Is low rolling resistance another word for snake oil?
September 30, 2008 5:49 PM   Subscribe

Are "low rolling resistance" tires a worthwhile investment? And how should I go about finding them? How much more should I pay for this type of tire?

I recently heard about "low rolling resistance" tires as I was looking for new cars for my car, and was intrigued.

A couple of days ago, I actually called a tire store and they took my question to mean "This guy will pay for anything" and tried to steer me towards a much more expensive tire while downplaying the feature I wanted. Other stores have just sort of blown me off or looked at me funny.

And by the way, for me a "worthwhile investment" means that it works, not necessarily that I save a bundle. If I pay more up front, but still save fuel, I might consider doing that for environmental reasons.

Oh, and if you'd like to recommend a specific tire, the size of tire for my car is P205/65R15 92H
posted by abkadefgee to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I haven't seen any tests/studies but I would guess it'd be a 1-5% improvement (most things aimed at improving MPG fall into that range).

The problem with doing a LRR tire is that you will sacrifice some ride comfort and definitely some handling to get a smaller contact patch and lower resistance. I would suspect they would be less safe on wet streets as well, which is probably why a tire store tried to sell you better handling (likely wider, softer) tires that would grip well wet or dry.
posted by mathowie at 6:20 PM on September 30, 2008

From a quick google search for Low Rolling Resistance tires...

Consumer Reports from Nov 2007:
" generally don't have to pay more to get a tire with better rolling resistance. The reward for replacing a worn, less-optimum tire could be more than $100 in annual fuel savings." ($100/year based on Nov'07 gas prices)

also, Wikipedia has a list of the top-rated LRR tires from 2003:
- Michelin X Radial
- Michelin Agility Touring
- Michelin Harmony
- Toyo 800 Ultra
- Sumitomo HTR T4

disclaimer: I don't have any actual experience with this sort of tire, but the logic is totally sound. I air down the tires on my truck to 28psi (from 34psi normally) for better traction during the winter (increasing rolling resistance) and I record an average drop (all other factors being equal) of 3mpg. /anecdote
posted by bilgepump at 6:34 PM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Your braking performance may suffer with LRR tires. Also, they may have a shorter lifespan. These may not be dealbreakers for you, but they're things to consider.
posted by pmurray63 at 9:08 PM on September 30, 2008

Tires can make a significant difference. Transport Canada says up to 6% fuel savings. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of data out there about which tires are low rolling resistance and which aren't, but the best information I've been able to find is this report (pdf) from 2003, which rates not just the rolling resistance of the tires, but also the traction. As you'll see, there isn't really any strong relationship between the traction scores and the rolling resistance. I'm not sure that LRR tires do require a sacrifice of handling or wet weather performance.

I have the Sumitomo HTR200, which are mentioned in the report, and am quite happy with them as far as fuel efficiency and general performance. I bought the tires from a few years ago for $50 each, which is less than I would have paid locally for tires of unknown rolling resistance, so I don't think you need to pay extra to get LRR tires.
posted by ssg at 9:21 PM on September 30, 2008

Response by poster: I saw that Green Seal report and it was very interesting, but there don't seem to be any updates since 2003 and only a few of them would fit my car. Seems like finding those would take far greater legwork than calling up stores and asking for LRR, but it may be necessary it seems.
posted by abkadefgee at 9:51 AM on October 1, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions, all!
posted by abkadefgee at 9:51 AM on October 1, 2008

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