All Roads Lead to Rome
When I was invited to the Safety Workshop by Bridgestone (the world's number one tyre and rubber company) in Rome, I must admit, I thought they'd made a mistake on my invitation. I know nothing about tyres - I've never even changed one! Raring2go! is renowned for promoting family events and children's activities so why would Bridgestone want to talk to me about tyres?
Feeling anxious, yet excited, along with a bunch of bloggers and journalists, I headed off to the Bridgestone European Proving Ground in Aprilia, near Rome.
The aim of the event was to demonstrate to us that premium quality tyres perform significantly better then low-cost imports, especially in terms of safety.
To me, tyres are a commodity; a round piece of rubber to cover the four wheels on my car. How are they even made? Surely you pour rubber into a round mould and Bob's your uncle - much like a Shaker Maker?
I was soon put right about this, following a tour of the Bridgestone Technical Centre. Though I can't regurgitate all the facts and figures about tread and compounds (and I know you don't really want me to), what was evident is that a lot of research and engineering goes into producing a tyre, and new products are developed all the time. In fact Bridgestone spend more on research and development than any other tyre manufacturer - so you can start to appreciate exactly why the cost of Bridgestone tyres is higher than others on the market.
Prior to the event, like most of you reading this, I fell into the category of people who are in ignorant bliss. Choosing tyres is a 'distress purchase' and not something I had previously given much thought to. Faced with the inconvenience and expenditure of replacing a bald or punctured tyre, I've always been happy to leave it to the â'experts' (or my husband, I'm sorry to admit) to choose what's best for my car (or which option is cheapest).
This got me thinking - would I have let other people choose what car seat to purchase for my toddlers?
As our children grow up, the subject of car seats and stair gates, bike helmets, swimming lessons etc all crop up in conversation with other parents. We value the opinion and experience of other families. We research avidly the best and safest option for our precious offsprings. Tyres are the only part of the car making contact with the road - a vital bit of kit, therefore, on mum and dad's 'taxi', but we rarely give the purchase decision the consideration it deserves.
Bridgestone's own research has highlighted this contradiction. When asked what people look for in a tyre, most respondents stated Safety, yet they also cited Low Price as their number one influence when buying tyres.*
As my mother all ways tells me 'you get what you pay for!'
Bridgestone were keen for us to see for ourselves that premium tyres really do perform better when it comes to safety, and are therefore worth that extra cost. This meant actually getting behind the wheel!
Not knowing quite what to expect, our party headed off to Bridgestone Europe's proving ground. Covering 144 hectares and dominated by a 4 km oval circuit, the £40 million facility gives Bridgestone the most modern year-round testing assets in Europe.
Donning my Bridgestone cap, I headed off to tackle the circuit's 'black lake' wet surface in a Golf VII 2.0 TDI. Two cars were used, one fitted with Bridgestone premium Turanza T001 tyres and one fitted with a low cost Chinese import. Taking turns to drive the cars, we were able to experience the difference in wet cornering and hydroplaning between both sets of tyres. After performing my best 'emergency stop' at 75kph, a measuring system in the car then calculated actual stopping distances. There was a definite difference in the braking performance of the two cars, with the average stopping distance four metres shorter for the premium tyre than the low cost imports. four metres is the length of an average car; more than enough to make the vital difference in an emergency braking situation. It certainly makes you think about the consequences of hitting the car in front. Could I live with myself if I was involved in such an accident, perhaps injuring my own family or the family in front of me, when it could have been prevented by spending that bit extra on a better tyre?
Testing then moved over to a dry track where we had great fun driving around cones at top speed! Again we were able to compare tyres and feel the greater stability of the premium tyre in cornering, slalom manoeuvers and lane changing. The cheaper tyres were noisier too.
The revelation for me came when former Formula 1 driver Stefano Modena sped us around the wet track (known as 'black lake'). The really heavy Roman rain, coupled with the watering system on the track, meant the tyres were really put through their paces and the premium brand shone. Giddy with speed, I joked that it was just like a game of Mario Kart (the truth being that had it been Mario Kart we would have definitely lost all our lives, as we aquaplaned around the corners in the car fitted with the cheap tyres.) The loss of steering control was frightening, even though we were in the trusted hands of an experienced F1 driver. On a busy commute, a stressful school run, or wet motorway, the outcome doesn't bear thinking about.
Since 1st October 2014, all new cars are fitted with DPMS which is an electronic tyre pressure monitoring system, meaning that Run Flat Tyres can be used on that car. For those that don't know, Run Flats stay inflated if punctured, and whilst speed is restricted after the puncture, it does allow you to drive to a place of safety rather than being left stranded at the side of the road - perhaps alone late at night, or with a hungry child. Bridgestone, I learned, are the pioneers of Run Flat technology so offer a range of RF tyres.
The difference in price between the two sets of tyres that were tested (the Turanza T001 and the HiFly HF201) is only about £88 (and that's for a full set - it's rare that all four need replacing at once.)
You may feel that this is a significant amount of money, but break it down; a family meal out, a shopping spree, a new pair of boots. Then spread that over a couple of years and you're talking about a small amount for reassurance and peace of mind. In tricky economic times, when budgets are limited, we know that parents already cut back to ensure that their children don't miss out. We forgo that facial so that our daughter or son can continue dance classes; or cut out the cuppa at Costa in favour of ice creams in the park. After completing the workshop I felt certain that it's worth missing out on the odd treat to put money where it matters - our family's safety.
From now on I am going to cease deferring to the Dealer for my tyre purchases and if that means a night out is swapped for a homemade curry to ensure we can find that extra for the safer tyres, then so be it. Knowledge is power!
Bridgestone's strap line is 'Your Journey, Our Passion'. My 900 mile journey was worth it, to witness the passion that goes into making Bridgestone tyres as safe as possible. Because if I can convince just one other family to think twice about going for the cheaper option, then it might one day save a life.
- Oh - and I can now change a tyre! Veni, vidi, vici!
*Ipsos MarketQuest for Bridgestone April 2015.
Editor of Raring2go! for the Kidderminster and Stourbridge area since 2008. Mum of two, wife of one, font of all knowledge. Recently discovered a love of running/jogging and tennis - helps keep my sanity. What I lack in skill, I make for in enthusiasm!
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