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Tires are something that some drivers tend to take for granted, and know very little about. We decided to help our readers with a powerful little primer on winter tires and their importance. Our writer talks to industry leaders who share their words of wisdom..

A press release by the Rubber Association of Canada this spring noted a dramatic increase in the number of motorists who were driving with properly inflated tires on their cars after a study by DesRosiers Automotive Consultants.

The study found that: “The number of personal vehicles rolling on improperly inflated tires has fallen dramatically since 2003, advancing both road safety and fuel efficiency”
“Forty-nine per cent of the vehicles inspected had at least one tire that was under-or over-inflated.”

Certainly an improvement over the previous survey, which showed 71 percent of vehicles with one or more under-or over-inflated tire, 23 percent of which were under-inflated by 23% or more. That figure had decreased to 10% in the most recent survey.

The release went on to say: “Significantly higher numbers of Canadian drivers understand that tire under-inflation wastes fuel. When asked why tire inflation was important, the top two reasons cited by four-in-five drivers surveyed were safety and fuel efficiency.”

While the survey showed a large increase in driver awareness when it comes to proper tire care, it was not all good news, as the release pointed out:

“While the survey’s findings clearly show that Canadian drivers are more knowledgeable about their tires, the study also revealed major information gaps that need to be filled.”

“Properly inflated tires deliver the exceptional performance that tire makers want every consumer to have,” says Glenn Maidment, president of the Rubber Association of Canada said in the release. “Drivers need to know that improperly inflated tires increase stopping distance; lessen vehicle stability, particularly when cornering; waste fuel and shorten tire life. All it takes to get the outstanding performance your tires are designed to deliver is a reliable tire gauge and five minutes each month to measure and, if necessary, adjust your tire pressures.”

During a conversation, the Rubber Association of Canada’s communication manager Gilles Paquette spoke about a simple drop in temperature. “If the temperature drop was significant,” Paquette stated, “your tires could be under-inflated by one-to-two pounds.

“That may not sound significant, but when you consider that 95 percent of your vehicle’s weight is carried by the tire inflation and pressure, and not the actual physical tire itself, which only accounts for five percent of the support, two pounds per square inch becomes much more significant.”

“Be Tire Smart – Play Your PART is a national public education campaign designed to encourage Canadian motorists to adopt good tire maintenance practices,” as noted on their web site

Be Tire Smart recommends motorists check their tire pressure at least once a month, using a good quality tire gauge. “There was a time,” Paquette notes, when “You’d wait until there was some physical sign when it’s almost too late and there’s damage to the tire,” adding: “(Improper tire pressure) has a huge effect on breaking. The contact patch with the road surface isn’t 100 percent, no matter whether you’re over-inflated or under-inflated, so therefore your breaking is minimized and your breaking distances are increased.”

It only stands to reason, with the entire operation of your vehicle depending on those four patches of rubber maintaining a proper contact with the road surface, other facets of the car’s performance, such as cornering, ride quality and fuel consumption will be affected by a loss of contact with the road surface.

Be Tire Smart estimates that: “Improper tire maintenance practices collectively cost Canadians approximately $500 million a year and cause 1.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere.”

But, while improper inflation may be a major reason that your tires do not perform the way auto manufacturers and tire builders expected, there are other things that affect tire life and performance, and there are things that can be done by vehicle owners to bring that performance to the level that you enjoyed when you first purchased the vehicle.
For example, tires should be aligned annually, rotated regularly and balanced approximately every 20,000 miles.

Obviously, tread wear should be watched carefully and tires replaced as necessary.
According to Be Tire Smart, “Improper tire maintenance practices collectively cost Canadians approximately $500 million a year and cause 1.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere.”

So what is the best policy when the time comes to replace your tires? Gilles Paquette points out: “The manufacturer, when they are shopping for a tire, they have criteria that they want, they want a fuel-efficient vehicle, they want something that will promote as much fuel efficiency as possible, maybe give certain handling characteristics to the vehicle, depending on whether it’s a sports model or so on.

They pick the tire as original equipment for their vehicle. Well those tires that they’re choosing, are higher performance, they’re asking more and more out of the tire, out of the tire manufacturers, so therefore you’re seeing higher speed-rated tires going on vehicles and ultra-high performance tires going on new vehicles today, which is different than, say, 15 years ago, when a tire was a tire, and an all-season tire was an all-season tire.

“Now you’ve got fine tuned characteristics, so now that car is in the consumer’s hands and he needs to replace the tires, and needs to keep in mind, when they bought that car, they bought it because of how quiet it is, how smooth over the bumps and so on. When they price an exact tire for that vehicle, it may be a $300 tire and the consumer gets sticker shock on that tire, then says my budget’s 100 bucks max for a tire, show me the $100 tires.

That’s where the tire professional comes into play. A good retailer will explain the effects and the differences that you’re going to have by getting the $100 tire versus a $300 tire, and he will even explain why this tire has a 130,000 km warranty, and the other one only lasts 60,000 km – he’ll be able to explain the performance characteristics that that person had with the original tire they will not get out of the cheaper tire that they’re putting on – They may be disappointed when, two weeks later, they find their car is running much louder; they may find that their fuel efficiency is not as good, just to name a couple of things

The market drives certain types of products as well, where consumers want their tires to last as long as possible for the price that they pay, so when you’re seeing replacement tires, you’re seeing a lot of different products on the market.”

One of the professionals Paquet talks of is Hil Lord, manager of Miller Tire’s Ilsley Ave. store in Dartmouth, NS.

“You have to look at the fact that the vehicle manufacturer has built the vehicle to a certain specification and wanted a certain handling characteristic out of it and the only way you’re going to get that is by maintaining the same, or greater, speed rating capability,” Lord says.

Speed rating is a factor, even at city speeds. The load index takes care of the weight. The load index they compare with the two, speed and weight, so you’re going to have a load index which is going to tell you how much weight that vehicle can carry, or that tire can carry, at a given pressure. You should just follow the manufacturers’ specs, either meet the manufacturers’ specs, or increase it. You don’t want to go the other way. There’s basically 10 different speed ratings.

We would have that information and the consumer would have that information, because it’s going to be on the tire placard on the door. Many don’t read it though. That’s when we floor them with the high price of tires.”

But, according to Lord: “There’s usually lots of options. Even if they don’t go to the top shelf, there’s usually an option, but tires are one of those things you get what you pay for – the higher end product generally does give you better longevity to the tire.”

Lord also has some good advice for the upcoming winter season: Go with full snow tires. All-weather tires are not as good, he says, “It’s the way to go, the additional traction for the ice.

The other factor is, even though it is a snow tire, a snow and ice tire, as most of them are nowadays, you’ve got to keep in mind that most of your driving is on dry pavement so this is where the speed ratings and load index is very important to the vehicle, you still want this car to maintain the same handling characteristics in the winter as what you have in the summer – you still have to look at the fact that the vehicle manufacturer has built the vehicle to a certain specification and wanted a certain handling characteristic out of it and the only way you’re going to get that is by maintaining the same, or greater, speed rating capability.”

Lord also points out the advantages of using nitrogen in your tires instead of air. “The pressure remains much more consistent (than air) so you don’t have as much swing in your pressures,” Lord notes. “Nitrogen sales have definitely gone up versus what it had been. It’s definitely much more prevalent now.”

It’s something Paquette agrees with. “Nitrogen is definitely becoming more and more common place,” he says and notes many tire dealers are now using nitrogen to power their tools, such as air guns. “I know the machinery is coming down in price as we move through the years, so I think it’s becoming more affordable for people, the smaller shops to get it”

“The nitrogen basically, it’s just a larger molecule than oxygen so therefore it takes more energy for it to react, to fluctuate, so therefore you have more stable pressures by inflating with it, and the same would be true with the shop tools because there’s no humidity. The fact that humidity is removed is a benefit to the tools in curbing oxidation wherever nitrogen is found”

Paquette finished our chat with a couple of helpful observations:

“One thing that consumers, or individuals, whether they are in the industry or not need to know, that it’s important to measure your tire pressure and maintain it. If you’re going to do nothing else, at least maintain that tire pressure. It will save an enormous amount of fuel. Collectively it can save millions of gallons, millions of litres of fuel every year if we collectively properly maintain our tire pressure.

“On the dealer side, I would say, it’s our industry, dealers are the front line to the customers, it’s important for them to dissimilate this information to their clients. Their clients will appreciate them for it, and they’re being environment stewards for doing so and safety stewards as well, so they’ll only be appreciated. Their consumers will only appreciate this important information and if the tire dealers need some support, need some supporting material, is here to provide them with materials, we have brochures on proper tire maintenance, and so on to help and educate their customers, they can leave with their customer.”

Much, much more in the print addition of Auto Atlantic.
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