Test driver is one of the job descriptions for every Tire Rack sales specialist. That's because Tire Rack believes it is first-hand experience and extensive training that allow our team to provide expert product recommendations based on how, what and where you drive. Each year our specialists participate in 10 or more comprehensive tests, typically experiencing at least 40 different tire models - more in one testing season than most drivers experience on their vehicles in a lifetime of driving.
Each test allows our team to experience each of the products in a short period of time, giving them a real back-to-back comparison under controlled conditions. To keep the evaluations consistent we use a small fleet of identical vehicles, the same Real World Road Ride route and the same Performance Test Track course. During each evaluation, the only things that really change are the products we are testing.
Real World Road Rides
Our 5.5-mile Real World Road Ride loop allows our team to experience ride, noise and light handling qualities across the variety of conditions our customers drive on every day. We include two-lane roads, four-lane roads and expressways, as well as surfaces that include chipped stone in tar (rough and irregular), asphalt (some very smooth areas while others are patched) and concrete (complete with expansion joints and some studded tire wear). The vehicle conditions that would affect the results are kept to a minimum with the radio off, windows up and climate control fan on its lowest setting. This allows us to focus on each product's contribution to ride, noise and light handling qualities without unnecessary distractions.
Fuel Consumption Results
Each test tire is driven over 500 miles during the course of our Real World Road Ride. The extended distance over a variety of road surfaces and driving speeds provides an excellent opportunity to measure fuel consumption in a real-world environment similar to what typical drivers would experience during day-to-day driving.
Our team follows consistent procedures designed to minimize variables that could influence the results. We maintain the flow of traffic, use the cruise control whenever possible and don't use hypermiling techniques to influence vehicle fuel economy. We also eliminate differences in tire diameter and vehicle trip computers by using Linear Logic ScanGauge II automotive computers to record fuel consumption, and Race Technology DL1 data loggers to record true distance traveled.
Performance Test Track Drives
The purpose-built test track located adjacent to our South Bend headquarters allows our team to find out how each product would behave under the extremes of emergency situations on the road or the limits of performance in competition. Our team members run multiple laps on our test course to challenge the car's steering response, handling, braking and cornering capabilities and we time selected track segments to quantify the product's contribution to the vehicle's handling and maximum cornering capability.
The test track is dedicated to testing during the week and is used for Tire Rack Street Survival teen driving schools or car club autocross competition on weekends. However, since it is never used as a parking lot, parked vehicles don't create isolated slick spots by dripping oil and antifreeze.
Dry, Wet and Wintry Conditions
While it's easier for tires to deliver similar dry weather handling and performance, we've found the real tiebreaker to be when the roads are covered with the water of a rainstorm or shower. Our test track features a sprinkler system that allows us to evaluate traction, handling and braking distances under consistent wet road conditions.
And because many of our customers live in America's Snowbelt, we also test the wintertime traction of all-season and winter tires on the ice and in the snow. The polished ice of our local hockey rink serves to simulate slick intersections and ice-covered roads. For snow testing we travel to a dedicated winter test facility in Northern Sweden, where wide open expanses of groomed snow provide the consistency needed to properly compare tires side-by-side. We've tested the differences between summer, all-season and dedicated winter tires, as well as the confidence inspired predictability of matching four winter tires compared to unstable handling that occurs when trying to mix pairs of winter and all-season tires.
Panic Stopping Tests
Life seldom depends on how fast you go, but how well you stop really can make a difference. And while today's four-wheel disc and anti-lock braking systems often get the majority of praise, it's really the tires that convert those systems' abilities into actual stopping distances.
To evaluate the contribution tires make, we conduct straight-line braking tests to accurately measure panic stopping distances. We stabilize the speed at 50 miles per hour and hit the brakes hard enough to engage the anti-lock braking system and bring the vehicle to a complete stop. We run multiple stops on each tire and use a Racelogic Driftbox GPS datalogger to quantify the data and determine average stopping distances.
Sharing What We've Learned
Following every Ride & Drive, our team's evaluation of each product's comfort and performance is scored on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the highest. Additionally, each driver's lap times during the Performance Track Drive are recorded and the fastest laps are averaged to help quantify the tire's performance capabilities on the track.
We have found that our team's driving experience and insight reflects that of our customers. They are a combination of racers, autocrossers and enthusiasts who commute to work every day. Their evaluations provide an excellent overview of the variety of products we test. After all, experience really is the best teacher.