**One of our readers wanted to write an article in his area of expertise, which we are really happy to present.**
Most drivers know to look after their car, but few people put any real thought into why this is so important. Your car tires, specifically, are a great example. They are responsible for a great deal of your car’s driving capabilities and performance, yet most people don’t consider this when shopping for new tires.
If you’ve ever wondered just why tires are so important, here’s a look at how they influence your vehicle.
The Contact Patch
When you think about it, your tires are the only part of the car that (well, should) make contact with the road surface. No matter how good the engine is or how well designed the overall ride is, none of this matters if the tires aren’t precisely designed to offer the right driving parameters.
How effective would braking be, for instance, if the tires offered no grip? Likewise, how fuel efficient would your car be, if these products were not designed to reduce the various drag forces tire’s face? This includes aerodynamic drag, as well as the pneumatic trail – a force created by the tire rolling.
Of course there is also the question of friction between the tire and the ground. As you will see, this is one of the many important factors that tire designers have to take into account, as it is often a question of striking the right balance between various different characteristics.
As we just mentioned, the contact area is vital. This means the tire tread – the part of the tire designed to make contact – is just as crucial.
Different tread blocks and patterns have different properties. Directional patterns offer excellent traction, making them useful in winter. Similarly, asymmetric tires mix larger tread blocks on the outside (for traction) and smaller blocks (for wet grip) on the inside, along with sipes for redirecting water. This offers a balance between dry and wet performance, while other tire patterns (such as directional tires) may choose to specifically favor one condition. Of course, when tires have different directions and sides, this means you have to fit them in the correct manner to make the most of their beneficial properties.
Similarly, tires also incorporate various grooves and sips into their treads. These are designed to expel water to prevent aquaplaning – when this occurs, the water creates a layer between the tire and road, causing the car to ‘float’. It is these little details that ensure smooth, panic-free driving.
Winter tires often feature more grooves and sipes to remove water.
Finally, you also need to keep an eye on the tread depth. More than just obeying the legal minimums in your country, a tire that is worn down loses some of its properties. Grooves become more shallow and less efficient, for example, while a completely worn down tire has no tread blocks or sipes at all.
Likewise, the tire size is also important. A bigger tire offers a bigger contact patch, again changing how the car handles. Narrow tires, for instance, offer better grip, while a wider tire dissipates the pressure and weight from the vehicle. While the latter offers less grip, it makes it better on uneven surfaces, such as snow and slush.
In fact, more experienced drivers occasionally change their tire size to improve certain criteria. Of course, this can also have a negative impact on other areas, so it is always advised to stay with the recommended size for your vehicle, as indicated by the manufacturer in the manual or via an online tire size calculator.
Finally, it should be clear by now that a lot of effort goes into designing tire products, with the shape and size of the tire being a key issue. This also means that, as the driver, you have to maintain the tire in this shape and quality, which is why tire pressure is also vital.
A tire that is overinflated, for instance, will strain the tire material and cause the tire to be too large. This stiffness will actually reduce the contact area, causing excessive wear in the middle. It also cannot handle rough surfaces and irregularities in the road as well. With enough air pressure, they are also more susceptible to damage.
On the other hand, an underinflated tire can’t maintain its intended shape, defecting and bending as it rolls. This makes the car less fuel efficient and difficult to steer precisely. Just like overinflation, this can also cause excess damage, as the change in shape causes different parts of the tire to make contact with the ground.
Fortunately, car tire pressure is easy to check, but you should do so on a regular basis. The heat, both when driving and during particularly hot weather, can cause changes in air pressure, As a result, you should always check your tires when they are cold, as this is what the recommended values (again, determined by your manufacturer and found in your car manual) are quoted for.