Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tire talk: Kinds of Tires

No tire can handle every road condition and driving style perfectly. Positive attributes are always offset by negative factors, as the following list of tire types shows:

All-Season Tires: The Jack-of-all-trades of the tire world, and, as a result, they're the most compromised. They provide only adequate traction and handling, but they have long tread life and a smooth, quiet ride. They're also relatively affordable.

Touring All-Season Tires: These tires combine good handling with a civilized ride. Their performance oriented construction means that they?re somewhat noisier and harsher than regular all-season tires. They're also more expensive than regular all-season radials, but last just as long. Some manufacturer?s arbitrarily add "touring" to a tire?s name as a selling point.

Performance Tires: Wider tread and lower profiles combine good looks with good grip for precise, high-speed driving. Performance tires tend to have a harsh, noisy ride, relatively poor wet traction, bad snow traction, and they wear out faster than all-season radials. They?re also much more expensive. The price of ultra-high performance tires can cause your jaw to drop.

Conventional Snow Tires: Have chunky, aggressive treads that dig down to pavement covered by snow and ice. They?re noisy and handle poorly on dry roads. They're more expensive than all-season radials. They should last a long time, especially since they're only on the car for one season each year. Studded snow tires have tiny metal studs embedded in the tread for even better traction. (These days snow tire use is less common than in past decades. If you live in a place where it snows, and you drive a rear-wheel drive car, invest in a set of snow tires.)

"High-Tech" Snow Tires: Have precision engineered tread patterns and state-of-the-art multi-cell compounds which lend to good ice/snow traction and stopping ability. They can be used all year, but they?re noisy and somewhat clumsy on dry pavement. They're expensive and wear out quickly.

Light Truck Tires: Specifically designed for trucks and sport-utility vehicles, yet they are as diverse as passenger car tires. "Highway ribbed," on-road tires emphasize civilized ride and handling, while aggressive "off-road" or "mud tires" have a loud, harsh ride and sloppy handling on pavement. Light truck tires are more expensive than passenger car tires due to their larger sizes, higher load ratings and heavy-duty construction. Deep treads mean that they'll last a relatively long time.

There are a variety of specialty tires:

Rain Tires: Have a drainage channel in the tread that directs water away from the tire's surface more efficiently than conventional drainage grooves.

High Flotation Tires: Big, wide tires that people put on 4x4 trucks and sport-utilities so they can drive on the sand without sinking. These tires have poor traction in the ice and snow, so put those skinny, un-cool tires back on the truck for the winter.

Directional Tires: Have a "one-way" tread pattern optimized for the direction the tires rotate on the car.

Asymmetrical Tires: Combine multiple tread patterns in order to make a more well-rounded performance tire.

Self-Sealing Tires: Have a flexible inner-lining that seals around an object if punctured, stopping air loss.

"Twin" Tires: This setup employs two thin, "half-width" tires which are mounted on a special wheel. If one tire goes flat, the other "half" can still support the car.

"Run-flat" Tires: Use special rubber compounds and reinforced sidewalls that can support the car even when deflated -- allowing limited travel.

"Lifetime" Tires: Last for many years, as the name suggests. These tires wear out very slowly while delivering adequate traction.

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