It’s often surprising to see an expensive car, shod with a cheap set of budget tyres. Afterall, these circular moulds of rubber are all that keeps our backsides off of the road, literally. But why is there such a variance in choice, and in price…and is it worth going ‘top shelf’ for this consumable item?
Tyres have evolved hugely over the years and generally speaking, in the U.K, we tend to run all season, or ‘Summer’ tyres, all year round. In some colder countries like parts of Scandinavia, and even Germany, it’s not uncommon for car owners to swap their tyres each autumn and spring so they have season-specific tyres optimised for best safety performance for that time of year.
Here in the U.K, we may be used to the wet but we don’t get such a variance of temperatures that other countries have and temperature plays a key part in the performance of a tyre. But, the wet we have grown used to is a crucial safety factor when it comes to tyre performance. Worn tyres or tyres that haven’t been designed for use in the wet can suffer from aqua planing, more than a performance tyre optimised for wet performance.
You can see at a glance what your tyres ‘ratings’ are, as by (E.U) law, manufacturers have to state 3 facts upon the sale of their rubber. The first is fuel efficiency, and it is important to consider that tyres CAN affect the fuel economy of a car. In fact, even fuel efficient tyres that aren’t correctly inflated can add to a car’s fuel bill. Ratings are from A to G, with A being best.
The next rating is for grip in the wet (there is normally an icon showing a tyre dispelling water for a quick glance), and this, as you would expect, helps illustrate test results for how well a tyre performed on wet surfaces. And of course, this has a knock on impact as to how well a car can brake in poorer conditions too, and not just for handling. This rating is in the range of A to F, with A again being best.
Finally, external noise is also measured with a decibel rating of the tyre during the rolling process. This may sound like an odd measurement, after all, no tyres are ‘that noisy’, but if you’ve ever ridden in a car with either failing tyres, or tyres with a poor noise rating, it can become extremely cumbersome on long journeys…
Tyre fitment is next. Rather oddly, wheels are often measured in inches, but tyres that fit the wheels are measured in mm. So, a 7 inch wide wheel for example is actually 177mm. A 175 profile tyre therefore would certainly (and literally) be a stretch, and therefore also illegal in the eyes of the law. The 2nd measurement of a tyre sidewall is a percentage of the width of a tyre’s with…on the sidewall. So, for example, a 175/50/15 tyre would mean a tyre width of 175mm, a sidewall measurement of 50% of that (87.5mm) and a 15″ diameter for the rim.
Finally, tyres also give speed ratings. These are recognisable by the letters after a tyre size and come in the form of 12 letters which represent a maximum speed designed for that tyre, ranging from 87mph (N) to 186mph (Y). You should never use tyres with a speed rating less than the speed of your car or the manufacturers recommendation as this would be highly dangerous.