They’re one of the most important parts of our vehicles, but they’re often overlooked. Yet it’s our vehicle’s tires which ensure we stay pointing in the right direction come rain, ice and snow, keep us nailing every curve and most importantly, stop us quickly when circumstances demand it.
And recently at the Transport Evolved offices, we were reminded just how much a difference new tires can make to the ride of our 2013 Chevrolet Volt, as well as the reason why wheel size considerations and replacement tire costs should be part of any new car shopping budget.
A brief refresh
As regulars to the site will know, we purchased our dark green 2013 Chevrolet Volt back in August 2013 from one of only three UK-based dealerships to offer the U.S.-styled Chevrolet Volt in preference to the European-styled (and subtly-different) Vauxhall Ampera.
Wheel size considerations and replacement tire costs should be part of any new car shopping budget
Since that time, both the Chevrolet Volt and its mechanically-identical european sibling have both been withdrawn from the European market, leaving ‘Serenity’ — our family name for the Volt — one of a few hundred right-hand drive Volts in the UK today. With only a few dealerships in the entire country trained to work on the Chevy Volt and many Ampera dealerships excusing themselves from working on the mechanically-identical car due to concerns over litigation in the event of an error, after-sales service has not been as easy as we believed it would be when we purchased the car.
Our last staff car report on Serenity came in November last year, when we the car’s overall reliability took a serious dive in time for Halloween. Since that time however, we’re glad to report that on completion of the various remedial work the laundry-list of faults required, Serenity has been behaving herself. And as of today, our lifetime fuel economy in the range-extended electric car hovers at the 121 imperial mpg. Despite spending most of its time in electric-only mode, the one-a-month longer-trip to see friends or family in other parts of the UK seriously hammers overall efficiency.
Time for tires
By the start of April, those 30,000 miles of driving had begun to play havoc on the Serenity’s original tires. While the front two tires were replaced just 1,000 miles after new after a non-fault accident with an uninsured motorcyclist, they had ultimately worn down to the legal limit with the rear tires not far behind. Despite planning to sell Serenity in just a few months, there was no way we could legally continue on the OEM 215/55/R15 Michelin EnergySavers.
Heading to our local tire shop, we’d planned to replace the worn Michelins like for like. With our 2011 Nissan LEAF (Hiro) having driven more than 55,000 miles on two sets of Michelin energy savers, we had no desire to change brands from one we knew and trusted. Being a motoring journalist too, this writer admits to not wishing to try any cheaper brands for fear of losing some of the grip and shorter stopping times that brand-name tires offer.
Size does matter
With two Nissan LEAFs in the Transport Evolved fleet, neither one experiencing high tire replacement costs, we’d forgotten how expensive less popular tire sizes can be. Having owned plenty of classic and ‘non-mainstream’ vehicles over the years, we knew cars with less popular wheel sizes commanded a premium when it came to replacement tires, but in the case of the Chevrolet Volt, we’d assumed its 215/55/R17 shoe size wasn’t all that unusual.
Until our tire shop quoted us nearly £800 for a set of fitted Michelin Energy Savers. A set of identical Michelin Energy Savers fully fitted for our LEAF was under £500, but the LEAF takes the more common 205/55R16 size more commonly found on European econoboxes. The Volt, with its larger, less-common wheel size, commanded a higher price.
Over the lifetime of the vehicle, that could easily add up, especially if you’re a high-mileage driver.
Which is when we headed to the Internet to see just how cheaply we could get replacement tires sourced. Keen to stick with well-known brands rather than lesser-known ones, we quickly decided to give the Hankook Ventus Prime 2 a go.
The Hankook Ventus Prime 2 is one decibel quieter than the Michelin Energy Savers
In the past few years, the Hankook brand has transitioned from a budget basement brand to a high-quality product that many high-end automakers like Mercedes-Benz and BMW now fit to their cars as new. On Paper, the Ventus Prime 2 was one decibel quieter than the Michelin Energy Savers, while managing the same fuel economy rating on the European rating system.
Price was better too — but with local tire shops still quoting some pretty high prices, we decided to buy online.
Mail order tires
Perusing the various online tire warehouses, we opted for BlackCircles.com, a mail order specialist that offers just tires or a fully-fitted service at one of its local approved fitters. After reading some less-than-glowing reports of some of the local fitters, we opting for just the tires. We placed an order for four Ventus Prime 2 tires — and as it happens, a new set of Goodyear EfficientGrip Performance for the LEAF too. In total, both sets of tires cost £534.94, including delivery, with delivery planned a few days after ordering.
A few days later, the tires arrived, shrink-wrapped in pairs and delivered by a regular courier firm during work hours. But while we’d ordered eight tires, only six were delivered.
A quick telephone call to BlackCircles customer service before signing for the tires sorted it out: we were told that the missing pair of tires would be delivered the following day. Apparently, this can happen with the firm: usually deliveries are sent out in batches, so there’s no guarantee front and rear tires will be delivered on the same day. Given the price and the lack of deadline for the fitting of the tires however, we’ll admit it was more an inconvenience than anything else.
1,000 miles in
With the tires fitted on each car for around £12 a wheel, including wheel balancing, both cars now benefit from new wheels. We’re focusing on the Volt today, so we’ll give you our opinion of the Goodyears on the LEAF at some other time.
After 1,000 miles in the Volt with the new tires, we’re happy to report that they’re far quieter than the Michelins around town, and seem to have slightly stronger sidewalls. We’ve been able to take some of our favorite reverse-camber corners without slipping, and so far we’ve only lost grip a few times on dirt-laden farm tracks and rural back roads.
Fuel economy is up a little too, although given the change in weather of late that’s hard to pin down to just the tires.
Naturally, 1,000 miles isn’t enough to give the Hankook Ventus Prime 2 a full test, but we’ll be keeping a close eye on how they perform and how quickly they wear in the coming months.
As for the mail order tires? We’d consider it again given the massive savings that can be had over high-street vendors. But unless you know exactly what you want, buying blind online can be a terrifying experience without asking a tire professional for their opinion first.
But perhaps our biggest lesson through all of this comes at the dealership when buying a car: be sure to check that the shiny car in front of you — and its fancy alloy wheels — have readily available, affordable tires that won’t cost the earth every time you need new rubber.
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