In terms of vehicle responsiveness, we all recognise how important tyres are. You might know the recent Bridgestone Tyres safety campaign brochure. It shows the silhouette of a hand with an image of a young kid within it. The message is simple: when you’re driving, there’s the equivalent of just one handprint of tread connecting each tyre to the road. That’s a pretty sobering thought. But it makes sense.
The closest I’ve ever come to ‘meeting my maker’ on the road involved incidents concerning tyres — whether it was a cheap re-tread unpeeling at speed when I was a student, the slithering tail-end of the HiLux as several kilograms of rain-soaked clay clogged the tread or, recently, being shunted downhill by our camper on a gravel bend with a bad camber, as our tow vehicle (and driver!) tried desperately to achieve traction.
When it comes to tyres, it’s generally a challenge to achieve an appropriate compromise between reasonable on-road performance, good tread life and fuel consumption — while still achieving offroad capability. For most of us, replacing factory tyres with (at least) a set of Light Truck rubbers will be a no-brainer. But it pays to do some decent research before settling on the appropriate tread pattern, rubber composition and belting.
After all, the promise of 80,000km of tyre life is of little use if the rubber is so hard that your daily commute loses traction at the first sign of rain. And while a mud terrain tyre profile may serve you well in Channel Country, on a day-to-day basis, the unnecessary road noise and reduced fuel economy will start to sting.
We also need to watch out for those idiotic space saver wheels that some manufacturers try to unload on to unsuspecting purchasers. Believe it or not, you can find these ‘emergency replacement’ wheels in the spare tyre bay of some new AWDs. These things are more likely to cause an emergency than to solve one. Mismatched to the wheels and tyres on your rig and tow vehicle, the space-saver will compromise vehicle dynamics and handling, particularly with a load on. There’s a reason that the RACQ opposes their use — particularly on rural roads. They’re simply hopeless on unsealed surfaces.
While we might chuckle at specification brochures for new AWDs and 4WDs that state ‘the standard fitted tyres are designed primarily for use on sealed roads,’ it’s really no laughing matter. After all, when it comes to tyres, our safety depends on just four rubber handprints.
So I, for one, will be making every centimetre count.
Check out the full feature in issue #88 May 2015 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine.