Tires are one of those things most of us just do not know much about--or do not really care to know.
They are black, they are inflated, they give traction. That's about it.
Pat Lazzaro wants you to know more about tires. Not as much as she knows--she is a race driver, crew mechanic and spokeswoman for Bridgestone Tires--but enough to let you make an intelligent purchase.
Lazzaro's pitch is aimed primarily at women. Almost half of all new cars are bought by women, and four in 10 adult women buy tires on their own. (But pay attention, male readers: You can learn something too.)
While doing her research, Lazzaro posed as a typical woman shopper. "I'd go into the tire store and usually get pointed over to this rack of information," says Lazzaro, who drives an economical Ford Festiva on regular roads and Formula Four race cars on the track. "It was all so technical on how the belts are laid out and so on. I don't want to be a tire engineer, I just want to put tires on my car."
So Lazzaro helped to write a 14-page booklet called "Tire Tips" for Bridgestone.
First, you need to be able to decipher what Lazzaro calls the "tiro-glyphics" coding on the tire. Take a Potenza model No. RE71, for example. Printed on the tire is P205-60VR14. Let's translate: P means it's a passenger tire, 205 means its millimeters wide, 60 is its height (60% of the 205 millimeters, V is the speed rating, R means radial and 14 is the diameter of the wheel in inches.
"It's like buying shoes," Lazzaro says. "It depends on what you want to do with them. Tires have the same kind of labeling. An all-season tire in the kind of climate where you get rain and snow and dry weather is ideal. In the compounding of the tire, they build in resistance, so it holds up under all conditions."
You will also see on the tire the Uniform Tire Quality Grading, such as 150 AB. To estimate the expected mileage life, multiply that number times 200. (The expected mileage in this example would be 150 x 200, or 30,000 miles.)
The first letter, A, is the traction grade, indicating how well the tire should hold the road. This grade is marked A, B or C, with A the best. The second letter stands for heat resistance. Again, A is the best rating.
The most popular tire is the radial. Industry sources say about nine in 10 tire purchases are radials. They last longer than bias-ply or belted-bias tires because they are built in a way that minimizes heat buildup from friction. They also improve fuel efficiency.
Whether your car has front-wheel or rear-wheel drive can make a difference.
"In a front-wheel-drive car, those front tires are doing all the work," Lazzaro says. "It's important to keep the front end aligned and to rotate the tires every 5,000 to 8,000 miles. If you keep your car maintained at the proper intervals, you'll extend the life of the tires."
The single greatest cause of damage to tires is improper inflation. "Invest the couple of bucks in a tire gauge and check the pressure once a week or so," Lazzaro says.