Do eco tyres really save you money?

Preliminary tests have shown that ratings on tyre labels are not telling the full story. At mid-range speeds, an F-rated tyre performs as well as a B-rated tyre for fuel economy.

We tested two contrasting sets of 175/70 R14 tyres on the road. One set was a standard tyre with B-rating for fuel economy and the other had an F-rating. The test route incorporated a range of steady-state speeds from 40mph to 70mph on tarmac in consistent ambient temperatures.

May 14 chart

You can see from this graph that the B rated tyre was superior in the 40-70 mph range by an average of 3.8% mpg and 3.4% less CO2. There isn’t much in it at the mid-range speed but a performance gap opens up at 55mph and by the time you get to 70mph the fuel economy has improved by 12.9%.

Thus a consumer buying B rated tyres is unlikely to notice a fuel economy benefit if the journeys they customarily make are mainly urban. Whereas a consumer heading up and down the motorway each day should enjoy an improvement.

Now this was an unashamedly quick and dirty investigation but it does demonstrate that the relationship between rolling resistance and fuel economy is not linear and that to bring real improvements to the way tyres are bought and sold manufacturers need to adopt more sophisticated models.

The current tyre labelling system, made mandatory by the EU in November 2012, is not working. In a report compiled by the National Tyre Distributors Association (NTDA) and LANXESS, the manufacturers of high-tech rubber for tyres, it was found that one year on 93% of tyre retailers said customers never or only occasionally requested information on the label and only 30% knew that tyres affect fuel consumption.

We think manufacturers need better models to translate rolling resistance calculations into fuel economy effects. Improved, independently verified testing and labelling, perhaps with a monetary quantification of the typical benefit would provide a tangible benefit that the consumer would welcome.