Good Tyres, Bad Tyres, What’s the Difference anyway?
Because so much of the detail of a tyre is hidden from view, and it doesn’t mean much to the average tyre buyer anyway, the customer feels quite entitled to ask “Why does this tyre cost more than that tyre, and what does the difference mean to me anyway?”
Because more often than not, the tyre is presented in a vertical stack alongside other tyres, the salesperson is quite likely to launch into a comparison of tread and buttress design and width, tread pattern design, accompanied by claims of superior mileage, roadholding, reliability, and “it’s on special this week only” sales presentation. The reason is that either the customer can see these things for themselves, or can conceptualise, or are prepared to accept because the salesman obviously knows more than they do.
The question remains though – “why does this tyre cost more than that tyre?” It’s a valid question from the customer’s point of view. Why do some tyres cost more than others, and is it worth it to buy the more expensive tyre?
So start with “how recent is the design?” Most new tyre designs (sizes, patterns, constructions) are brought into production to meet the requirements of the design engineers of new cars. If they didn’t ask for particular improved tyre attributes, then the design process would stagnate. They drive the improvements, to meet design parameters that they want to incorporate in their new car design. This process goes on worldwide, all the time.
The tyre company, needing their business, designs, qualifies, tests extensively, government certifies their new tyre design, and submit prototypes to the car company for evaluation on their new design car. To this stage, this has cost a great deal of money in technical resources, tooling costs, mould manufacture, and qualifying testing. Then they wait while the car company engineers evaluate their tyres against others from competing tyre companies. So there is no certainty that these prototype tyres will ever see enough of a production run to amortise their development costs.
Remember, each new car has at least 4 new tyres, possibly 5.
So hurrah, at last the car company accepts the tyre for production, and contracts for supply at a particular rate at 12 hour’s notice is arranged, at a price that is barely adequate.
Then, after two to three years, replacement tyres are required by the car buyer from a retail tyre store, in competition with tyres from all over the world in the same size. This is possible because of currency alignments, and because tyres are all made to conform to the same standards regarding size dimensions, speed and load carrying capacity.
But there emerge major differences in appearance, because the car engineers may have specified a quiet riding tyre for a saloon, whereas more eye-appealing tyres from say Europe in the same size may have been designed for a more sporty vehicle; or advertising campaigns, consumer reviews may influence both retailer and buyer; the reputation of the brand definitely carries weight; word of mouth approval; bulk package deals from wholesaler to the retailer; or simply the skill of the salesman in influencing the customer’s choice, based on questioning the customer as to the application of the tyre. Always in the background, is the appeal of low price.
Another 3 years on, another 60000 kilometres, time’s moved on, probably the car’s changed hands, the pattern is no longer available (the moulds do wear out), fashion has changed, tooling costs have been recovered, so the price of the product has been lowered to meet competition and retain market share. Besides, 18 inch wheels have superseded 15 inch- that wasn’t so long ago, was it! Your once newly developed tyre has now become the price leader into the tyre shop so that hopefully you will buy something better, more modern, better performing, more costly.
Tyres are all fat and black, look the same from the outside, they’re almost all truly round these days, and the detail of the construction differences are inside the casing. However, small differences inside add up to small improvements in braking, handling, cornering, steering response (lane changing ability), quietness, and harshness over concrete road joins, durability under high speed/high load conditions, and other measurable improvements. All carry a cost, improvements are small, but when it comes to the crunch, may make a difference to your comfort or wellbeing. Just the design of the tread pattern, the scrambling of the tread elements to break up the noise generated, can add considerably to the cost of the mould. Then you have to have the I.T. expertise to be able to produce the noises the pattern makes on a computer first.
If you buy a bad tyre, it will be with you for a long time.
Tread life isn’t the be all and end all. A survey of Australian motorists some years ago showed that the quality most desired in a tyre was the ability to stop, and handle, in the wet. Perhaps the average motorist is more discerning than they are given credit for!