When thinking of ways to use less gas and cut costs at the pump, many northwesterners consider the impact of their vehicles, but few consider the effect of their tires. A couple days ago, we noted that we may be wasting as much as 3 percent of our gasoline by failing to check our tire pressure.

Northwesterners may be wasting even more by driving around on inferior tires. A study prepared for the California energy commission in 2003 (read the pdf here) found that tires’ rolling resistance—how much energy is required to roll them forward—varies by as much as 60 percent. And rolling resistance has no relationship to traction, performance, or durability.

Fuel-saving tires boost fuel economy by 1 to 4.5 percent. In fact, car manufacturers put them on new cars to help comply with corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards. But if you’re not a major auto manufacturer, it’s nearly impossible even to find out which tires are fuel sippers and which are gluttons. (The only partial listing of recommended models available yet is this (pdf) Energy Foundation-funded report by the nonprofit Green Seal.)

  • Labeling and certifying low rolling-resistance tires, and providing incentives for their purchase (feebates!), is one of the cheapest oil conservation steps the Northwest can take. And the region’s state and provincial governments can take the lead, because federal action has not yet preempted local jurisdiction for tires, as it has for the fuel economy of vehicles.

    (This post prepared by Sightline research intern Matt Shoellhamer.)