In the endless quest for better fuel economy, it's easy to overlook the role that tires can play. However, a tire's inflation pressure, weight, and rubber chemistry all contribute to how much fuel it takes to push that tire down the highway. While inflation pressure is something you can (and should) check regularly, important factors that might influence your choice of tires, such as rolling resistance, are invisible to a consumer.
Automakers often specify low-rolling-resistance tires as original equipment to enhance vehicle performance in government fuel-economy tests. However, when it comes time to replace the factory-fitted tires, it is important to consider the full spectrum of tire performance. After all, replacement tires are not limited to any vehicle manufacturer's requirements. Replacement tires generally have well-rounded all-season grip and longer tread life, as opposed to optimal rolling resistance.
Consumer Reports is the only organization that regularly publishes a rolling resistance score as part of its ratings of important tire-performance criteria.
While proper inflation pressure is the first step toward optimum fuel economy and long tire life, rolling resistance can add or detract an additional one or two miles per gallon. Therefore, smart tire selection is among the most cost-effective means of optimizing your vehicle's fuel economy because you generally don't have to pay more to get a tire with better rolling resistance. The reward for replacing a worn, less-optimum tire could be more than $100 in annual fuel savings.
Get the most from your tires
- Keep your tires properly inflated. (A label on the driver's doorjamb tells you the correct pressures to use.)
- Check inflation pressure at least monthly, when the tires are cool.
- If you were happy with the tires that came with the car when it was new, consider replacing them with an identical set. Low rolling resistance is a common trait of original-equipment tires.
- Before buying replacement tires, check Consumer Reports' Ratings for tires that excel both in low rolling resistance and overall performance.