cheap unknown brand may bite you down the track. Ideally the car should have common brands and tread patterns all round the car. Having different tread patterns reduces the handling and performance of the car and as a minimum the front car tyres must be the same. If you have bought a bargain of no name tyres and need one replaced down the track due to a tyre failure or damage, this may not be possible, so two tyres may need replacing instead of one. Newer technology and a better-quality tyre may allow you to drive further on a lower tyre pressure to get to a repairer.
We have put some simple tips together to understand what to look for when buying car tyres.
Tyre Basics 101
Tyres are a rubber bag of compressed air the cushions the car from the road. They are shaped to help the car move forward and backward and are designed for particular applications and driving conditions.
Car tyres are basically made by wrapping various materials around a cylinder including rubber and steel to form the steel belt that strengthens the tyre from punctures and road damage.
The taller the side wall is made for the tyre the more air cushioning the car has and the smoother the ride. The lower the tyre sidewall, the less cushioning from the road and the better cornering ability of the car and car tyre.
On the next page we’ll talk about how to choose the right tire.
Know your Tyre Size
- 275 is width of the car tyre across the tread in millimetres
- 35 – Aspect ratio of the sidewall compared to the width
- R – Radial construction
- 18 – Diameter of the rim in inches
- 95 – tyre’s load rating (the weigh each tyre can hold on one axle)
- – Tyre’s speed rating
There are many other codes that you will find on the sidewall of the tyre. If you are buying an SUV or 4X4 tyre it might have HT, AT or MT on the side that would indicate
- HT- Highway Terrain
- AT- All Terrain
- MT- Mud Terrain
For Light Trucks it might have
LT or C for Light Truck or commercial use, which means the construction of the tyre is more ridged and would generally have a thicker stronger side wall for carrying heavier loads.
Heavy Truck Tyres will have
Steer Tyre, Drive Tyre, Trailer Tyre or Multipositional on the side wall.
- Steer Tyres are the tyres that turn to steer the Truck
- Drive Tyres are those that are connected to the motor and drive the vehicle.
- Trailer Tyres are as it says for the trailer.
- Multipositional Tyres can be fitted to all positions on the vehicle.
Load & Speed Rating Chart
Load and speed rating are vitally important when selecting a car tyre or for any vehicle that may travel long distances or carry weight.
Speed rating are not only an indicator of how fast the tyre can safely travel. It is very importantly about heat dissipation, as heat build up can destroy a tyre. You need to let your tyre retailer know that you do a lot of freeway driving or your vehicle carries additional weight like tools, sand, rubbish as the retailer needs to ensure that the car tyres being fitted are the correct application for your driving needs. A failure to fit the correct tyres can result in catastrophic failure of the tyres.
Where to Buy Your Tyres
With numerous online retailers of tyres people are tempted to make that all important purchase due manly to price and tricky marketing. On the surface it might seem convenient however there are a number of traps that you need to consider.
- Once you have selected your tyre online, you then need to wait for shipping to your selected fitting outlet. In order to get your bargain car tyres, the online supplier has had to screw the supplier pretty hard to make a profit along the way. The next victim along the way is the tyre fitting store who has also been screwed for fitment charges so the online players can profit. So just consider that after 3-4 days shipping your tyres to a tyre store, you then must ask the local tyre store to fit tyres that he or she would have had on their shelf for approximately the same price. So, buying online is not so much convenience and timely, it is more about tricky marketing and an online trend.
- Okay now you’re at the tyre fitting store but you have ordered the wrong tyres. You will have to pay a restocking fee and wait another 3-4 days and make another appointment with the tyre store for fitment.
- It might sound like I am one sided however I deal with this system every day and deal with frustrated customers upset with the fitting company when it has nothing to do with the local fitter. There are so many deals across the tyre industry daily that phoning stores direct and negotiating the correct car tyre and the best price is easy. One phone call, one appointment and your tyres are fitted and you are on your way.
- Mobile tyre fitters offer the same options and buying power as the tyre stores. So why go through the hassle of ordering such a vital piece of componentry online, when you can speak with your local expert and get it right first time every time. Mobile Tyre Fitting seems to make the most sense. Make the call book the appointment and have them fitted at your home or work, simple.
When you call your local store or mobile tyre fitting company you should be armed with some basic information.
- Your current tyre brand on the car
- Your current tyre sizes
- Your normal driving conditions i.e. Highway, off road, a bit of both, long trips to visit friends, family or work.
- Any issues you have had with the current tyres on the vehicle
- Any steering abnormalities i.e. pulling to the left or right, or vibrations through the steering wheel.
- Do you like to push the car into corners?
New vs. Used Tires
With the price of new tyres today compared to buying second-hand tyres you need to seriously consider your options.
New budget tyres are priced almost as low as a second-hand tyre. So, to consider second hand tyres should really only be to match a worn set in desperation.
The problem with second-hand tyres is that although they may look fine on the outside, it is difficult to tell what damage has been done internally. The tyre may have been subjected to a number of heavy hits into potholes or gutters. If this is the case, the tyre could fail at any time. This would most likely happen when under heat and stress i.e. when you are on the freeway at 110klm per hour and the failure could be catastrophic. Rather than taking the chance by trying to match an old tyre, you are much better off buying a new tyre and putting it on the back, even if the tread patterns don’t match.
How Many KLM’s will you get out of a Tyre
This is a common question and it is not an exact science. There are many variables the effect the life of the tyre.
- Road conditions, potholes condition of the road,
- Driver handling
- Tyre Care
Most reasonable brands will deliver between 40 to 100,000 kilometres before they are requiring to be changed. Whether you achieve 40,000klms or 100,000 klms is completely dependent on the above points.
Having your tyres checked for the correct inflation pressure is crucial for extending tyre life. At the same time or every 10,000 klms the tyres should be rotated to ensure every mileometer of the tyre is worn evenly which increases tyre life.
Factory Fitted Tyre Size
When in doubt refer to the car Plaque which is in the door sill of most cars or in the owner’s manual.
This information is about the factory fitted tyres only and does not cover any changes that previous owners may have made.
Be aware that oversized rims and tyres can change the speedometer reading which may leave you susceptible to speeding fines.
As a rule, tyres and rims should not exceed the factory fitted recommendation size by more than 10%. The load carrying capacity of tyres and rims should never be less than the factory fitted recommendations.
Maintain Your Vehicle
Whilst we have covered how to look after your tyres, this can be a waste of time if your car is not maintained to a reasonable standard. Wheels alignments, shock absorbers and front-end components all affect the wear of tyres.
If you are having your tyres check regularly or you are keeping an eye on them yourself, there are signs to look out for.
- Inner edged wear
- Outer edge wear
- Centre tread wear
- Scalloping of the tread
All these symptoms are telling you that there is an issue with the mechanical components of the car. From warn shocks to alignment issues, it is important to kept a close eye on your car tyres as they provide a visible image of potential issues with your car.
Happy & Safe Driving!