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Choosing the appropriate tyres for your vehicle involves not only price comparison shopping, but value judgments based on tire characteristics that are best mated to your driving style. Following are some characteristics of ecological tyres and performance tyres, with the understanding that many tyres today contain aspects of different categories (passenger tyres increasingly feature performance features, etc.). Manufacturers increasingly use tyres with performance features on passenger cars, because the enhanced performance can greatly improve the driving experience as well as safety.
Characteristics of Ecological Tyres
Ecologically friendly or “eco” tyres have certain characteristics that appeal to consumers that want to save money and the environment at the same time.
1. Improved fuel efficiency. Increasing restrictions on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have driven not only production of fuel efficient vehicles but tyres as well. Many eco tyres feature reduced friction–and this is generally achieved bymakingless contact with the road. While this may be better for your pocketbook as well as the environment
under normal driving conditions, reduced friction under poor conditions may contribute to a crash, and ingeneral will make stopping distances longer. Tyre brands such as the Continental ProContact Ecoplusseek to increase performance characteristics over other eco tyres while still providing fuel efficiency
greater than ordinary tyres.
2. Niche products for electric vehicles. With the obvious appeal of electric vehicles to the ecologically sensitive crowd, tyres such as the Bridgestone Ecopia EP-02 are manufactured specially for use on electric cars. The EP-02 is claimed to have low resistance to rolling while still functioning well under braking.
3. Reduced “carbon footprint” in manufacturing. Eco-friendly or “green” tyres may feature manufacturer’s claims that they were manufactured with reduced or zero emission of greenhouse gases,or without other harmful environmental effects.
High performance tyres have an obvious pedigree tracing back to different forms of racing and other high-performance uses. In the 1980s, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company used “Gatorback” branded tyres on its Corvette model. Those tyres harked back to Formula One racing, with a low profile
1. Low-profile, stiff side walls. Low profile means that the total diameter of the tyre mounted on the wheel rim is tighter, and the tire looks”thinner” from afar. This enables the use of larger rims, which can increase the unsprung weight and lowerthe center of gravity slightly for the vehicle. It also tends to reduce tyre flex during stressful operations such as acceleration, braking and cornering. The use of advanced materials in sidewalls can stiffen them even
more, further reducing flex.
2. Extra material, such as nylon or other “caps”, in addition to steel belts to keep shape integrity. Tyres begin to balloon and flatten into discs at high speeds; an extreme example is drag-racing tyres, which deform greatly under the momentary but very hard acceleration of that type of racing. Performance tyres may also feature higher-grade rubber than other types of tyres.
3. Large tread blocks for better traction at high speeds. Like racing “slicks”, the more tyre rubber meeting the pavement with grip, the more overall traction is improved.
4. Advanced tread patterns for different conditions. The word “performance” can have different meanings, but even sports-car-oriented tyres today have tread patterns to, for example, reduce hydroplaning. Certain performance tyres may be aimed at the cold weather market, with different types of treads, and these features may also be added to more performance-oriented passenger tyre brands.
5. Louder, harsher ride. Due to the differences in materials, treads and overall increased stiffness versus more cushioned passenger tyres, both the sound of the tyre against the bitumen and the character of the ride changes.
6. Enhanced speed ratings. These are generally printed on the tyre’s sidewall. Due to the physical enhancements of performance tyres they can often be driven faster than ordinary tyres with safety. However, speed limites must always be obeyed, and the safe speed even in a straight line during inclement weather may be much less than that of the rating, even for all-weather performance tyres. Competition-grade tyres are generally the best in dry, perfect conditions but may be worse in bad weather.
7. Increased cost. Obviously, using advanced materials and more manufacturing steps will entail greater cost. Throw in reduced manufacturing lot sizes and performance tyres may be significantly more expensive than most other types.
Based on these general characteristics, ecological tyres may cost less than performance tyres to buy and run, but may be somewhat less capable than ordinary passenger tyres when it comes to performance, due to efforts to reduce their rolling resistance and increase efficiency. True high-performance tyres may be quite expensive, and work best under dry conditions. A good middle ground for many consumers is the all-weather performance tyre, featuring decent economy at purchase and during operation but better performance than “eco” tyres.
Tyre maintenance is important to tyre life as well as safety. Industry organizations recommend performing regular tyre maintenance by inspecting your tyres for several minutes each month. The acronym PART (Pressure, Alignment, Rotation, Tread) may be used to remember the vital parts of tyre maintenance. Shortened tyre lifetimes can mean dramatically increased expenses, since the failure of one tyre may necessitate replacement of an entire set to make sure wear is relatively even. This is not to mention the possibility that a tyre blowout at an inopportune time may well cause a crash.
One quite common cause of early tyre failures, leading to increased car expenses over the long haul, is low pressure. In fact under-inflation is sometimes cited as the leading cause of early tyre failure. With under-inflation tyre rubber is unevenly stressed and subjected to wear patterns it was never designed for; one source of this is repeated flexing of the tyre rubber as it rotates down to the ground, where it is bent under the car’s weight unopposed by air pressure, then to the top of the rotation where it unbends again–each and every time the wheel rotates. This also causes increased friction and heat buildup, which can help accelerate the process of the tyre rubber beginning to crack. Over-inflation can be just as bad: though you may not visibly notice it, the tyre rubber is stretched, making it respond to normal flexing stress with increased breakdown over time. If extremely overinflated the tyre’s shape will change so dramatically that less tire surface contacts the road, leading to both uneven wear and reduced friction, which may cause a crash. And overinflated tyres driven at high speed present a greatly increased risk of a blowout, since the heat buildup will only cause the air inside the tyre to increase in volume further.
Alignment is another major issue. Running up on a pothole or kerb can throw alignment off even if the contact is nearly unnoticeable. Tyres on misaligned wheels show uneven wear and heat buildup, leading to increased risk of a blowout or at least a shortened end of life. Car and tyre dealers will often check alignment for free.
Rotation is important because even well-balanced tyres will wear slightly unevenly, due in part to the effects of cornering on the front tyres. Always follow instructions and recommendations in your vehicle and tyre manuals or specifications, but in general you should think about having your tyres rotated at least every 5,000 miles or so.
Tread is an important thing to check during any quick inspection. Low tread of course means that tyres must be replaced, but uneven wear is another major thing to watch for, as it signals the sorts of problems outlined above. Also check for bulges in the sidewalls, debris lodged in the tread, and any other visible faults.
To ensure that your tyres are properly inflated and rotated at all times, follow these steps:
1. Check inflation only when the tyres are cooled down. Remember that even driving a short distance such as 1-2 miles can substantially change your pressure reading, and that tyre pressure ratings are based on cool readings. If you need to drive more than 1 mile or so to inflate your tyres, check the pressure on all tyres first. After getting to the air pump, fill up the remainder of the pressure from the cold reading.
2. Check the pressure on any spare tyres as well.
3. Consider getting a portable air pump which can work by attaching to the vehicle’s cigarette lighter. This will help ensure that if you are ever stuck changing a tire with a low or flat spare, you can remedy the situation, and that you can also pump up a tire with a slow leak long enough to get it to maintenance.
4. Use only a high-quality tyre gauge.
5. If any tyre is overinflated (when cool), release some air by pushing the center of the air valve, then recheck the inflation level.
6. Have your tires rotated at least as often as having the oil checked, or about ever 5,000 – 8,000 miles at least, but follow manufacturer’s recommendations.
7. Ask to have the tyre pressures checked when having them rotated.
8. Consider asking to have alignment checked when having your tyres rotated.
9. It is fine to include full-sized spares in your tyre rotation plan, but if so make sure to replace the spare when you replace the rest of the tyres.
The Importance of Wheel Alignment
Wheel alignment is not high on the list of worries when you are driving your car. Many people don’t even know what wheel alignment means, let alone why it is important. The wheels of your car are very important as they’re the only part that actually makes contact with the ground. Unfortunately, there is more to worry about than getting the occasional flat tire.
Wheel alignment works in two ways. First, it ensures that the wheels are parallel. Second, it ensures that the tires are perpendicular to the ground. If either of these two things are misaligned even the slightest bit, it can wreak havoc on your tires, your car and your gas mileage.
Saving Money by Using Less Fuel
When your wheels are misaligned, it causes uneven pressure on the tires. This causes a chain reaction that creates uneven friction and makes the wheels push against each other. In turn, driving in a straight line becomes much more difficult. To compensate, your vehicle has to use more fuel to travel a shorter distance as it is essentially fighting itself.
Properly aligned wheels eliminate competing forces ensuring a smooth ride. A smooth ride means less resistance. Less resistance means that your vehicle does not have to use extra fuel while fighting itself.
Wear and Tear on Your Vehicle
Misaligned tires are very hard on your car and can lead to many other problems. For example, the steering can be pulling to one side or another. Breaking can cause uneven wear and tear. It can particularly affect the brake shaft. Finally, with a very poor alignment, the suspension of a vehicle can be affected simply because of how uneven the pressures are. Suspensions are very delicate and can be an expensive fix.
Wear and Tear on Your Tires
Perhaps the most common and the most expensive complication of misaligned wheels is wear and tear on the tires. As explained previously, poorly aligned wheels lead to uneven pressure on the tires. Symptoms include tires that wear much faster than they should and tires that are wearing too quickly on one side. At the very worst, this can lead to tire blowouts and flat tires.
If the tires wear before their warranty, many people will try to get them replaced. However, when a tire wears due to misalignment, they are almost never covered under warranty. The cost of a professional wheel alignment is miniscule in comparison to buying a brand new set of tires.
Because wheel alignments are so cheap, there is absolutely no reason to compromise on safety. It can be extremely difficult to navigate wet, icy or snowy roads when a vehicle is pulling strongly to one side due to a misalignment. Add to that, there is a risk of worn tires blowing out or going flat.
When to Get Your Wheels Aligned
A general, conservative rule of thumb is to get your wheels aligned every time you change your oil. However, you may want to get an alignment if you notice your vehicle pulling strongly to one side. You may also want an alignment if you notice uneven or irregular wear on your tires.
Make sure that you are getting a wheel alignment and not a wheel balance. They are two completely different things, and sometimes mechanics will mistake one for the other when you mention what you want.
Overall, getting your wheels aligned can improve your gas mileage, save your tires, save your vehicle and save your life. This small and inexpensive service can ensure your safety on the road and protect your investment.