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Published on May 8, 2006

Careful with fuel-efficiency ratings

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Opinion

AKRON (May 8, 2006) — The idea of creating a consumer notification and in-formation program on replacement tire rolling resistance and fuel economy, a legislative proposal being floated by the Rubber Manufacturers Association, is better than the alternative.


That is, having the federal government—or even worse, individual states—mandate replacement tires across the board to be as fuel efficient as the original equipment tires they replace.


Anyone who knows anything about tires understands there's a tradeoff between tire attributes. Requiring replacement tires to have a lower rolling resistance likely would result in increased tread wear, meaning tires would wear out sooner. That would defeat the purpose of the mandate, which is to conserve oil.


It takes an estimated seven to eight gallons of oil to make one replacement passenger tire. Forcing consumers to purchase tires more frequently would negate some of the value gained by driving on more fuel-efficient tires though, for sure, the industry would sell more tires.


Just creating a consumer notification program on replacement tire rolling resistance is not enough, either. The program—whether it involves ratings similar to those of the Uniform Tire Quality Grading (UTQG) system or some other type of scale—must be easy to understand and practical to use so consumers can make knowledgeable decisions when buying tires.


The current UTQG system, established under the Highway Safety Act of 1966, uses the outcome of testing performance done by the tire makers themselves. The system, overseen by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, ranks more than 2,400 passenger tires for treadwear, traction and temperature resistance.


The problem with UTQG is that few people understand it, tire dealers rarely refer to it and few use it when buying tires.


In addition, the rating considered most important to consumers, the treadwear grade, appears to be the least consistent, according to information on Tire Rack's Web site. The treadwear grade, “originally intended to be assigned purely scientifically…also has become a marketing tool used by manufacturers to help position and promote their brand,” Tire Rack says.


Creating a new ranking for tire rolling resistance that few people would understand and use, or that tire companies use to market their brands, makes no sense at all.


For the information to be effective, it must be accurate so that consumers can get a true idea of what the fuel savings might be for a specific tire—assuming they keep their tires properly inflated—and how that matches up with the tire's cost.


That differential could be significant, as the technology to develop and produce tires with lower rolling resistance is much more involved and costly.


A ratings system for tire rolling resistance and fuel economy would provide valuable information to consumers looking to make a purchase—provided it gives a true and easy-to-comprehend picture of the tire's performance.

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