A Tale Of Two Tires Proves That EVs Aren’t Rubber Eaters

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One thing I keep seeing in the online EV FUD machine lately is how terrible EVs are on tires. Because they’re heavy and they produce so much torque, they say, EVs go through tires way faster than ICE vehicles. The estimated tire life keeps shrinking as the story spreads, with the most recent one I came across saying that they only last 15,000 miles. That last exaggeration got one potential EV buyer to wondering whether it was a good idea to get an EV, so clearly this kind of stuff affects sales.

In this article, I want to tell some tales about my experience with EVs and tires, starting with my most recent set of tires.

The Tale Of Two Tires (So Far)

When my Bolt EUV had about 4,000 miles on it, I was considering getting something better for mild off-roading. I love going on forest roads, but that often means that under the gravel there’s sometimes a sharp rock that can take a normal street tire out. I’m not trying to do Baja runs or anything, but the Michelin eco tires that came fitted on the vehicle definitely weren’t ready to deal with that, even at low speeds with me taking it easy.

Initially, I decided to ask them if they could let me test some Tweel prototypes. After all, no air means no pop! While some journalists have had an opportunity to test drive Tweels, Michelin’s rep said the company isn’t ready to let anyone take a set home. So, instead, he offered me a set of truck tires for testing: the Defender LTX M/S. I gladly accepted, but still had to pay for my own mounting, balancing, road hazard warranty, along with a wheel for a full-size spare.

Despite not being designed for EVs, LTX tires were designed to deal with the mounting torque numbers pickups and SUVs have been putting out in recent years. While the power doesn’t pour on as fast as an EV’s, a late-model turbocharged truck engine can still deliver some serious punishment to the rubber. If you stand on it, there will often be some lag while the air pressure builds up, followed by a sudden burst of power once the turbo spools up. This can be about as tough as an EV, even if the effect is delayed.

As luck would have it, I recently did my first tire rotation, so I now have a very timely experience to share!

Here’s the thing: the rear tires (the Bolt EUV is front wheel drive) were pristine. Despite going about 12,000 miles in the last year and a half, they looked about new. Almost full tread remained, and the little rubber whiskers in the grooves were still in there! But the front tires had lost about half of their tread. I readily admit to being a bit of a lead foot, which readily explains it. But, if weight were a real factor, you’d think those rear tires would have had some noticeable wear on them.

At this rate, I’ll probably rotate again in another 12,000 miles or so when the tread is even again. Then, I’ll go about another 12,000 miles before tread will go low. At that point, I could do another rotation and wear them all down to the wear bars, for a total life of about 48,000 miles. That’s a whole lot more than 15,000 or even 30,000!

It’s Easy To Lead-Foot An EV, Though

When you get into an EV, there are several psychological things playing against your tire life.

First off, the sudden onset torque can be a lot of fun! The Bolt EUV and other cheaper EVs I’ve owned don’t have a lot of torque and horsepower compared to a Tesla, but simply saying it has 266 lb-ft of torque doesn’t really give you a good idea of what that’s really like to drive. The Bolt is a lot like an older V8 engine from 0–30 MPH, and then a lot more like a 4-cylinder from 45 MPH and up.

But, in town, you do a lot of 0–30 MPH, so you get a lot of that sudden torque, have a lot of fun, and then pay for it at the tire shop later.

Another thing playing against your tires is that you don’t feel the need to worry about breaking a complex combustion engine and transmission. Without all of the moving parts, the chances of causing premature wear and killing your car by 100,000 miles goes way down. So, the hesitance to have some fun is a lot smaller.

Finally, there’s fuel costs. With an EV, you’re not punished at the gas station for driving hard. Around town, your power bill might go up $5 or something, so that’s hard to even notice when the electric company sends you an unwanted envelope in the mail. So, again, the hesitance to stomp on the skinny pedal just isn’t there the way it is with a gas-powered car.

Truth is, if everyone drove an EV the same way they drove an ICE vehicle, most EVs wouldn’t show unusual tire wear compared to cars you’ve owned before. The heavier weight and the faster onset torque would mean more wear, but not the kind of wear most people are causing for themselves.

EVs have more torque available, but they only make as much torque as the driver asks for with the accelerator.

The Situation Will Also Improve

Another thing that’s changing is tire technology. As these LTX tires I’m testing show, tire compounds are getting better at withstanding the extra torque most newer vehicles have, ICEV or EV. That will continue. Also, as tire manufacturers optimize even more for the kind of faster torque that an EV produces, things will improve even more.

But, in the long run, we will very likely see airless tires become the norm. There’s just too much demand for Tweels for the market to ignore that. Because they don’t need to hold pressure and deform millions of times the way normal tires do, there will be very little problem with retreading those Tweels over and over. It might even be possible using a 3D-printing process that adds tread on demand, or gives you a custom tread pattern to fit changing needs.

So, those of us with the need for a little more speed might be OK in the long run.

Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.


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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1983 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba