The biggest misconception regarding speed ratings today is that all they tell you is how fast a tire is capable of going. Wrong! The speed rating—or more accurately the performance rating of a tire—means much more than that. It also indicates the tire's cornering and stopping capability as well as its ability to maneuver the vehicle in an emergency situation.
When you consider all these factors, the speed rating reflects more than just the speed capability of the tire. It affects the overall safe operation of the vehicle as well.
So, why is it that every day tire dealers are installing tires with a performance rating lower than what the vehicle maker calls for? Did you know that if you ask this of a COSTCO outlet they will refuse? They'll tell you to go elsewhere if they don't stock tires having the proper speed rating.
I think that's a sad fact considering we are supposed to be the most knowledgeable professionals in this industry. The need to address this issue is long overdue.
It's time the tire industry came up with a hard-and-fast rule as to what is—and is not—acceptable when it comes to speed-rated tires.
Manufacturers must take the bulk of the responsibility for this problem. I think it is completely irresponsible for them to produce a product they know is being misused. As long as they continue making non-speed-rated tires for applications they know require a speed-rated tire, there will be problems.
As the professionals in this industry it is up to us to refuse to install tires with a lower performance rating than the vehicle manufacturer requires. If we don't buy them, the manufacturers won't build them.
The biggest argument on this is always ``My customer doesn't drive the car that hard so he or she doesn't need high speed-rated tires.'' That may be true in the case of the person buying the tires, but how do you know who else may be driving the car?
Consider this scenario: It's graduation night for your customer's 17-year-old son and, as a special treat, your customer is letting him drive his 1988 BMW 7351 that you just put a set of S-rated tires on.
(``It's an older car that hardly gets driven anymore....'' We've all heard such stories).
That night your customer's son shows off and takes a corner too fast, loses control and crashes—injuring or killing himself or his date.
I'm not certain you'd be held legally responsible, but I'm pretty sure most of you always would wonder whether things would have turned out differently had you installed the proper speed-rated tires.
Now, what about winter tires? This is not as easy to deal with, but you can still help customers without sacrificing their safety. Some manufacturers make an H-rated snow tire for customers who have vehicles with H-, V- and Z-rated requirements.
While it's not an ideal fitment (especially where Z-rated tires are concerned) it certainly is better than putting on Q-rated tires.
I think this will remain a controversial topic until we come up with an industry-backed policy dealing with this problem. In the meantime, use your best judgment and ask yourself: Is the money you make on an easy sale worth putting someone's life at risk? I don't think so.
Mr. Harper is president of the Western Canada Tire Dealers Association and owner of Harper's Tire Ltd. in Calgary. This column originally appeared in the July-August issue of the association's newsletter, The Tracker.