2012 tyre labelling: What you need to know

Golf Mk6 at Goodyear proving ground
Last year we reported on how new EU legislation will signal big changes for tyre manufacturers.

From November 2012, an energy rating similar to those on fridges and freezers will be slapped on all new tyres produced for passenger cars and light trucks. It has three different categories: rolling resistance, wet grip and outside noise.

So how will manufacturers test tyres under the new rules?

Well, the truth is that for tyre development, these three categories are only a minute part of the exhaustive testing that goes into a tyre. Thousands of miles will be driven on differing road surfaces with extreme weather conditions to make sure that they are safe and perform well.

What can I expect?

The first thing that might surprise you is that most of the premium tyre brands will not automatically come with an A rating. Why? Well, this is because the three future parameters are actually very difficult to balance. This is a deliberate move by the EU to make extremely difficult ratings and thus it stops the market being flooded with A+, A++ and A+++ tyres in a matter of months. Manufacturers are therefore choosing one of the three features to focus on much more closely. Both Goodyear Dunlop and Avon are designing tyres that can perform admirably in the wet, so while it may have a great looking figure in the wet grip category, the other two might look poor in comparison.

You will have to decide which of the three ratings suits your needs best.

What will I have to do?

If you have recently bought a set of tyres or your tyres still have a healthy amount of tread, don't worry. The legislation does not require you to change them for new on 1 November 2012. Other exemptions include remoulds and retreads. However, if you are in the market for a new set of tyres, expect to hear a lot more from the mechanic than "That'll be £400 mate." Instead, you will be shown how the new tyres on the shelves have fared on the easy-to-read label before you make your judgement.

Why has the EU planned this?

The main drive to label tyres is so that consumers understand more about the rubber that keeps us on the road. Lie Junius, director of public affairs for Goodyear Dunlop, believes it will 'enable customers to get excited about tyres'. That may be pushing it, but if more people make a conscious effort to understand why it is important to keep tyres in check, the less number of accidents will happen on our roads.

Why is road noise on the label?

First of all, it is important to point out that the tyre noise grading on the label has nothing to do with what you can hear inside the car. It focuses purely on outside noise pollution and the negative impact on the environment. In town and cities, this could see a significant reduction overall in noise pollution from traffic, although we'd recommend buying tyres with better wet grip or fuel efficiency.

Why don't I just buy the most fuel efficient tyres?

On the face of it, this would seem like a good plan, especially if you don't do many miles or aren't looking to blat round your local country lanes in a tyre-screeching frenzy. A-rated rubber could save you up to 7.5% in fuel costs over the life of the tyre, or 6 litres per 1000 km. Great, but you must also consider that the wet grip grading needs to be high too, especially as from next November another bad winter is sure to set in.

What will be the real difference between A grade and G grade tyres?

The major manufacturers have already been conducting thorough tests that involve the equivalent of high grade and low grade tyres. Autoblog visited the Goodyear proving ground in Luxembourg to find out more.

A section of the track was kept wet to replicate heavy downpours and create conditions that may cause aquaplaning. The cars used were VW Golf Mk6 1.4 TSi models. Each Golf had different tyres on; one with the equivalent of A grade tyres and one with the equivalent of the lowest G graded tyres.

At 105kph, the brakes were applied firmly to simulate an emergency stop.

In Goodyear's research, the A grade equivalent tyre stops short by up to 40%, or 18 metres.

The A grade tyre gave excellent grip and really hunkered the car down. The stopping distance between the two cars simply felt huge. The car was completely controllable.

The G rated tyre was a different story altogether. It was skittish under heavy braking and the Golf really wanted to squirm in different directions, fighting with the ABS. It was here that 18 metres soon started to feel like 18 miles.

This could well be the difference between a dink in your bumper and a complete write-off.

Braking test at Goodyear

There is no doubt that the impending EU regulations will affect us all. It is pretty much a given that the cost of new rubber will go up, but it should even out with more manufacturers offering a fuel efficient tyre in line with the parameters.

The good news is that we will be more informed about what we buy and therefore we can make better decisions on what we want as consumers.

Check out the Continental website for an easy guide to the upcoming label.