Rolling Resistance and fuel economy
Kermit the Frog once lamented, "It's not easy being green" -- but that was probably before he heard about low rolling resistance (LRR) tires. LRR tires make it easy to be green by reducing fuel consumption and keeping more money in your pocket.
Fuel consumption factors
It's safe to say that all vehicle owners would love to reduce their fuel costs. However, most of the factors that determine your mileage, such as your vehicle's aerodynamics and weight, the mechanical efficiency of the powertrain, and the terrain over which you drive, are out of your direct control. You can, of course, practice fuel-efficient driving techniques with easy starts and stops, and gain some ground on ever-increasing fuel costs.
A significant fuel mileage factor that's often overlooked is the rolling resistance of the tires on your vehicle. Until recently, there wasn't much you could do about that either. With the advent of LRR tires, you have a new weapon in the battle to reduce your fuel consumption.
What is tire rolling resistance?
Rolling resistance is a complex phenomenon, but simply put, it is the energy a tire consumes while rolling under a load. The resistance is influenced by the friction between the tire tread and the road surface, and the amount of energy consumed by the flexing of the tire sidewalls as the tire rolls over the road.
The energy consumed by your tire's rolling resistance can be significant. According to the Alternative Fuels Data Center, an estimated 5% to 15% of passenger car fuel consumption is used just to overcome rolling resistance.
New car manufacturers have recognized this significance and many now equip their cars with low rolling resistance tires to help them meet the government-mandated fuel economy standards.
Low rolling resistance tires
Today's vehicle tires have complex structures and the task of decreasing their rolling resistance, while maintaining good all-around tire performance, has not been an easy one. The new technology behind low rolling resistance tires can be found in just about every part of the tire, from rubber compounds to sidewall construction to the way tread patterns roll freely across pavement.
When you're shopping for tires, don't be swayed by older reports claiming that LRR tires demand tradeoffs on ride comfort, stopping distance, and handling. Low rolling resistance tire technology has recently made great strides in these areas.
Consumer Reports noted the recent improvement in LRR tires; "Tire technology is improving and we're finding more models with low rolling resistance that are also good all-around performers." In a recent Consumer Reports evaluation of LRR tires, Michelin tires finished first in the All-season (T speed rated), Performance all-season (H speed rated), and Winter categories, while Bridgestone took first in the Performance all-season (V speed rated) category.
What you can expect
Present LRR technology will yield a fuel efficiency improvement of 1 to 4 mpg, which, depending on your driving, the type of vehicle, and the price of fuel, may result in a savings of $400 in fuel costs over the life of the tire. (The savings could actually cover the cost of your new set of tires!)
As with any tire, proper inflation is the key to maximizing tire life and minimizing rolling resistance. Always check your tires at least once a month when the tires are cold and inflate them to the manufacturer's recommended pressure. It's amazing how much improperly inflated tires can affect the rolling resistance and your gas mileage. A tire with a recommended pressure of 35 psi that's only inflated to 28 psi will increase its rolling resistance by 12.5% -- putting a serious dent in your fuel budget.
The next time you need new tires, give serious consideration to low rolling resistance tires. They now offer good overall performance, and also help you reduce your fuel consumption and costs - making it easy to be green.
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