Tire Tyranny

If you’ve gone to get new tires recently, you may have already dealt with the latest outcropping of technocratic busybodyism: The scanning of your car’s electronic ear tag, its Vehicle Identification Number or VIN.

The VIN is a bar code – literally – just like the one on the packages of stuff you buy at the supermarket or anywhere else that’s corporate. The VIN specifically identifies your car – including every last detail about it, such as the engine/transmission it came with, the color it was painted and the tires it came equipped with from the factory.

And now it is being used to identify you.

This time, not by Uncle.

By private companies, following Uncle’s example.

To track you, control you – and even dun you.

Here’s how:

Time to buy old US gold coins

You visit the tire shop to buy a new set. Used to be that you’d either tell the guy behind the counter which tires you wanted or discuss options with him. Then you’d buy them and he’d install them. Now the guy behind the counter will scan your car’s VIN – which is tied to the DMV – and first find out all kinds of things about you and your car.

Then he will tell you which tires you’re allowed to buy.

Yes, really.

If your car originally came equipped with tires that carried a V speed rating – the “V” indicating rated for sustained travel at speeds up to 149 MPH – but you’ve decided you’d like to buy less aggressive (and less expensive) tires with an H rating – the “H” indicating rated safe for sustained travel at sustained speeds up to 130 MPH – the Tire Nazi will not allow it.

Or perhaps you’d like to go up a size – or down – for whatever reason of your own. After all, it is your car – and you’re buying the tires.

In neither case is any of this necessarily “unsafe” – although that will be the claim.

In the case of speed ratings, they are based on sustained speeds.  It is an important distinction. Thus, a V rated tire can safely handle sustained speeds up to 149 MPH. But it is not dangerous to briefly exceed 149 MPH. The tire isn’t going to shred – unless you operate at sustained speeds in excess of the rated maximum.

Question: How often do you travel at the sustained speeds for which your tire is rated? How about in excess of the rated speed?

For how long?

In the United States, the fastest allowable highway speed is 85 MPH – in a few rural parts of Texas. In most of the rest of the country, 70-75 is the maximum allowed and while driving faster is common, driving appreciably faster than 90 more than briefly isn’t.

A Q-rated tire (safe operation at sustained speeds up to 100 MPH) or R (106 MPH) pretty much covers that – and a tire with an S (112 MPH) or T (118 MPH) rating more than covers it, with a margin to spare.

In the United States, high-speed tires with ratings of “H” (130 MPH, sustained) or higher are functional overkill unless you actually do drive at sustained speeds at or near their rated maximums. If not, then you can save money by purchasing less aggressive tires – which also usually last longer and ride a bit softer – without compromising the safety of your vehicle.

Except for the VIN Thing.

The tire guy knows and will screech saaaaaaaaaaaaaafety but in actuality it’s about selling you the more expensive tires. He’ll also fall back on the Liability Excuse; if he sells you an H rated tire but your car came with V rated tires and you drive at sustained speeds in excess of the H rated tire’s capabilities but at speeds your car is theoretically capable of reaching and you wreck – well, you might sue.

Which you might – if you’re that sort of person. But first the tire would actually have to fail and for that to happen, you’d have to operate at sustained speeds in excess of the rated capacity to deal with them.

Good luck with that – even assuming you had the desire to try.

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