Which Tyres Should I Buy?
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(Via Twitter to @cadoges) Here's, another can of worms. How should you buy tyres? Brands? Price? Quality/tread life? (Driving responsibly of course).
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...
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?
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 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.
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.
To ask John Cadogan a question, fill in the contact form