Which Tyres Should I Buy?

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QUESTION

 

(Via Twitter to @cadoges) Here's, another can of worms. How should you buy tyres? Brands? Price? Quality/tread life? (Driving responsibly of course).

ANSWER

Let's assume you don't have a Boxster or a BMW M3. Ordinary sort of car. Even a moderately performance-oriented car.

Tyres have an image problem. They're all black and round. Thus it's hard to differentiate between the brands. It's hard for the industry's marketing luminaries to make them sexy. However, there is a tried and true solution...

Sorry ... what was that question again? Tyres can be s-o-o-o-o-o-o-o sexy after all  

Sorry ... what was that question again? Tyres can be s-o-o-o-o-o-o-o sexy after all

 

You know the product itself has an image problem when this is the accepted marketing approach

You know the product itself has an image problem when this is the accepted marketing approach

Frankly, I used to conduct all the Wheels magazine tyre tests, a few years back. Racetrack, race driver, control car, control tyre, timing beams, GPS - full day's testing disaster, plus hours of post-processing the data. Tyres are so critical in that instant between a critical incident and the aftermath - and they make such a difference.

Premium Brands Versus No-names

What emerged - every time - during four or five years of annual Wheels magazine tyre testing was that all the 'name' brands are pretty much a photo-finish. Bridgestone, Pirelli, Dunlop, Goodyear, Michelin, Continental, etc. They all performed about the same, overall. Often, the differences were below the bounds of experimental error - meaning that the differences between them were smaller than our ability to measure them. 

Interestingly, the brands like (in particular) Kumho, Hankook, Toyo, Firestone, etc., were also very solid performers - in many cases just as good as the premium brands.

Even more interestingly (to the extent that tyres can be interesting) the absolutely unknown brands from China and Taiwan, etc., were universally shit. So, if you don't know the name, it's a safe bet it's crap. Steer away from the 'Lotus Blossom Road Gripper' and the 'Double Happiness Life' type of tyres. Just eliminate the middleman and book yourself a plot at the local cemetery there... 

Retreads are also unequivocally crap. 

A few years ago I replaced the tyres on my His & Hers WRXs with two different sets of Hankook performance tyres - and they were awesome. Great value and great performance. (Kind of like the South Korean car brands Kia and Hyundai.)  These were 215/45R17s, and they replaced a set of Michelin Pilot Preceda OE tyres.

Both sets of Hankooks were subjectively better than the OE Michelins - especially in the wet. (And, yeah, I paid for them.)

Tread Tech - Which is Best?

Directional tyre: note V-shaped groove in tread. Needs to point down at the front

Directional tyre: note V-shaped groove in tread. Needs to point down at the front

Asymetrical tyre has a more rigid set of tread blocks on the outside edge (to the right in this shot) with stability enhancing circumferential tread in the centre and softer tread for water-ejection on the inside face. Hi-tech stuff

Asymetrical tyre has a more rigid set of tread blocks on the outside edge (to the right in this shot) with stability enhancing circumferential tread in the centre and softer tread for water-ejection on the inside face. Hi-tech stuff

One set was directional, the other was asymetrical. Directional tyres have the deep V-shaped groove running down the centre of the tread, which is designed to eject water. These tend to be noisier than the asymetrical kind. Asymetrical tyres have an inside and outside edge - so how they're mounted on the wheel matters. Outside edge of the tyre goes on outside edge of the wheel. That's important because the outside edge is designed to be rigid because it carries most of the hard cornering load. The inside edge is softer and has more water-ejecting capability (it's doing less of the cornering) and the centre often has relatively solid circumferential tread, for high-speed stability.

Directional tyres all have an arrow on the sidewall indicating the way they need to rotate. If you want to eject water in the rain, rather than collect it. That's just the way they roll

Directional tyres all have an arrow on the sidewall indicating the way they need to rotate. If you want to eject water in the rain, rather than collect it. That's just the way they roll

Asymetrical tyres all tell you which one is the outside edge. Important - if you want to corner properly. The outside edge of the tyre needs to marry the outside edge of the wheel. If that happens it maximises the 'happily ever after' probability

Asymetrical tyres all tell you which one is the outside edge. Important - if you want to corner properly. The outside edge of the tyre needs to marry the outside edge of the wheel. If that happens it maximises the 'happily ever after' probability

Directional tyres need to go on the correct side of the car. This is because they can rotate only one way. (The V has to point down at the front - otherwise they will draw water in as they roll forwards. That's bad...) And that means they need to be mounted one way on the left side wheels, and the other way on the right side wheels. (When the car rolls forwards, the left side wheels rotate anti-clockwise and the right side wheels rotate clockwise. Think about it. 

And that means you should never have a directional tyre as a spare ... because you can never predict which side the flat will be on. 

My personal preference is for asymetrical tyres. I'd have no hesitation whatsoever fitting another set of Kumho asymetric tyres to my current car (RenaultSport Clio) when the OE rubber gives up the ghost. So there's your cost/quality answer. 

Tread life is more related to how you drive and how you maintain your tyres than anything else. If you get more than 30,000km out of a set of tyres, you're doing something very right. (Flipside of modern safety improvements like better braking systems and tyres with more grip is that they wear out quicker.) 

However, most tyres wear out prematurely because owners don't check the pressure often enough - or because they biff the kerb (or pothole), bugger their wheel alignment and proceed on to scrub out the tyres early. 

When tyres wear out like this, it's invariably owner abuse. If you notice uneven wear, get a wheel alignment, yesterday

When tyres wear out like this, it's invariably owner abuse. If you notice uneven wear, get a wheel alignment, yesterday

Check your tyre pressures once a fortnight (or every second fuel fill). That's what most owners' manuals say. Tyre pressure placard is inside the driver's door frame. Low pressure is the most common cause of premature wear - and highway blowouts (because the extra friction in the sidewall from all the flexing generates too much heat).

Check your tyre pressures once a fortnight (or every second fuel fill). That's what most owners' manuals say. Tyre pressure placard is inside the driver's door frame. Low pressure is the most common cause of premature wear - and highway blowouts (because the extra friction in the sidewall from all the flexing generates too much heat).

The other thing you need to do is rotate them every 5000-10,000km. The left front tyre in particular is very prone to scrubbing out on the outside front edge because of the tighter radius of left turns here in Australia. (In LHD markets it's the RF tyre that diese prematurely if not rotated.)  

As for choosing a retailer, over the counter is the last place you should ask for advice. Tyre retailing is a game so entrenched in kickbacks and preferred retailer commissions that almost everyone involved is flogging the tyre that makes them the most profit (often to unleash a tsunami of undisclosed factory volume bonuses). That's hardly a mechanism for the delivery of impartial advice based on what's best for you, the consumer. 

Sincerely, 

JC

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