Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Choose the Right Shoes: Why Tire Selection Matters

In the BCP Facebook group comments on last week's post, my buddy Kent mentioned that tire selection was a critical part of maintaining traction in your vehicle, and he's not wrong. The right tire can make all the difference in your drive, but the wrong tire can ruin your day.

Car people sometimes refer to tires as "shoes," and the analogy is an appropriate one for our purposes. If you were to look in my closet, you'd see hard-toed work boots, running shoes, and a couple pairs of Vans. Each of these types of shoes has a particular purpose, just like each type of tire has a particular purpose.

My truck wears A/T, or "all terrain" tires. These tires are made of a tough rubber compound with many layers or "plies" of rubber and heavy lugs on the tread. Think of these as work boots or hiking boots for your car. They provide great durability and traction, at the cost of noise, ride comfort, and fuel economy.

My wife's SUV rides on all-season tires. They're a decent general purpose tire, OK for everything but not particularly good at anything. They provide a good balance of ride comfort, fuel economy, and quiet running, but gain that by trading durability and traction. They're usually made of a softer rubber, with fewer layers. They also tend to have smaller, lighter tread lugs, but can be had in heavier patterns. These are kind of like my Vans.

My sports car runs a performance tire. Much like a running shoe, this is a more narrow selection window. These tires offer great traction on dry roads, with a very soft compound and minimalist lugs on the tread. They tend to wear out quickly, and offer virtually no grip on wet or snowy roads, or in cold weather. These are only really effective on good weather days, and running them outside of those conditions presents an increased risk.

I also have a pair of snow boots in my closet. Think of dedicated snow tires as snow boots for your car. They're only really appropriate in the season of snow and cold, but when they're called for, there is nothing better. They offer the maximum traction in cold, wet, snowy conditions, but wear quickly when run in hot environments. Some are also made with steel studs. These tires are only appropriate in areas where the snow and ice never completely clear, and in many areas are illegal to run outside of particular dates considered to be "winter driving season." The most common way to use and preserve snow tires is to buy an inexpensive pair of spare wheels for your vehicle, and keep the snow tires mounted on those. At the beginning of winter, you simply remove your summer wheels and tires from your drive wheels and put on the snow set. As winter comes to an end, swap back to the summer tires and store your snows until Old Man Winter comes knocking again.

Pick the right shoes for the job your feet are doing. Pick the right tires for the job your vehicle is doing.


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