Photo credit: Motortrend
Tire choice is the kind of thing nobody wants to think about unless they need new ones. And then, suddenly, you’re overwhelmed with decisions. Do I really need good tires? What will happen if I don’t follow the recommendations in the owner’s manual or from the folks at the tire store?
If that’s not bad enough, you’ve probably heard or read somewhere that EVs go through tires like drag racers in the Mojave. Is it true? For some drivers in certain EVs, yes; for example the Tesla Model S, a heavy, high-performance luxury sedan with expensive, summer (meaning soft rubber for good grip on dry, warm pavement) tires, is indeed hungry for rubber, but so is a Mercedes AMG E-Class sedan. Comparing pound for pound, horsepower for horsepower, EVs likely wear out tires roughly the same as similar gas-powered vehicles.
Still, even if EVs don’t use tires faster than comparable gasoline cars, tire manufacturers as well as the car makers tell us you should mount EV-specific tires. Below, we’re going to tell you a little more about why you should consider EV tires.
What’s so special about EV tires?
To state the obvious, EV tires are specifically designed for an electric vehicle, and some are even built for a specific model. Some of that is marketing, but there is also truth here, and it’s easy to understand if you know how much time, money and personpower engineers spend designing their tires. Sure, they all look the same—round and black—but the choices in carcass (that’s the steel belts and other parts under the rubber) design, rubber compound, tread pattern and a hundred other factors are limitless.
Like designing a battle tank, commercial jet or strapless brassiere, every advantage is counterweighted by a disadvantage, and every tire model on the market reflects that constant balancing act. The good news is it means there’s a perfect tire for your budget, car and driving style—you just have to figure out where to get it.
The main factors that affect EV tire design are the need for efficiency, the higher torque output and weight of EVs, and the need for lower road noise. Most EVs come equipped with low-rolling resistance tires that address these issues and focus on improving range by 20 percent or more. That’s far more than you’d gain putting these tires on a gasoline (ICE) car because an electric motor’s efficiency is so huge that gains where the rubber meets the road are greatly magnified.
The instant torque delivery of EVs is another challenge for tire engineers. To keep the carcass of the tire from overheating from that power, it has to be heavier, which lowers efficiency, which means you can’t have as much tread, which means you have to make the rubber harder to keep tire life reasonable, which means less grip, which is magnified by that fun instant torque…you see what we mean? It’s a balancing act. Add in the fact that EVs, thanks to their heavy battery packs, usually weigh more than their gas-powered cousins, and we can safely speculate that tire engineers take full advantage of their vacation time when they can.
There are other considerations for EV tires that add to their complexity and price:
- Interior noise: EVs get less noise-proofing material to save weight and expense, and road noise can seem louder with that noisy ol’ dinosaur-burning engine gone. Noise can be reduced with foam damping in the tires themselves, and/or by construction, tread pattern or other tricks.
- Puncture resistance: EVs don’t come with spares, so ensuring your EV has durable, puncture-resistant tires is highly suggested . The good news is, the factory tires on many electric models account for this; the Chevy Bolt, for instance, comes with Michelin Energy Saver all-season radials that are treated with a slimy film inside. When exposed to air, the film oozes out and hardens, sealing most punctures.
What’s wrong with regular tires?
So knowing all this, can you just buy the cheap-o tires and slap ’em on? Again, we won’t say that’s okay because 1) we approach everything with an EV-specific mentality and 2) #lawyers. If you do make that decision, though, you should learn more about tires or find a tire expert you trust. It’s not complicated—the US Department of Transportation has a standardized labeling system all tire makers must follow—but it does take some knowledge to ensure you make the right choice among the myriad of options and considerations. (Wikipedia is a great place to do a deeper dive on tire codes, if you’re looking for one!)
How much do they cost? And where do I get them?
You can buy your EV tires from a few places. The first option—that’s both the easiest and priciest—is your car’s dealership or service center. With a Tesla, the car itself tells you when its tires are worn (amazing, right?) and you just tap a few buttons in the app to schedule replacement; Tesla’s mobile service might even bring the tires to you! For other brands, you’ll likely pay more than if you price shop, but keep an eye peeled for coupons, specials and other discounts; in recent years dealerships have been competing on price to keep their service departments busy.
You also might have a local tire shop you like and trust, and you can take your car there. Make sure they know about any special considerations your car has when changing tires (like the jack points) to avoid damage. Like dealers, tire shops like to stay price-competitive and will usually offer to price match other retailers, even the online ones.
You can also buy online. There are a zillion tire retail websites, and you can even go to eBay or Amazon to buy your rubber. They usually offer to ship to a local tire store and pre-charge installation; at this point you may as well just buy from your local shop.
How do I get them to last longer?
One of the biggest factors in tire life is a simple nut. The nut behind the wheel, har, har. Dad jokes aside, there are two things you can do to get the maximum life out of your tires:
- Drive on your tires like they cost a lot of money (because they do) and cause environmental harm (which they also do; where does that rubber go as it wears off?) if you’re wasteful with them. Accelerate and brake gently, stay near the speed limit and avoid hard cornering (but don’t forget to have fun occasionally because life is short). That’ll extend your range as well.
- Maintain those tires to protect your investment! Keep an eye on tire pressures, rotate them (that means swap the fronts with the rears at regular intervals noted in your owner’s manual), and if you notice irregular wear your car might need an alignment. It’s another reason to use your dealer or local tire shop to buy tires—they’ll frequently rotate tires or check alignment for free if you bought the tires from them.
What it all means
You’ll spend a bit more but you’ll likely enjoy better range, handling and even safety (since braking distance can vary with tire compound and wear) with recommended tires for your EV. It’s also possible to save money or get rubber better suited to your driving needs with other choices. Whichever way you ultimately decide to go in, we hope you have enough info now to feel not-so-lost when the time comes.