Why Michelin Believes Wet Traction Testing for Worn Tires Is Vital

Bob Ulrich
Posted on June 18, 2018
During a special event at Michelin's Laurens Proving Grounds recently, Tom Carter, technical communications director for product marketing, said tires should be designed "so that they perform to their legal limit" under wet conditions.
During a special event at Michelin's Laurens Proving Grounds recently, Tom Carter, technical communications director for product marketing, said tires should be designed "so that they perform to their legal limit" under wet conditions.

Michelin North America Inc.’s long-term goal is for all tire manufacturers to voluntarily test worn tire performance in wet conditions for the sake of the consumer. The short-term goal is to get people talking about the need for worn tire performance testing.

Consider the conversation started.

Michelin is hosting a global series of events to raise awareness about the importance of worn tire performance in the tire-buying decision. One of the first was a driving event recently held at Michelin’s Laurens Proving Grounds in Greenville, S.C. (more on that later).

The American Automobile Association (AAA) is talking about it, too, at least indirectly. The association released research results revealing that driving on relatively worn tires at highway speeds in wet conditions can increase average stopping distances by 43%, or an additional 87 feet when compared to new tires.

“Even the most advanced safety systems rely on a tire’s basic ability to maintain traction, and AAA’s testing shows that wear has a significant impact on how quickly a vehicle can come to a stop in wet conditions to avoid a crash,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of automotive engineering and repair.

I don’t think any of us are surprised by the results. The Tire Rack compared wet traction performance on tires with 4/32-inch tread depth versus 2/32-inch 11 years ago with similar results. Nielsen, however, goes a step further when he strongly implies driving on tires after they reach tread depth of 4-32-inch “jeopardizes a driver’s safety.” Michelin has no qualms with AAA’s test results, but does have something to say about AAA’s conclusions.

“Michelin has begun a conversation about worn tire performance because we believe that consumers should have information about what they can expect from their tires throughout their legal life,” said the company in response to AAA’s assertions. “AAA, like Michelin, is committed to safety, and we are pleased that AAA has added its voice to this topic.

“AAA’s data supports Michelin’s position that not all tires are created equal. The AAA research also supports our position that as tires wear, their wet stopping ability decreases. We also agree that tire degradation varies significantly among brands and even within brands. In fact, some worn tires perform better than some new tires.”

Here’s where Michelin’s opinion differs from AAA’s. “Wear bars are legally required (at the 2/32-inch mark) for all passenger tires sold in the United States. Michelin strongly believes that all tires should be designed to perform to current wear bars, thus resolving safety, financial and environmental concerns.”

In essence, Michelin agrees that tires perform better at 4/32-inch than at 2/32-inch, but doesn’t believe tires run down to the 2/32-inch mark are unsafe.

“We will continue to work to raise awareness on the topic of worn tire testing and look forward to working with industry partners,” summed up Michelin in its response. That was the goal of Michelin’s event at the Laurens Proving Grounds, where I was among a number of journalists who performed wet braking and wet handling comparison testing on new and worn (3-32-inch) tires.

“Worn tires should be tested and drivers should have the information,” said Andrew Koury, Michelin brand director for North America. “And replacement of tires early has considerable financial and environment impacts just outside of the safety to consumers.”

Jim Frady, tire performance team manager, said there is no way for consumers to understand how investing in new tires will impact their lives down the road unless they know how they will perform as they reach wear out.

“The tire is arguably the most sophisticated piece of technology that you trust your life to every single day, and most people never think about it,” he said. “You put your life in that technology, and there's no way for you to know how it's going to perform when you're thousands of miles down the road.”

Tom Carter, technical communications director for product marketing, said Michelin wants to give consumers more information when they are buying new tires.

“You go buy a refrigerator and you can see all the features. You can read about a lot of features. Tires are hard to evaluate.

“Technology exists to design and manufacture tires to perform well in wet conditions, even when worn. You don't have to have magic sprinkle dust or a magic tread pattern. You need to have good tread pattern, and you need to maintain it. You need to have good contact patch shape, and you need to maintain it. And you need to have an adherent rubber compound that maintains this traction throughout its life.”

To underscore the need for testing, Michelin showed off the technology in its Premier A/S tire during wet traction testing. Its tire worn performed better than a competitor’s tire did new.

“The problem is if you couch it in terms of 2/32nds or 4/32nds, you couch it in terms of an indicator that's not a good indicator on its own,” Carter told me at the Laurens Proving Grounds event. “We had a tire at close to worn out on a pretty significant amount of water that stopped better than a brand new tire. It's not about tread depth.”

Carter said tire designers know what they need to do to make sure tires perform acceptably when they are significantly worn. Now it’s time for them to do so, and for the industry to develop a wet traction test that will give consumers critical information they need to know when buying tires.

“We hope the press and advocates will hold us accountable to that,” said Carter.

Related Topics: AAA, Andrew Koury, consumer tires, Jim Frady, Laurens Proving Grounds, retail, Tire Rack, Tom Carter, worn tire testing, worn tires

Bob Ulrich Editor
Comments ( 1 )
  • Kenny Heishman

     | about 9 months ago

    The value equation is important also. The new Premier Tire is a great wet traction tire at very low tread depth (I have them on my wife's minivan), BUT they are not giving anywhere close to the tread life they are promising. In some instances I have seen personally they are only giving about 1/3 of the promised mileage warranty, and I'm talking about down to 2/32". That is a shame for Michelin customers who have just paid a large premium for a premium tire, that's great in the wet for about 20,000 miles until it's real close to 2/32", and then it's hard to sell that customer another set of Michelin tires that will do the same thing. I have long been a Michelin and a BFGoodrich fan, and our business really tries to sell their tires primarily, but I long for the days of the Michelin Harmony, when they built a tire that was certainly acceptable in the wet and came darn close most times to 80,000 miles!

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