The true joy of owning a vehicle is the ability to spontaneously jump in and drive off to the end of the road or nearest border, without a worry.
After my near-death smash-up with a matatu a couple of months ago, life has taken a whole new meaning. I have learnt that it is short and fragile and deserves to be enjoyed in its entirety. Nothing shakes a man more than a head-on collision with an inanimate object.
But when another vehicle is involved and other lives are at stake, it can be very scary indeed. After scrutiny of the events of that afternoon, a cocktail of factors must have led to the mishap. They can be summed up into three. At the top of the list was a malfunctioning ABS sensor. A close second was my ageing tyres, which were unable to grip the uneven dry surface during the unfolding emergency. Third was the beautiful scenery that distracted me.
So, before you take off in search of answers to life’s questions as you drive, check your rubbers. My search for replacement tyres is one and has led me to seek answers. I have made an obvious conclusion that every car and its driver are different as day and night. The ideal set of tyres must thus be based on how both blend into one.
Your questionable driving skills notwithstanding, understand your car’s speed, handling and stopping capabilities. Factor in how alert you are when on the wheel and how quick your response is during an emergency. Are you driving a low performance car or a small ‘town runner’? Do not fit Firestone Cavalino’s to your turbo charged Subaru to save a few shillings for your next visit to the watering hole. It is futile to fit expensive ultra high performance low profile tyres to your little Toyota Premio, Vitz or Mazda Demio.
There are many qualities to consider when buying a tyre but key ones are dry braking, wet handling abilities, tread life and fuel use. Price should come a distant last since you and your loved ones are more valuable than any tyre. Remember, it is important that your tyres well are suited for your vehicle. In an emergency, how sexy they look at the parking lot means nothing. Never sacrifice design for performance and safety. In East Africa, Kenya in particular, we have drier weather most of the year compared to parts of Europe than most tyres are designed for. That’s why dry braking is important when choosing your next rollers.
Imagine you are driving round a bend in a carelessly brave manner and suddenly your vehicle feels light footed. You panic slam on the brakes as the rear of the car flips out to join the front and you almost wet your pants. You manage to regain control of the car before it lands in a ditch. Many bad things could happen when you get excited. How good your vehicle’s electronic stability control system is might be your only redemption. However superior your onboard computer is, your tyres still have the last say and must be able to cope with everything that is thrown at them in the few seconds between frantically depressing the brakes, swerving and getting the car back on the road. Your tyre must be to be able to dispel water from underneath through well-designed tread grooves. The right amount of silica in the rubber also helps to improve traction since it affects the flexibility of the tread compound. Bridgestone uses a seamless block and groove design to boost ground contact and water drainage.
Better mileage is achieved from low rolling resistance, which is realised by good tread design, casing shape, materials and construction. If you get very good fuel use you will sacrifice handling and braking. So do not try and have the best of all worlds. Try and achieve a balance of both. You will perhaps get this from Dunlop, Michelin, Goodyear and Continental, in that order.
Finally, do not trust tyre vendors. They may know very little about your vehicle model. They are keen to sell and not save lives. Be careful not to change the tyre size without expert advice.
Your vehicle manual stipulates what tyre best suits your model.
As we welcome the rains, remember to be safe on the road. Stay alert and focused on other lesser drivers but more importantly choose your rubbers carefully.