What to Know About Tires Before You Buy

A Girls Guide To Cars | What To Know About Tires Before You Buy - Fullsizerender
Are your tires up to the challenge? Image: Nicole Wakelin

Once you know, it’s easy.

Most of us don’t think twice about those rings of black rubber until something goes wrong. We head to a shop that smells like tires and is full of displays about tires that do more to confuse than inform. We often rely on the salesperson behind the counter to suggest what they think is best. But the more information you know when you go into the shop and the more information about your driving habits you can provide to that guy behind the counter, the better your chances of picking the right tire for your needs.

We spent a day with the folks from BFGoodrich learning about what makes their tires different and why it’s a good idea to know a little something about tires before you make that big purchase.

The cost factor: cheap isn’t always best

A key factor for many people is cost. Tires are not cheap and going with the least expensive option rather than spending a little extra holds a lot of appeal. The fact that tires often need to be replaced because something goes wrong unexpectedly means there’s not any time to budget for the expense. It’s tempting to try and save a buck.

The reality is, not all tires are created equal and going with a cheap tire isn’t always the best solution. There are genuine differences in what you get between brands and tire styles. It’s worth it to go into the shop armed with a little knowledge so you can make a better decision about which tires to purchase.


Tire Buying Tips

That little square of paper is how much of your tire touches the road. Photo Credit: Nicole Wakelin

What the heck is a contact patch? And why you need to know (this might terrify you)

Take out a piece of 8.5″ x 11″ paper. Fold it in half and then fold it in half again so you have a small square of paper in your hands. That’s about the size of the contact patch, which is how much of each of your tires touches the road at any time. Your tires may be big, but it’s a really small section that is actually doing the work from moment to moment.

You’re asking those four small patches of rubber to keep you in place at high speed and in control no matter the weather. Your tires are a huge factor in keeping you safe, so make sure you’re not using cost alone to pick the right ones. Going with the cheapest option might not be in your best interest.

The rubber in every tire is not the same. Each rubber reacts differently to changes in temperature and changes in road conditions. Keeping summer tires on a car in the winter means that contact patch is in trouble and you’re more likely to loose control. It’s just as bad to keep winter tires on your car during hot weather. Make sure you buy a tire designed for the conditions you’ll be driving in on a regular basis.

The sidewall matters too

A crucial area on any tire is the sidewall, the smooth area on either side of the tire tread. It doesn’t generally touch the pavement, but it can take quite a beating. Off-road adventurers need to pay particular attention to this area of the tire.

A branch or rock that pops from underneath the contact patch is prone to poking that sidewall. A weak sidewall is then prone to being punctured. You don’t want to face this when you’re out on the trail any more than you want to deal with it on the way to work.

A stronger sidewall costs more to make, so here’s where the cost comes into play. Yes, you can go cheap and get a thinner sidewall, but that choice may not work out in the end. If you buy a cheap tire with a thin sidewall, you’ll likely be replacing it sooner. Not only can that cost more money, it’s also a hassle that eats up more of your precious time.

BFGoodrich Tires

BFGoodrich makes some pretty heavy duty tires. We’re talking the kinds of tires used in ridiculous endurance races across rugged terrain. You’ll find them on the vehicles that survive the insanity of races like the Baja 1000, where a tire failure is the difference between winning and losing.

The engineers behind those tires have done loads of research and testing to make sure that your tires, although maybe not up to running the Baja 1000, are definitely up to handling the rigors of everyday driving.

Each tire is designed to perform best in certain circumstances. If you off-road, then you need a different tire than someone who cruises the highway to work and nothing more. It’s important to communicate how and where you drive to any salesperson so they can help give you the right choices.

Tire Buying Tips

Testing tires with the Ford Mustang. Photo Credit: Nicole Wakelin

Putting the tires to a real world test

It’s one thing to be told that choosing the right tires matter, but it’s another to experience the difference. BFGoodrich gave us the chance to drive cars with their tires and competitive tires from other brands. We had the exact same cars and the exact same courses. They even had tire pressure gauges on hand so we could verify there was no funny business going on with the inflation.

They set us up with Advantage T/A Sport, All-Terrain T/A KO2, and g-Force Comp-2 A/S tires to test out three of their newest offerings. Each has a different target customer from everyday drivers to off-road enthusiasts to performance drivers. All three tires were put to the test

We hit the gas and then slammed on the brakes to see how quickly the cars stopped, maneuvered through cones set up in a twisting course, and even tried out some moves on a wet course. The BFGoodrich tires made a difference.

The experience was the same for the journalists and tire sales people on hand at the event. The BFGoodrich tires stopped us sooner and with more control. They also let us swerve through those orange cones at higher speeds because they gripped the road more securely.

You won’t be in a controlled environment when you need to stop suddenly. There won’t be an instructor sitting next to you telling you when to hit the brakes and instead of orange cones there will be other cars and people in your path.

Does a good set of tires make a difference? Absolutely.