With all the new cars I get to test I tend to neglect my own car at home, it’s the family run-about for taking the kids to school, gymnastics, swimming and all kinds of normal stuff that a car has to put up with. The car is a SEAT Leon from 2006, the design was something that I loved at first sight so I bought it brand new and kept it ever since. It was time to change the tyres and it wasn't as straight forward as you might think.
There comes a time when tyres wear out even if they don’t get much use. This is just due to weathering as the compound breaks down and the rubber starts to crack. It’s usual that the side-wall of the tyre will show this kind of wear over a few years. Mine were showing this and the time had come to change them.
Now I don’t claim to be an expert here but I have sat through many Press conferences and talks about tyre technology so I do know a little about the subject. Still there was a bewildering array of tyres out there so I thought a phone call might sort it, little did I know I was opening a can of worms.
I started calling the local tyre shops and the first thing I noticed was that they were offering me brand names I’d never heard of. This isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with the unknown brands but I wanted to be safe because this is the car that my kids and Wife spend a lot of time in and I wanted to trust the tyres because that’s the only contact they have with the road.
My tyre size is 225/45/17 94W. I know that can look like a jumble of numbers so let me explain, on the side of your tyre you’ll also find these numbers and the first digit is the width, the second is the height of the sidewall and the third is the size of the wheel it fits. The final number is the speed rating which relates to how fast you’ll want to go, a higher number would be required for driving on the Autobahn.
I called six random places and quoted the size needed, all six shops offered different brands of tyres but very oddly they were all exactly the same price of €75 fitted and balanced. The brands on offer included Double Star, Winda, Star Sail, Rockstone, Hifly the list goes on but only one outlet said their price to be €70 and one was €80, everyone else was the magic €75. I googled the brand names and didn’t come up with much other than most of them come from China.
That said, the prices of the brand name tyres which included Bridgestone, Dunlop, Continental, Hancook and Michelin ended up all over the place. Starting at about €100 up to €150 which was the prices I was thinking to spend anyway.
So I had a pile of names but still none the wiser as to which of them are the best. I resorted to the Internet and looked up a few sites that actually test tyres, one test I found came from Auto Express and it was a thorough test of all the major brands and Which had also done a similar test.
The winner of the test is a set of Dunlop Sport Bluresponse, it was the best all-round tyre according to the test and I thought that might be the best one for our needs as it scored well in every test including fuel economy.
I googled the tyre fitting companies and started calling again, I have to say the product knowledge of the main outfitters like Fastfit and Atlas Auto service is amazing. They could tell me everything I needed to know about tyres and Atlas quoted the Auto Express test that I’d found.
The Dunlop tyres were going to cost me €134 per tyre fitted and balanced from Atlas or around €160 from Fastfit, as part of the offer Atlas told me that I could come back in six months for a balance and rotation of the tyres free of charge. This means that they will move the front tyres to the back and allow them to wear evenly. I thought this was a good offer so I took it and booked in for that Saturday in Blanchardstown Depot where it turned out to be a lovely experience with a waiting area, coffee and a big screen TV. The majority of the customers in the waiting area were women which is testament to how friendly Atlas has made their system because they do all kinds of mechanical work not just tyres.
The things I’ve learned are that, the cheapest tyre isn’t the best. Tyre fitters need more training, the smaller back street fitters only think in prices and didn’t seem to understand that I wanted a familiar brand name. Tyres are complicated and there’s a damn good reason car makers insist on having certain brands on their cars from new and that reason is safety.
All four tyres touching the road at once take up about the same footprint as an A4 page; just think about that for a minute. The only thing that stops you from crashing is the amount of grip your tyres have and that A4 page sized footprint on the road. If the tyres are good then you will stop faster, if they aren’t you won’t, it really is that simple.