By Shari Prymak
Modern day cars are equipped with incredible technology like active torque vectoring all-wheel drive systems, electronic brake force distribution with regenerative braking, electronic stability control, the list goes on and on. And you know what? None of it is really worth a hoot if the car is not equipped with the right tires. They are honestly that important, which is why it is beneficial to know a few things about them.
Tires come in a huge variety of sizes, dimensions, and types, all designed for different applications and a range of conditions. When it comes down to it though, there are basically three types of tires: all-season, winter, and summer/performance.
The majority of cars sold today are equipped with ordinary all-season tires. This is mainly because car manufacturers see them as the best well-rounded type of tire; they are an all in one compromise solution. Although they work well enough for most people in a wide range of driving conditions, the simple fact is that like most compromised solutions, all-season tires simply don’t do any one particular thing that well. They are far from the best performing type of tire in warm weather, and they positively suck in the winter in anything more than 1-2 centimetres of snow.
So what is the best type of tire for the warmer months of the year? Well, that depends on the type of car. A performance oriented car would benefit from having a proper set of high performance summer tires. These are made of hard compounds with shallow tread designs which are designed to handle high cornering speeds and provide high levels of driver feedback. Quite simply, if you have a sporty, performance oriented car, get a set of high performance summer tires. They typically don’t last as long as other types of tires, but they will make your car perform the way it was meant to. For those with more sedate ordinary cars with more relaxation/comfort based driving styles, a set of grand touring all-season tires with low rolling resistance will do nicely. These types of tires are designed for comfort, low noise, long service life, and the low-rolling resistance adds to the fuel economy of the car.
When the cold winter months roll around, there are no ifs, ands, or buts, we Canadians must all use a set of four dedicated winter tires on our cars. It doesn’t matter whether your car is front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive, winter tires are a must. The soft compounds, combined with deep intricate tread designs, help to deliver levels of cold-weather traction and performance unachievable by any other type of tire. We are not just talking about getting stuck in the snow prevention here, winter tires vastly improve cold-weather braking performance, cornering performance, acceleration, overall car control, and accident avoidance.
For optimum practicality and performance, winter tires should be purchased in the thinnest suitable size for your car and with their own set of rims. Thinner tires work better in the winter, and matching them with their own rims makes them easier and cheaper to change between seasons. Ideally, winter tires should be installed on steel rims, not alloys, for as few reasons: 1) Steel rims are heavier than alloy rims which aids in traction. 2) Unlike alloys, if they get bent they can be unbent with a big hammer. 3) They are cheap, durable, and ugly, which makes them perfect for winter; do you really want to ruin your nice alloy rims by constantly getting road salt and grime all over them? Buying a set of winter tires and rims may seem like a steep outlay of cash at first, but the benefits are undeniable, and the money will eventually be redeemed because you will save on using your other set of tires for 4-5 months of the year.
A relatively new type of tire, called the runflat tire, has emerged on the market, and it is even being used as factory equipment on certain new cars. Unlike ordinary tires, runflat tires have super stiff side walls which can support the weight of the car if the tires should happen to puncture and deflate. As a result, you can continue to drive on punctured runflat tires for around a hundred kilometres or so without needing to change them, eliminating the need for a spare. The downsides to these types of tires which have been publicized so far are higher purchase and installation costs, shorter tire life, heavier weight, and a generally stiffer ride when compared to ordinary tires.
Using the appropriate types of tires for your car will vastly improve your cars performance and safety. Remember, it doesn’t matter what kinds of high tech gizmotronics your car is equipped with, the bottom line is that tires are the only buffer between the road and your car, and if they cant do the job they are meant to, both performance and safety will be compromised. Tires do their part, so do yours and shop wisely.