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Notes From The Road

Tire Buying Basics - Choose the Right Tires
By Mike Bumbeck /

New Math
While choosing the correct diameter of tire is an obvious choice, there is almost an algebra book's collection of number and letter designations on the sidewall of a modern tire. The biggest one is the most important and usually goes something like P235/70R15 87H. Reading from left to right the translation is this. The P stands for passenger. Easy. The 235 is the width of the tire in millimeters. The 70 is somewhat tricky. This number is the tire's aspect ratio, or percentage of the width that is the tire's height. A 70 series tire is 70 percent of the tire's width tall. The higher this number, the taller the tire, and vice versa. The R stands for Radial. Easy again. The 15 is the wheel diameter the tire will fit. The far right number is the load rating, and the final letter the speed rating. The higher each one of these is, the greater load and speed the tire is manufactured to handle. There is another number called the treadwear rating. This number gives an idea of how long the tire will last, or how fast it will wear out—depending on how you look at it. Read on.

Grip Versus Wear
Tire wear is dependent on the blend of natural and synthetic rubbers from which the tire itself is made. The recipes for these blends are what make the tires perform in one way or another. A softer, sticky, performance blend will help the vehicle hug the road, but won't bring long tire life along with it. An all-season M+S tire will bring long tire life and a smooth ride, but not the same blazing performance as a softer performance blend. Snow tires work best in the snow. Soft and sticky high-performance summer tires work best in the summer, and will turn hard as hockey pucks when the temperature drops. Off-road tires are built with mud, rocks, and gravel in mind, and as such don't play well on smooth pavement. The key point is that there is no single do-it-all perfect tire that works without compromise. Tires are manufactured to work best in a defined set of circumstances. Choosing the right tire rolls in behind first determining what kind of driving you do, and taking time to honestly examine your driving circumstances. That will go far in making the right decision the first time around.

Five Tire Buying Tips
  1. Your driving style and operating environment will determine the best tires for your vehicle. Be honest with yourself and your dealer.

  2. Tire performance is about compromise. High-performance tires wear quickly and can be noisy. Quiet, long-wearing tires sacrifice some performance.

  3. Consider a dedicated set of wheels for Snow Tires in winter climates. Always run with a full set of four snow tires.

  4. Don't mix and match types and ratings of tires. Handling and braking will suffer. Always replace tires as a set.

  5. Always use tires for their designed purpose. Off-road tires are useless on the highway, as are high-performance summer tires in wintry conditions.

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