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Car Tyre Ratings Sneaky Up-sell

Understand how to read your car tyre load and speed ratings so that you buy the correct tyre you need rather than an expensive tyre you don't.

New tyres were fitted to my car last week at the local tyre shop and do you know what's strange?  It seems I've had an upgrade to a higher performance specification of the tyres and I can't even remember asking for one.

Now I'm not saying they are bad tyres.  No doubt I got what I paid for.  The point is I didn't ask for a faster or greater load bearing tyre than what was fitted as original equipment when the car rolled off the showroom floor.  I was unknowingly upgraded to a tyre with greater load bearing and faster speed ratings because I didn't bother to look at my car tyre placard and understand what I actually need to buy for my car.

Previously in this blog I've written about the money wasted when we fill up with premium fuel that has higher octane than we need.  Fuel prices are constantly on our minds since we fill up regularly.  It's easy to forget the couple of dollars worth of rubber that is worn off the circumference of our tyres every time we commute to work and back.  Eventually it catches up and we head down to the tyre shop.  We are potentially buying more tyre than we really need unless we take a few simple steps to understand the exact requirement for our particular car.  And just like unleaded fuel, our vehicle manufacturer has already specified the correct tyre for our car to make our shopping around much easier.

How to read your Tyre Placard
A little knowledge upfront will improve your chances of making an informed choice of best fit for YOU and your budget.  The manufacturers of modern passenger cars specify the correct tyre to be fitted to the car on the tyre placard located in the glove-box or on the driver door pillar or under the bonnet of the car.  The tyre code listed on this placard, specifies the size, and the load-bearing and speed requirements of the tyre for the car.

The tyre code which I have circled in red specifies the size, load and speed requirements for the tyres on my car.  The load and speed symbol is underlined.

When replacing worn tyres on a passenger car, the most simple approach is a like-for-like replacement so that you can legally resume driving as before.  Let's assume you're happy with the size and profile of the original tyres and unless you want to mess about with the engineering of the vehicle, you'll have little choice but to replace each tyre with another one of the same size.  However when it comes to the load and speed ratings of the tyre product, there is room for an upgrade, and the tyre shop will happily sell you their preferred brand of high performance tyres which may exceed your placarded requirements.

Tyre Size
The first part of the tyre code 195/55R15 is specifying the size.  It matches the code imprinted on the sidewall of all four tyres.  That code means that the tyre should be 195mm wide, have a height profile which is 55% of the width and be a Radial tyre for a 15 inch rim.  You are unlikely to want to deviate from this size specification during routine replacement of worn tyres.  You can see below that the tyre size is the same for my front and rear tyres as you would expect.

Load and Speed
You may have noticed that the load and speed rating in the placard of 84V matches only one of the tyres in the above photos.  A load rating of 84 means 500kg per tyre, and a speed code of V means 240km/h.  But my new front tyres have a load rating of 85 which means 515kg per tyre.  The tables I have used to determine the index are here

My new tyres have a load bearing capacity exceeding my tyre placard.  There may well have been a good reason for this and one small upgrade may not seem like much to worry about.  Now I run a mixed set of tyres, which I expect is safe, but when it comes time to replace my worn front tyres, there will be justification to fit tyres with a load rating of 85 to match the existing pair.  And so the cycle continues.  I have also seen this done with speed ratings, gradually edging up to higher performing tyres over time.

If you rotate your tyres at regular intervals aiming for uniform wear across all four, then you may replace all tyres at one time.  You then have the opportunity to fit four tyres which are exactly the same and can choose to return to original equipment level of performance if that is what you desire and it better suits your budget.

Your Tyre Short List
Armed with the tyre code from your tyre placard, you can visit the websites of your favourite brands of tyre, punch in the code, and examine the options available to you.  Alternatively you can usually enter your car make and model to find the recommended tyre.  My suggestion is to search for tyres both ways because I sometimes found slightly different options listed when I searched with the tyre code, compared with searching based on car make and model.

Price comparison is often not available on the tyre brand websites since what you are after is the fully fitted price.  I found the Tyre Right website to be very useful for this.  Vince Sorrenti provides hilarious running commentary as you step through the process of finding the right tyre.  I found myself messing about entering all sorts of car models just to hear what wisecrack Vince had to say about that car.

Once you understand the tyre codes and have a short list of tyres you like with some idea of prices, you're in a much stronger position at the counter of your local tyre shop to question any recommendations made and steer the deal a little more in your favour.  You might still go for the higher performing tyre but it will be a choice you make rather than a sneaky up-sell.

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