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Summer 2006 Vol. 6 No. 2

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©Photodisc Win at the Pump With the Right Tires

A growing number of Americans are buying fuel-efficient cars such as hybrids to cope with skyrocketing gas prices. Another way to save money at the pump -- even if you own a gas-guzzler -- is a different set of tires. According to a new report from the National Research Council, greater use of fuel-efficient tires could save U.S. car drivers 1 billion to 2 billion gallons of gas per year.

Unfortunately, information on a tire's fuel-efficiency is not readily available to the consumer. During the past 10 years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed the creation of a fuel economy rating for tires and similar proposals have been put forward in Congress without success.

"Consumers should be able to choose among tires not only for their price and performance but also for their fuel-efficiency," said Dale F. Stein, chair of the committee that wrote the report and retired president of Michigan Technological University. "Fuel-efficient tires are sold by tire dealers, but people can't identify them."

To make information on tire fuel-efficiency more widely available and understandable, NHTSA and tire manufacturers should work together in developing an information program for tire buyers and sellers, the report says.

A tire's fuel-efficiency can be improved by reducing its "rolling resistance," which is the force required to keep a tire moving forward on the highway. As a tire deforms due to reduced air pressure or increased load, the force needed to keep the tire moving forward increases, thus requiring more fuel. To reduce tire deformation -- and decrease rolling resistance -- manufacturers can change the tire's shape, size, and construction materials, and the driver can keep the tires properly inflated.

Reducing the rolling resistance of tires sold to consumers by an average of 10 percent could decrease U.S. fuel consumption by 1 percent to 2 percent. The fuel savings would be equivalent to taking 2 million to 4 million vehicles off the road, and consumers could save 6 to 12 gallons per year.

However, motorists should not be lulled into thinking that simply buying tires with lower rolling resistance will improve fuel economy. Keeping tires properly inflated is essential to reducing rolling resistance. They'll also last longer, providing fuel savings over a longer time and decreasing the number of scrap tires generated.
  -- Patrice Pages

Tires and Passenger Vehicle Fuel Economy: Informing Consumers, Improving Performance -- Special Report 286. Committee for the National Tire Efficiency Study; Transportation Research Board, and Board on Energy and Environmental Systems, Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences (2006, approx. 134 pp.; ISBN 0-309-09421-6; available from the National Academies Press, tel. 1-800-624-6242; $28.00 plus 4.50 shipping for single copies).

Dale F. Stein, retired president of Michigan Technological University, Houghton, chaired the committee. The study was funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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Copyright 2006 by the National Academy of Sciences