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Better Fuel Economy Could Mean Worse Tires

Photo courtesy of Goodyear

A study released by J.D. Power and Associates last Thursday shows that car buyers are not happy with the run-flat and low-rolling resistance tires automakers use to improve fuel efficiency.

According to the study, run-flat tires, commonly used on performance sport cars and luxury vehicles, have about a 6,000-mile shorter life span than standard tires. These tires have to be replaced more often than conventional tires and often have to be replaced in pairs. This could make for a costly expense sooner than what owners had planned on.

USA Today says that “more automakers are equipping cars with run-flat tires, which can keep rolling for enough miles to get to a gas station or tire store, rather than putting a traditional spare tire to the trunk. The spare adds more weight to the car, which burns more gas.”

Brent Gruber, director, global automotive division at J.D. Power and Associates, says, “Automakers are trying to reach the next level of fuel economy, and are looking to their suppliers--in this case, tire manufacturers--to help them get there. The challenge is doing this while finding tires that meet customers’ expectations. Run-flat tires are not currently meeting those expectations.”

Customers are also hesitant about low-rolling resistance tires because of what they may have to give up for better fuel economy, according to the survey. Most of them are concerned that traction and the tire’s durability are worse on low-rolling resistance tires than standard tires.

"While the marketing of low-rolling resistance tires has primarily focused on fuel efficiency, tire manufacturers may also benefit from advertisements that help educate consumers about the traction and dependability of the tires," said Gruber. "Consumers don't fully understand the benefit of low-rolling resistant tires. They believe they are forfeiting important aspects of tire performance by opting for low-rolling resistant tires, yet don't know how much improvement in fuel efficiency they should expect in return."

In an interview with The New York Times, Goodyear says it supplies low-rolling resistance tires for the Toyota Prius and Chevy Volt among other fuel-efficient cars. Goodyear say the Assurance Fuel Max tires it uses for these vehicles improve traction and durability by 27 percent over the previous model of Assurance tires.

Michelin provided The New York Times with a graphic that explains how tire companies are making tires that perform well and help owners save on gas.

The New York Times also reports that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is updating labeling rules on tires that will help consumers choose the correct replacement tires. The labeling will add fuel-efficient grades, safety and durability. John Emerson, director of industry standards and government regulations at Michelin, tells The New York Times he expects to see these new rules mid-2013.

Before purchasing your new car, look to see what type of tires it comes with. If they are run-flat tires, expect to pay for some new tires sooner rather than later, and try to avoid scenarios that could result in a flat tire or blowout.

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