It used to be that when a tire on your car or truck started to wear out you stopped by the service station on the corner or maybe local auto parts store for a replacement. That is no more.
The corner station is now a pump-your-own-gas convenience store, and the local auto supply store cannot begin to stock the dozens and dozens of sizes, ratings and choices needed to fit cars and trucks today. Faced with this bewildering array, how is the average driver to know what to buy and why?
“There are so many sizes; everything that comes out has something new on it,” said Drew Muldrew of Muldrew Tires in Denison. “In some cases different models of the same car will have different sizes.”
Tires used to mean Firestone, Goodyear, B.F. Goodrich, Cooper, Mohawk, and many smaller brands. Now, with mergers and acquisitions, the number of tire makers has dwindled even though the brand names made still exist. Muldrew said his biggest seller are made by Hankook, a South Korean company that is the seventh largest tire maker in the world.
In the last few years, one of the big trends in tires has been oversized wheels and low profile tires. People buy them as original equipment for the looks and then find out that to replace them when they wear out, which happens faster than with standard sizes and profiles, they cannot afford the rubber to meet the road.
“They don’t last as long, and they’re real easy to damage,” said Mulgrew. “Rough street and potholes are hard on these tires, and on the wheels too.”
Muldrew said the low profile tires actually provide some advantage in cornering and other high speed maneuvers, but that has to be offset against the actual type of driving you do.
“The aesthetic helps sell cars, but consumers rarely factor in the ongoing cost of maintenance.”
Bobby Godbey, the manager of Discount Wheel and Tire in Sherman, echoes that sentiment.
“When people buy these vehicles from the dealership, they buy from what it looks like,” he said. “They don’t think about what size tires are on it and what those tires will cost to replace. Then, the good looking wheels aren’t as good looking because of how expensive the tires are and because of how impractical the big wheels are. The bigger the wheels, the less sidewall you have, and they’re not really practical for everyday use because of the conditions of the roads. The less sidewall you have, the more risk of busting a tire when you hit a pothole, even at a low speed.”
Also factoring into the rising cost of tires is the ever increasing size of wheels. Fifteen-inch wheels used to be standard, with 14-inch and even 13-inch found on smaller cars. Today, 16-inch wheels are the norm and many new cars come with 17-wheels as standard equipment. Sometimes these increased sizes are dictated by engineering, as higher performance and higher speeds call for larger brake discs and calipers, but cosmetic factors also play a part here as with the style of the tire.
“People need to know whether they’re looking for a long lasting tire or a high-performance tire,” said Godbey. “When I talk with someone, I try to figure out what sort of tire will suit them and they’re driving habits the best.”
The sight of a car on the side of the road with a driver laboriously changing a flat tire is become rare. It is not so much that flats do not happen, as it is that more and more new cars do not have spares or the equipment, a jack and a lug wrench, to change a flat tire. This change is not something car dealers emphasize, and often a buyer may not realize there is no spare, not even the once ubiquitous doughnut, in the car or truck.
Today, a new car is more likely to have an aerosol can of sealant that is supposed to seal the puncture and re-inflate the tire, at least long enough to get you someplace to buy a new one.
Apart from road hazards, the most common problem affecting tire wear is chronic under inflation. With no service station attendant to check the pressure anymore, many drivers rarely stick a pressure gauge on their tires. Low pressure causes tire to wear unevenly, increases resistance and hence tire temperatures. That, plus the scorching condition of summer roads and highways softens tires causing them to wear out faster. Improper alignment and the failure to regularly rotate tires are also factors in premature tire wear and failure.
“Another problem with bigger tires and wheels is less actual air volume,” said Godbey. “When the tire pressure light comes on, you better get some air in that tire right away, or you’re going to be buying a new tire.”
When you think about it, for all the improvements in automobile and truck, the only part of the vehicle that connects it to terra firma is that small patch where the rubber meets the road. It is not much, but everything is riding on it, so drivers would do well to pay closer attention to that connection.