Buying the right tires for your SUV can be a daunting experience. All those manufacturers' claims sound good, but choosing the best tire for your vehicle requires a little bit of knowledge before the rubber hits the road.
Did you know, for instance, that tires have 'void ratios'? This is a measure of the amount of open space in the tread. So a tire with a high void ratio means that it allows it to drain more water, making a good tire for wet, winter driving. And what about rubber compounds?
High-performance tires are designed to get 'sticky' when hot, so they hold the road better, while heavy-duty off-road tires need to be harder to stand up to the rigors of ruts, rocks and stones. More synthetic compounds are added to the rubber in high-performance tires, while more rugged tires stand around a 50/50 rubber-to-synthetic ratio. Inside the tire are layers of fabric knows as plies, and belts of steel, both of which help the tire maintain shape, resist punctures and hold the road. So then, how do you choose the right tire for your vehicle?
The first thing is to look at the letters. The most common are: A/T (all-terrain), LT (light truck), P (passenger), and MS (mud and snow). Other letters start to get confusing, such as R (radial), B (belted) or D (diagonal bias construction), but these letters aren't really important for most driving considerations. The last letter to consider is the speed rating - the higher the letter in the alphabet, the faster the tire is rated to go, starting with Q, at up to 100 mph. Obviously, for an SUV these letters aren't very important, either. Ok, so what about the numbers? Let's take the Michelins on a Range Rover Classic as an example. P205/80/R16. We already know that P stands for Passenger car-rated tire. It's a comfortable ride. The 205 is the tire's width - its 205 millimeters wide, taken at the sidewall at its widest point. The 80 stands for its Aspect Ratio, which is the ratio of its height to its width. In this case the tire's height is 80% of its width. The R, we know, stands for radial, and 16, which is the rim diameter, or the diameter of the rim in inches. For the Range Rover Classic, you can also buy a set of Nokian snow tires with the exact same configuration: P205/80/R16, but the unique tread design, rubber compound and tire structure used to create them is very different and designed for use in slippery winter conditions.
The bottom line? Determine which type of driving you're faced with, and purchase a set of tires - matched to your vehicle's rim diameter - that best suits it. Many people switch tires for winter and summer driving, which is always a good idea. As is keeping a careful monitor of your tire pressure. Under-inflation can reduce your tire's life dramatically, as it puts undue pressure on the shoulders instead of the tread, generating excessive heat, affecting gas mileage, and handling as well. One more thing. While you're checking your tire pressure, take a look at the tread. If the tires appear 'cupped' or are wearing more quickly on one side or the other, your wheels may either be out of balance or out of alignment. Have them rotated and aligned and you'll significantly increase your tire life, ride comfort, steering response and handling.
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