Tire prices will rise as America transitions from conventionally-powered internal combustion vehicles to battery-only vehicles. Electric vehicle owners will find that they need to replace tires more frequently, and when they do replace them, the cost will be much higher than tires for an equivalently-sized conventionally-powered vehicle.
Tires Are Increasing In Price
There are multiple reasons for tire price increases in America today. Indeed, inflation plays a role. Shortages, industrial shutdowns due to the pandemic, and supply vs. demand are all reasons why any product or service will cost more today than a few years ago when inflation was under 3% as opposed to the approximately 9% annual rate today. However, the increases in tire prices we are speaking about are not small incremental increases but considerable leaps in cost.
It’s Not Only EVs - The Big Tire Addiction
Automakers have discovered that an uninformed public somehow thinks that larger tires with super-low profile sidewalls mounted to larger wheels have a benefit. As a vehicle and tire tester with a degree in engineering, let me assure you this is not the case. Larger wheels and tires are nothing more than vanity when it comes to daily drivers, pickup trucks, and pretty much any vehicle one drives on public roads. The only benefit of a 22-inch wheel compared to a 17-inch wheel on a vehicle is aesthetics - looks. And that is entirely subjective.
Our example of the EV with the 22-inch tire and wheel is not imaginary. It’s the actual size on the new Ford F-150 Lightning Platinum EV.
The downsides to larger wheels and lower profile sidewalls include the following;
-Higher cost to the consumer
-A vehicle that is slower to accelerate
-A vehicle with decreased braking capability
-A tire that is more likely to be damaged
-Reduced ride comfort
-Higher likelihood of tramlining and other poor handling aspects associated with tires.
Larger, heavier tires and wheels act as flywheels making it harder to accelerate and harder to stop a vehicle. Racers know this and don’t go nuts with bigger wheels and tires because it makes them slower on the track. Consumers don't care. They think “twenty-two-inch tires” sounds like a better thing than “seventeen-inch tires.”
How Are Electric Vehicles Making Tires More Expensive?
So why are electric vehicles the “cause” of the coming dramatic increase in tire costs to the consumers who buy them? I will provide the answer, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Go to any social media site and join the Tesla groups. Then search for the keyword “Tires.” You will find that what I am about to explain is already proven to be factual.
We took the liberty of doing a search for our readers to get some examples for you. We searched in a popular Telsa club on Facebook that covers all of the brand’s models. The second post that resulted from our keyword search is from CK, who posted, “I have a 2018 Model 3. At 43k and have completely gone through 2 sets of tires.” In that same forum, Tesla Model 3 RWD LR owner JJ writes, “I'm right around 32,000 Miles. My two front tires are 1/32 away from being critical."
Electric Vehicles Are Ridiculously Heavy
Electric vehicles are ridiculously heavy compared to conventionally-powered vehicles. The battery packs are the cause, and that cannot be rectified with “improvements.” The batteries we use will become better over time, but unless we shift to an entirely different storage media, EV batteries will still weigh hundreds or thousands of pounds. The new GMC Hummer EV weighs over 9,000 pounds. A comparably-sized gas-powered GMC Sierra pickup weighs about half that much. This is just an easy illustration. All EVS are heavy, but the pickups are simply absurdly so. And pickups are this country's top choice of vehicle overall. Want a sedan example? The Tesla Model 3 is about 33% heavier than a Honda Civic its same size.
Overweight Vehicles Need Special Tires
Weight itself is not all bad. But it is when it comes to tire wear. EVs are so massive they need to have special tires. You can’t just grab the one the same size as the numbers printed on the side. You need Extra Load tires. These special tires, which will soon be the standard tire, have more structure to support the crazy-heavy vehicle they are mounted to. Extra structure means more cost.
Torque Is Awesome - But It Wears Tires Out
Crazy weight is not the only reason that EVs are about to drive up consumer costs for tires. EVs have a wonderfully high-torque propulsion system. It’s why we prefer EVs over conventional vehicles, hands-down. They are simply more satisfying to drive. That massive torque at low RPMs makes EVs feel super fast because they are super fast. That torque translates to increased wear and tear on the tires. They simply burn the tread off faster. Again, don’t take our word for it. Try the keyword search in the forums for popular EVs and see what you find. 20,000-mile replacements are not unheard of, and 35,000-mile tire replacements are commonplace. That is about half the treadlife of a normal tire on a conventional car.
To try to mitigate the tire fiasco, EV makers do all they can to urge consumers to care for their tires. The Tesla owner's manual, as just one example, suggests tire rotations at a minimum of every 6,250 miles. This is to ensure even wear. Otherwise, part of the tread could be flat much sooner than expected.
EVs Often Employ Special Tire Features To Offset Shortcomings
There are more reasons why EVs will have high tire costs for the consumer. Since automakers don’t want to pay the price for a compact spare that can hold up an overweight vehicle, the choices of spare tires are limited to either a full-size spare (the highest-cost choice), a run-flat capable tire, or a special tire that self-seals, like that used on the Chevy Bolt (one of our all-time favorite EVs). Special features like self-sealing technology and run-flat capability cost money.
Tesla likes to add acoustic noise reduction foam to its vehicle’s tire designs. Although this technology is not new, it has historically been a luxury vehicle tire feature due to its added cost. Tesla does it because heavier cars have more road noise. Acoustic noise-reducing tires are more expensive than regular tires of the same brand and model. They are also tricky to repair if punctured.
Combine these tire designs to come up with the highest possible cost tire:
-Large diameter, low-profile
-Extra Load capability (XL)
-Self-sealing technology or run flat capability
-Acoustic noise reduction foam.
-Low rolling resistance technology
Real-World Tire Price Examples - BEVs vs. Conventional Vehicles
Let’s look at a real-world example of the cost of a five-passenger conventional crossover’s tire vs. a new battery electric crossover’s tire. We opted to use the RAV4 as the conventional vehicle, since it is the top-selling crossover in America. As a comparison, we chose the new Toyota bZ4X BEV crossover. We went to Tire Rack and searched for the least expensive base model OEM replacement tire. Here is what we found.
RAV4 17-inch tire Model TOYO OPEN COUNTRY A38 Price = $160.44 each
bZ4X 18-inch tire Model BRIDGESTONE TURANZA EL450 = $276.29
In this example, the BEV has a cost per tire 42% higher than the conventional vehicle.
Let’s take another example, this time choosing the top-selling EV sedan in America, the Tesla Model 3. We will compare it to the top-selling conventional car its size, the Honda Civic. Again, we will look for the least expensive base model OEM replacement tire.
Tesla Model 3 18-inch HANKOOK KINERGY GT Price = $257.99
Honda Civic 17-inch HANKOOK KINERGY GT Price = $175.99
In this example, the BEV had a cost per tire 32% higher than the conventional vehicle’s tire.
Here is one more example, this time using our favorite affordable battery-electric vehicles, the Chevrolet Bolt. The Bolt was long a top seller in its segment and has recently returned to the market with a surge in sales. Since Chevy has quit on affordable conventional cars, we will compare the conventionally-powered Nissan Kicks to the Bolt. Again, we will look for the least expensive base model OEM replacement tire.
Chevy Bolt 17-inch MICHELIN ENERGY SAVER A/S Self-Seal Price = $242.96
Nissan Kicks 16-inch FIRESTONE FT140 Price = $131.45
In this example, the BEV has a tire price 46% higher than the conventionally-powered vehicle its size.
Conclusion - Added Tire Cost Offsets A Big EV Advantage
As you can see from our multiple examples using the top-selling models in various segments, a battery-electric vehicle is the perfect storm of high tire costs. Why does it matter? For one, tires are among the most expensive maintenance items on any vehicle. Over 100,000 miles of ownership, adding two extra sets of tires due to premature wear can add over $3,000 in ownership costs. Couple that with a much higher cost to replace tires on BEVs, and tire cost can easily offset much of the maintenance cost advantage EVs should have over regular cars.
Images by John Goreham
John Goreham is a long-time New England Motor Press Association member and recovering engineer. John's interest in EVs goes back to 1990 when he designed the thermal control system for an EV battery as part of an academic team. After earning his mechanical engineering degree, John completed a marketing program at Northeastern University and worked with automotive component manufacturers, in the semiconductor industry, and in biotech. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American news outlets and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on TikTok @ToknCars, on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin
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