Cooper’s Discoverer tires, designed specifically for SUVs.
When most of us shop for cars, safety is an important factor: we embrace new technologies like lane keep assist, back up cameras, blind spot monitors and adaptive cruise control.
But one of the most important safety factors is old school – the tires. I got an important safety lesson at the Cooper Tire Ride and Drive, at the launch of the tire company’s new SUV Discoverer tire.
The 101 year old company has a research and development facility outside San Antonio where it evaluates tires and a group of mom bloggers and writers got to play tire tester for a day. One of the unique elements is a wet pad, a 14 acre field flooded with 20,000 gallons of water where we drove in a number of different exercises. [Note: the environmentalist in me was pleased to discover that the water used is recycled].
One exercise involved driving – really, really fast – around a curvy course. We did this in a Chevy Tahoe equipped with a competing premium tire brand and every one of us hydroplaned, skidded or basically lost control of the vehicle. It was both frightening and exhilarating – in the wide open space, the only danger was to the orange cones delineating our course.
Oh, and to our egos – at least for those of us who don’t like to lose control We were also timed on our speed through the course. We each drove with a Cooper Tire pro who was like a boot camp instructor, urging us to go faster, faster, faster until we spun out.
Then, we drove the same course with the new Cooper tires. The Tahoe now gripped the road, never spun out or fishtailed and demonstrated how better tires increased safety on wet or snowy roads.
New tires all around?
We also learned about tire replacement. Cooper tires are mostly replacement tires, not original equipment (OE in the car company lingo) and some consumers, looking to save a few bucks, only replace two tires when they should buy a full set.
But they also don’t always put the new tires in the proper place. We had another driving exercise, in a sporty BMW, first with new tires in the front and worn out ones in the rear, then with new tires in the rear and the worn out treadless tires up front. You would think – wherever you put those new tires, they would help, right?
You would be wrong.
Whether you have all wheel drive, front wheel drive or a rear wheel drive car, the safest place to put those two new tires is in the rear. Driving through the wet course, several writers spun completely around when they drove the BMW with the new tires in the front. I felt like I was on a Disney ride, hydro-planing across the field with the new tires in the front – I literally had no traction and knocked over a shocking number of cones. Had I been driving in traffic I would likely have hit another car, or a pedestrian, or skidded off the road.
Road to recovery
Driving through these conditions, and having to recover, was a great refresher – once most people learn to drive, they never take another driving lesson. All drivers would probably benefit from time at the Cooper Tire facility, and the wet pad is such an unusual feature that other tire companies rent it out to test their products.
When should you replace your tires?
Cooper tires have a patented Wear Square embedded in their tires to indicate when you should replace them. The square becomes an exclamation point when it is time to replace.
And the Wear Square not only shows when to replace tires but when to rotate them – if the inner and outer squares are wearing at different rates you may need to re-align your tires or rotate them. And the Cooper tire folks recommend that you cross rotate – right front goes to left rear and vice versa. This is also the best way to get full value from your tires – they last longer.
What kind of tires should you buy?
Ok, so new tires aren’t the sexiest part of your car -it’s like buying a new water heater instead of refinishing your floors. But you need the heat in your house and you require the tires for your car. The tires you need depend on the kind of car you drive and where you drive it – we learned about the different rubber compounds that go into tires, and the different needs, from winter driving to cars that lives their lives south of the Mason Dixon line.
But just to get our hearts pumping, we did get a lesson in the sexy part of cars and tires. Professional race car driver Johnny Unser gave us each a ride in a Corvette Stingray Z06 outfitted with Cooper’s ultra high performance Zeon RS3-S tires. These ‘hot laps’ were 90 mph plus thrill rides, with sharp turns and donuts. And we were happy to have great tires to keep us safe – along with helmets and a big bottle of Dramamine.