New EU tyre labelling does not go far enough

Posted on October 1st, 2012 by Rob Marshall

As proven by many vehicles failing their MoT Tests on worn tyres, numerous motorists do not perform the regular checks needed to ensure that they remain in a roadworthy state. With this in mind, it is unsurprising that tyre retailers have revealed that a similar cavalier attitude pervades, when replacements are sought, with many owner-drivers seemingly motivated by cost alone.

To be fair, a budget tyre looks identical to a more expensive premium offering, in the eyes of most motorists, and it is almost impossible to identify by sight which one will last longer, provide the optimum grip levels in a variety of weather conditions, as well as being the most fuel efficient. It is unsurprising that most people are motivated by their wallets, unaware that the proverb ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ (or maybe three or four times) is highly relevant to tyres.

Even as a penniless student, I decided to experiment by running my decrepit Citroen BX on the cheapest new tyres I could find, only to find that the car required a replacement front pair after just 8,000 miles had elapsed. I switched to a premium tyre brand and found that 30,000 miles was achieved more readily. The Michelins may have cost double the price of the cheapest brand (a set of four were worth more than the whole car) but mile-for-mile, I found it ironic that the more expensive tyre was also the most economical choice.

Yet, many tyre buyers are unaware of varying tyre qualities, which is why the EU has introduced a labelling system, similar to new domestic white goods, which aspire to help consumers make a more informed choice. The system assesses the tyres according to their fuel efficiency (graded by their rolling resistance), wet grip abilities and noise (or tyre roar) levels. Several companies have provided details on how the labels can be interpreted, such as this one, from one of the UK’s leading tyre retailers.

While the new labelling, which becomes a legal requirement from 1st November, will help consumers to demystify the black art of tyre-making and make a more informed purchasing decision, other factors should be taken into account that the new labelling does not incorporate.

As many accidents occur on bends (The Technical University of Dresden analysed 10,000 accidents over 10 years and deduced that the figure is as high as 25%), handling characteristics should be taken into account. Although the labels consider wet grip levels, dry grip is omitted, with the Dresden Technical University’s research indicating that accidents on dry roads are as high as 70%. Furthermore, as I discovered as a student, a long tyre life is an important financial (and environmental) consideration, which the labels ignore. My concern is that tyre manufacturers might strive to achieve ‘A’ ratings on the labels, at the expense of other qualities that the labels do not consider.

Even so, the labels are a positive step, even though I perceive that they oversimplify the true qualities of a tyre, by ignoring other pertinent factors. Through an unconfirmed source that wishes to remain anonymous, it was indicated to me that it is the tyre makers that are responsible for evaluating their own products for the labels and not independent testers. With this in mind, I question the validity of the labels, unless the EU plans to conduct stringent spot checks, which would mean incurring an expense, which I doubt can be afforded at the moment…

New EU tyre labelling does not go far enough