Low-Rolling-Resistance Tires Only Improved Fuel Economy by 1%, According to Consumer Reports

Tires are some of the most important parts of a car, and they can do many things, some of which drivers are unaware of. For example, low-rolling-resistance tires can improve a car’s fuel economy, and when gas prices are high, drivers may consider switching to those types of tires to save at the pump. However, while that’s true, the actual amount of gas they can save is less than many folks are hoping for.

This is what rolling resistance is and why it affects your fuel economy

As Consumer Reports says, rolling resistance is simply a fact of physics. It refers to the amount of energy needed to rotate a tire, which is mainly affected by the friction between the tires and the road. When rolling resistance is high, more energy and, thus, more fuel is needed to move a car. The opposite is true when rolling resistance is low.

On average, somewhere between 4% to 11% of the fuel a car uses is because of rolling resistance. Due to the fact that automakers want their vehicles to meet fuel economy standards and the fact that drivers want to save on fuel, there are many low-rolling-resistance tires on the market. These tires have a lower rolling resistance than normal, and the hope is that they will lead to tangible savings in gas prices.

Low-rolling-resistance tires may not be as good as they’re hyped up to be

A pile of all-season tires from Chinese brand Imperial seen in Gdansk, Poland
A pile of all-season tires | Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Unfortunately, the reality is more modest regarding how much gas these types of tires can save. According to Consumer Reports, for every 10% drop in rolling resistance, drivers will see a 1% increase in fuel economy. Consumer Reports also tested a bunch of all-season tires, and the difference in rolling resistance between them was, at most, 34%. 

Most all-season tires were fairly close to the top-performing tire, which was the Nexen N5000 Platinum. Even comparing the best and worst tires, that 34% difference only equals a 3.4% difference in fuel economy. Assuming gas prices are $5 a gallon, and assuming those tires get 12,000 miles of use in a year, that’s only a difference of $70 per year. 

The lifespan of all-season tires is about 62,000 miles, so that’s only a savings of $360 before the low-rolling-resistance tires have to be replaced. The savings get smaller if the tires on your car already have a fairly low rolling resistance or if gas prices are relatively cheap

It’s still a good idea to get low-rolling-resistance tires though

Due to those factors, it’s tough to say how much money switching to low-rolling-resistance tires will save you. What is certain, though, is the fact that it’s probably a bad idea to spend money on new tires right now if your tires are still doing their job. This is because the fuel economy improvements likely aren’t going to be huge, and replacing tires will cost money for both the new tires and the labor costs. As such, the savings may not be able to pay off the price of those new tires. 

That said, if you need to replace your tires, then going for low-rolling-resistance tires is a good idea. They may not save huge amounts of money, but it’s still enough money to be relevant. On top of that, gas prices are rising throughout the nation, so that makes these types of tires a better idea. This is especially true in places like California, where gas prices have already gone past $6 a gallon.

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