What’s new in truck tires?

The one key change in tire design today is directly related to the use of computer imaging by engineers.

September 14, 2011
by Howard J Elmer

Fleet Management: July-August 2011 Print Edition

Tires are black and round—that much never seems to change, except for the occasional intrusion of various white sidewalls every couple of decades. Still, for most drivers tires are an afterthought, often poorly maintained and taken for granted and that in itself is funny because despite how proudly purchased and carefully maintained a truck is–its only connection to the road is those four small patches of rubber.

However, the science and chemistry that go into those tires is always changing, as are the designs. This is true of all tires, but with pickup trucks the question of spec’ing the right tires can be even more complicated because of the weights they carry and surfaces that trucks work on.

Computer modeling
The one key change in tire design today is directly related to the use of computer imaging by engineers. This has led to much better tires, built to suit a variety of terrains. And remember, truck tires are all stamped ‘LT’ this sets them apart from passenger car tires that are marked with a ‘P’.

Looking at the most common truck tire—the all-season highway tire—computer imaging has reduced the cost of testing by simulating the long-term effects of heat generated on the highway which hardens the rubber. This results in the tires losing grip and becoming less effective in the rain. This an issue several manufacturers have worked on.

For Bridgestone (as just one example) the answer was to use softer underlying layers of rubber that would retain their wet grip as the tire wore away. In essence, they use the road heat to cure layers of stickier rubber to the right consistency as the tread erodes.

Virtual testing
The other benefit of computer imaging comes with virtual testing. The computer model can “see” how well a particular pattern displaces water. Then grooves, notches and sipes can be added or changed and the simulation run again–until the best combination is found.

All-terrain tires for trucks are another popular choice as they mix the need for on and off-road capability. All-terrain tires generally have a deeper, more open tread pattern than all-season tires for off-road grip. This increases their rolling resistance, and according to government estimates, a tire’s rolling resistance accounts for about five percent of the fuel a vehicle consumes.

Another aspect of all-terrain tires is the sidewall height and strength. These choices, again, tend to be more numerous than those in passenger car tires. Sidewall height affects ride quality and also weight carrying capability. Sidewall thickness (or number of plies) also affects these characteristics and together they can be custom specified to suit your particular need.

Of course this statement begs the question: How?  Just this summer Cooper Tire, for instance, has created a site to do just that.  “The sites enable consumers to directly connect with the Cooper brand and learn more about the new ultra-high-performance and light truck/sport utility vehicle tires,” stated Hal Gardner, vice-president, marketing communications and market intelligence for Cooper Tire.
The micro-sites offer a new web experience for ultra-high-performance and off-road enthusiasts, providing new product info and interactive content. Both include tire research, technology, design and engineering; performance development and testing videos; 360 degree design features and benefits; and the latest media reviews.

Get informed and stay informed
So, while purchasing tires is the right time to do research into the right choice of rubber, the relationship with the manufacturer shouldn’t end there. The reason? We read about recalls every day in the media and if there is one down the road that affects you the newspaper isn’t where you should learn about it. That means registering your tires is a smart thing to do. Michelin now offers an on-line registration site that assures you of direct notification if there is ever an issue with your tires.

As for looks, BF Goodrich has tapped into the truck owner’s psyche to come up with a rugged-looking off-road tire that is smooth on the highway. This is just one example of the attention being paid to this vehicle segment. This Rugged Terrain T/A gets an aggressive look, with enough grip to easily get off the beaten path. However, with two large circumferential grooves, water is easily evacuated on the highway.

Pricing guidelines
Price-wise, it’s obvious to say that these offerings cover a wide range. However the wear rating of each is usually a good indicator of value. Each tire today is rated to last X-number of kilometres (these are not government backed, just company estimates) and by looking at these and the price you can quickly come up with a rough guide to value. If you are looking at the value end of the market consider some of the many new Chinese brands (such as Westlake or Good Ride) now being offered across the country.