Tyre labels: What they mean and why they’re just the start for buyers

Tyre Labels

Labels are supposed to make buying tyres easier. But have they succeeded? (Picture © Emissions Analytics)


In November 2012, tyre labels became a fundamental part of the way we bought tyres. Realising that for many people purchasing tyres was a puzzling process, the EU attempted to demystify it with labels for all car tyres. They look much like the labels you now see on white goods or new cars. But rather than energy ratings and exhaust emissions, they carry information on the tyre’s performance.

The aim behind tyre labels was to make it easier for buyers by enabling them to assess the best, safest tyres possible for their budget and motoring needs. And by showing fuel efficiency, another aim was to enable buyers to choose tyres that would help their cars’ economy. It also enabled customers to compare products, which to the untrained eye – and many expert eyes too – look virtually identical.

Tyre labels: What they show

There are three facets of a tyre’s performance that the label points to: fuel efficiency, wet weather grip, and noise. A tyre can have a significant effect on the mpg your car returns. The labels claim there can be a difference of as much as 7.5 per cent between the best and worst. This is because every tyre has different ‘rolling resistance’, friction against the road’s surface. The tread and the make-up of the rubber, its compound, effect this. The lower the tyre’s rolling resistance, the lower your car’s fuel consumption.

Wet weather grip is an important road safety attribute. It also has the opposite requirements to low rolling resistance. Including wet grip is to ensure tyre makers don’t come up with products that are brilliantly economical but have the gripping properties of an ice cube. The distance between the best and the worst rating on tyre labels is 18 metres – a bit less than four car lengths.

Noise is another counter to wet grip. A maker could design a tyre with a tread pattern that cuts road noise significantly. But again, it might struggle to stop on a slippery surface. Counter to that, a tread pattern that excels in a wet grip test might be much noisier than a more balanced design. Three black sound waves indicate that the tyre complies with current regs but not those in the future; two black waves is a noise equal to, or three decibels below, the future limit; one black wave is a noise limit three decibels or more below the future limit.

Tyre labels: What they don’t show

There are some important details the tyre labels don’t show. They don’t show how well the tyre performs in the dry. This is crucial since Michelin claims that 70 per cent of accidents occur on dry roads. It doesn’t take into account road handling performance, also important because a quarter of accidents happen on bends according to Michelin. And it doesn’t mention durability. This is vital because a manufacturer can produce rubber that is good in the rolling resistance and wet grip tests but which wears out quickly, costing the buyer for replacement rubber. Continental has produced a list of all the factors buyers should consider when tyre shopping.

Tyre labels: More information for buyers

The tyre label is definitely a positive thing for consumers. But length of life will be important to many drivers. And to find that out, they should do their own research. The Tyre Reviews website provides buyers with excellent real world advice from drivers who’ve actually bought the tyres and experienced how they perform in everyday driving.

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