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Tires - Getting to grips with all you need to know

Tires are a critical part of your vehicle’s performance and their health can affect absolutely everything from acceleration and handling characteristics to fuel economy. Burning rubber is not as healthy as burning calories.

A motor vehicle may be designed for one or more specific purposes be it commuting, touring, or off roading. However, whatever the purpose all of them are designed to keep their occupants safe, move in a predictable manner and be as efficient as possible. So whether you drive a small hatchback, an SUV or a sportscar and whether you have 100 horsepower or 600; remember that the only things putting all that your car has to offer down to the road are your tires.

So, how do you make sure your tires are in perfect health and are all set to do their job perfectly? There are several checks you can carry out to ensure you get the best out of your tires while also having them go the distance by extending their usable life.


Tire Pressure

This is one of the simplest things often overlooked by a lot of people. Maintaining the right tire pressure can make all the difference to ride quality, tire life and fuel economy. The manufacturer recommended tire pressure is mentioned in the owner’s manual as well as on an information plate on the car itself, usually higher up the driver side sill visible after you open the door. Besides, it barely takes a few seconds to ask someone at the dealership. You can also have a tire pressure sensor or monitor installed to keep a track and make sure things are in order.

The reason of its importance is simply because it helps you get the best overall performance. The ride won’t be too firm or too bouncy. The steering feel will be better and more responsive. The grip and traction of the car will be at its optimum level and the tire won’t be prone to undue strain either. If the tire pressure is too low you will get extra grip, no doubt, but it puts more strain on the tire sidewall, creates more drag and hence causes the car’s engine to compensate which leads to reduced fuel efficiency. On the other hand, if the tire pressure is too high you will get better fuel economy but there will be lesser grip available. However, the most dangerous aspect comes to light at speed or when the tire generates a lot of heat; if this becomes excessive, the tire may even burst. And the last thing you need while traveling at highway speeds is a tire failure!


Tire Wear

A tire may be rated for many miles but it depends entirely on what it has to go through. If you travel daily over concrete roads, your tire wear will be slightly more than if you stick to the tarmac or asphalt. If you happen to cross gravel or dirt with regular tires on your car, the life will be reduced even further. Of course, tires can get damaged even if your vehicle is stationery for too long. If it’s been a few months or even years stationary, you might notice some thin cracks in the rubber. If this is the case, you need to have the tires replaced as soon as possible if you plan to use the vehicle. One easy way to ensure you’re running a reasonably healthy tire is to check the tread depth. You can use anything from a measuring scale to your car keys. Insert the object into the innermost and the outermost tread making sure to note or mark the depth on the object, with your thumb maybe, and go ahead and do so for all four tires. If there is a considerable difference in the tread depth of one or more wheels, it needs some looking into. Another means of checking wear is tire rotation.


Tire Rotation

This is useful for small cars and compact sedans and crossovers running the same tire size front and rear. It helps to rotate the tires every 6 months or so, not literally on the wheel, but to swap their positions – left front with right rear and right front with left rear. This also helps assess if the alignment is proper. Look for any signs of uncharacteristic wear or simply excess wear on one or more of the tires. If you do notice anything of the sort have the wheels aligned or, if needed, replace the tire.


Tire Replacement

Okay, so you’ve tried your best to maintain the correct tire pressure, you’ve checked for wear and rotated the tires as needed, but the time has come to switch the old for the new. There’s another thing you should try and do here. As far as possible replace both the front or rear tires as the case may be. Try and avoid replacing a single tire as it may lead to a change in the handling characteristics and feel of the car; especially if it happens to be one of the front tires. For some crossovers and SUVs that use an intelligent all wheel drive system, if the tires are the same size front and rear, are worn way past their prime and are close to needing replacement, you should ideally replace all four tires for the best results.

Also, it makes a lot of sense to stick to the manufacturer supplied tire size. However, if you feel you need more grip, and are ok with a slight drop in fuel economy, you can check for a manufacturer recommended up size as well. Of course, this is with reference to the tire width or profile; diameter would require a new set of wheel rims altogether.

Tire Size
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Tire Information

The outer sidewall of the tire is base for information of all kinds. The most useful of course are the size and the age. A typical tire size for an SUV would read something like 245/65 R17 105T. Here,

  • ‘245’ refers to the width or section of the tire in mm
  • ‘65’ is the profile or height of the rubber sidewall with reference to the section.
  • ‘17’ is the tire diameter in inches.
  • ‘R’ refers to the fact that the tire is a radial which means its construction involves the series of belts, including steel, to make it more durable and long lasting.
  • 105T refers to the load rating and type of application. Check with your tire dealer for detailed information about these codes.

Apart from the usual ‘R’ you may also notice SR, VR or ZR. These are the speed ratings of the tire. Z-ratings are usually found on high-performance tires where vehicle speed can exceed 300 km/h (186 mph).

Another important characteristic is tire life. You may notice a beveled oval bit with 4 digits within; something like 1511. In this example the tire has been manufactured in the 15th week of the year 2011. You should avoid purchasing tires that have been stocked for over a year.


So there you go, that’s probably all you need to know and be aware of to ensure you get the most performance out of your tires and, in turn, the best out of your motor vehicle.