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Get a Grip

Winter is sneaking up fast. If it’s anything like last winter, there will be slide-outs and crumpled bumpers everywhere. The best thing you can to stay on the happy side of the road is to stick with good rubber.

This is not a question you want to be asking yourself as you slide helplessly into the back of a Mercedes. The difference between stopping promptly and sliiiiiiiding to a halt might well be the quality of your tires.

Rule No. 1: Watch out for cheap Chinese stuff. 

They might look perfectly fine — black with nice deep threads — but the rubber compound itself might strictly Pillsbury Doughboy. “The last time we tested a Chinese tire,” noted Car & Driver editor Eddie Alterman recently, “we were convinced it had concrete in the mix.”

It turns out that many of the biggest tire brands are actually manufacturing them in Chinese factories. According to authorities we consulted, the famous makes actually exert very tight controls and produce reasonably good products. If, however, your tire seller offers you something you never heard of, stay away. 

Hank May, now approaching his fortieth year in running local tire shops, says the cheaper tires might work well initially, “but down the line, the chintziness may show up.”

Rule No. 2: Keep an eye on those all-weather tires. With many high-performance cars (read, “German”) coming to market with racy, narrow-aspect-ratio tires, wise drivers invest in a separate set of rims and all-weather tires for the stormy season. Actual snow tires are not necessary unless you are a regular visitor to ski country.

But May advises you to regular check those tires. “An all-weather tire ceases to be all-weather when it gets to the bottom third of the tread — well before the wear bars show on the tires.” At that point it will probably be remain a decent street tire, but not really be up to handling a heavy rain, never mind a blizzard.      



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