Well, it's Thanksgiving time here in Colorado and that means that snow is in the air and skiing is now THE sport. As the holiday approaches it's also time to perform the TIRE RITUAL which we all know and love because if we don't participate, we don't get to the slopes!
The TIRE RITUAL here in Colorado has a rich history through the years from station wagons with snow tires and chains to Mag Chloride and AWD. It used to be that one could tell which state a car came from based on the condition of the body. These days that isn't the case as the corrosion signature has been obfuscated by the latest in carbon fiber and plastic. So lets take a brief tour of the history of the TIRE RITUAL.
Back in the good ole' 60's, the TIRE RITUAL consisted of hauling two snow tires out of the basement and taking them down to Ralph's Standard Station where they would dismount/mount them on the rear rims of the family Chevy station wagon. Two wheel/rear drive ruled and if you really wanted to go first class you'd throw a set of chains (as in links of steel) into the trunk. If you wanted something exotic you'd get studs shot into the tires. If you wanted even more you could buy a Jeep or Land Cruiser or Scout that had 4-wheel drive but these were limited to full-time 4wd in high or low range (axles locked front to rear) and you had to be at a full stop and get out and lock/unlock the hubs manually.
If you were really on the bleeding edge you could get a rear-engine car like a VW bug or the GM knockoff Corvair or even a Porsche. Putting the weight in the rear over a set of studs was like heaven achieved (if you didn't mind freezing your ass off, no defrost, oil in the driveway and exhaust fumes to die for).
Then came the introduction of front-wheel drive personified by the VW Rabbit and Audi Fox which were a breed apart from the Cougars and Jaguars but perhaps a distant cousin of the Gremlin? This put the pulling power up front instead of in the rear and you could get limited slip. This was a great idea (although just the VW in reverse) and with the advent of radial tires came radial "chains" which were aircraft cables with crimped lugs of metal or plastic. Not exactly the same concept as real "chains" but you could run over 50mph and if the "chain" broke you wouldn't rip out the entire quarter panel or wrap them around your axel and rip out the drive train as with real "chains".
The next generation of vehicles brought us shift-on-the-fly 4wd so you could be screaming down the road, hit some snow or ice, and flick a button to engage the 4wd. No need to mess with hubs and it was all just automagic although like magic it didn't always work as advertised and in the Jeep Cherokee model the mechanism depended on a vacume line connected to the front axel that could fall off on demand. If you really wanted a trick rig you'd get a Jeep Wagoneer with QuadraTrac which had limited slip front/rear/side/side powered by a V8 with a Holley 4-barrel and studded snows all around.
We also saw the Audi Quattros, Porsche 950's and AMC Eagles and Jeep-like models from all the major players. Regardless of the vechicle, we still had the same tire options of highway and snow but now we also had "all season" which means exactly what? Is this like a Jack Of All Trades tire that sorta works all the time but never really works optimally any of the time? You still had chains and cable (radial) chains that you could use in a pinch but then again what was the value in putting cable chains on all-season tires if you needed the real deal for deep snow or glare ice?
So these days it really comes down to having the ultimate combination. Since almost every model of vehicle comes with AWD and even may not come without it, the drivetrain components have been normalized. Your only real choice if you want to be at the head of the pack, first to the tunnel, fastest through the curves in Clear Creek, or quickest to stop for the deer running across the road, just get a tire for all seasons! That would be 2 sets of rims that match your ride including factory TPS sensors as who needs the annoying indicator on the dash telling your tires are low. Next mount one set with real snow tires and studs so that you sound like a tank rolling through the neighborhood. You can also do really cool burnouts on concrete leaving your "mark" for weeks to come. Then mount the other set with high-speed road tires for those off-season months. Since you'll have 2 sets of rims your tires you can have a "winter" look and a "non-winter" look. You'll also enjoy not sounding like a tank during the 4th of July weekend trip to the mountains.
Oh and since here in Colorado we've gone from just gravel to gravel and salt to gravel and salt and Mag Chloride it's hard to decide what winter tire to get as you might find yourself hydroplaning around a corner before the snow even flies!
So here's the real question: What is going on with automotive tires in the US?
In 2007 there were an estimated 254 million registered passenger vehicles on the road. If each vehicle had an average of 4 wheels then we are talking about 1 billion tires! It is also estimated that 17.5 million tires are replaced every year. Now I can visualize when dragsters burn a lot of rubber, and I can visualize the skid-marks that happen when we lock up our breaks, but if we are are wearing out 17.5 million tires a year, how come there aren't piles of rubber lining the sides of our roads? Where does the rubber go that gets worn off the tires? Does it just magically disappear? Say what?
To be continued in the spring with the SUMMER TIRE RITUAL!