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It's false economy to scrimp on tires

Your tires are perhaps a vehicle's most important safety item. Worn, damaged or ill-fitting tires can impair the performance of your vehicle and pose serious safety risks.

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Car buyers spend hours researching makes, models and price points. That’s great.

All too often, however, one aspect of the research gets overlooked, the type and condition of their tires.

Why should people care about tires? Isn’t it enough to know when to add air and when to replace them?

Your tires are perhaps a vehicle’s most important safety item. Worn, damaged or ill-fitting tires can impair the performance of your vehicle and pose serious safety risks.

Several months ago, a customer visited our service department, complaining that his car handled poorly. The technician did some investigating and discovered the problem.

When the customer bought his car two years earlier, it came with top-of-the-line radial tires.

Recently, they needed to be replaced, and the customer bought a new set that didn’t suit the size, weight or specifications of his vehicle. He didn’t make the connection between ill-fitting tires and poor handling.

The shop that sold him the tires didn’t bother to inform him that different — cheaper — tires could affect the car’s handling.

The lesson here is: don’t mix and match your tires. Brand-new vehicles are calibrated with manufactured recommended tires for optimum performance. Straying from them could affect the data that technicians need to properly diagnose and fix your vehicle.

The wrong tires can throw your wheel alignment off, causing excessive wear and tear on your engine and poor gas mileage. Clearly, it pays to have the right tires on your vehicle. If in doubt, check your owner’s manual or consult a service adviser.

To some, a tire is just a tire; but there are huge differences in size, design and compounds. There is the body, tread, sidewall and bead, each of which is integral to how the tire functions.

What specifically do you need to know about your tires?

All the vital information is imprinted on the sidewalls. Tire size, inflation pressure, maximum load rating, tire construction and performance standards are some of the items you’ll find on a typical tire.

Speed rating is a ranking system established by the U.S. government that tells how well tires will handle at certain speeds. A high-speed-rated tire (such as V, W, Y and Z) will offer better handling, steering and cornering capabilities than a lower-rated tire.

Are all new vehicles equipped with the right tires? Yes. All new vehicles come with tires that are recommended by the manufacturer. But some tires are better for certain driving conditions than others.

For instance, if you do a lot of highway driving, there are tires designed for that, just as others are designed for city driving.

As the cold weather approaches, my advice to all car owners in Ontario is to install winter tires.

Winter tires are designed to perform in cold and snowy conditions. Their rubber compounds provide better traction at lower temperatures. Design elements such as tread surface allow a car to manoeuvre better on slippery roads.

If you drive in extreme conditions in winter, talk to your service adviser. Some tires are designed specifically for extreme snow and ice conditions.

Take the time to know your tires and, above all, don’t put off getting needed new tires.

Robert McMillan, president of the Toronto Automobile Dealers Association, is a new-car dealer in Toronto. This column represents the views of TADA. Email: Web:

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