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  • Change of Seasons

    Now is the time to winterize your car

    By Nina Russin

    Photo courtesy of Bridgestone Winter Driving School

    Photo courtesy of Bridgestone Winter Driving School

    Although autumn officially begins in late September, October is the time when most of us see the weather start to change dramatically. While we enjoy watching the leaves turn fiery red and gold, it’s also time to start thinking about how winter will affect our cars and our driving.

    In a series of #eBay buying guides, I’ve gathered some information about the best way to winterize a vehicle as well as tips for driving safely on ice and snow.

    “Five Ways To Winterize Your Car” focuses on mechanical issues that can lead to cold-weather breakdowns such as dead batteries, old coolant, bad belts and hoses. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Winter Tires Enhance Cold Weather Safety

    New Blizzak and X-Ice Xi2 models boost performance on ice and snow

    By Nina Russin

    Photo Courtesy of Volvo

    All-season radials are a good news/bad news story for the motoring public. On the plus side, drivers living in mild climates can go through the year on a single set of treads. The flip side is that car owners take the term literally, not realizing the safety risks until it’s too late.

    “A car’s safety systems are only as good as the traction the tires provide,” explained TireRack.com vice president, Matt Edmonds. TireRack.com, the world’s largest independent tire retailer, tests tires internally using a specially-designed track at its South Bend, Indiana headquarters. For its winter tire tests, Edmonds and his team go as far north as the Arctic Circle to assess performance under extreme weather conditions. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Winter Tires Add Traction in Extreme Weather

    By Nina Russin

    Winter Tire Test at Tire Rack

    Winter Tire Test at Tire Rack

    When I was a kid, using winter tires was common practice. Before the days of front and all-wheel drive, winter tires were the only way drivers could give their cars better traction for driving on ice and snow.

    While technologies such as electronic stability and traction control enhance a car’s all-season performance, winter tires add an important measure of protection. Rubber compounds are temperature sensitive. Summer performance tires work best in temperatures above freezing. All-season tires maintain traction over a wider range of temperatures, but still don’t perform as well as winter tires in extreme cold weather.

    Tread patterns on winter tires are designed to move moisture away from the surface, so the tires maintain their contact patches with the ground. If the tires lose traction and the car hydroplanes, none of its other safety systems can bring the vehicle back under control. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Bridgestone unveils two new Blizzaks

    Winter tires enhance traction on snow and ice

    Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V1

    Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V1

    Tires are like running shoes: the more specific the application, the better the tires function. The difference between winter tires and all-season radials is that the former are compounded for colder temperatures than the latter. As a result, they stay stickier in extreme cold temperatures, for improved grip.

    Winter tires also have different tread patterns, designed to maximize traction on snow, rain and ice-covered roads. The treads typically have larger void or open areas, and sipes: rubber blades that scrape standing water out of the tire’s way.

    While winter tires may seem like an unnecessary investment, they can make a significant difference in performance for drivers who live in areas with severe weather. Bridgestone Blizzaks are known for their quality and value: they rival the performance of more expensive European brands.

    This year Bridgestone is introducing two new Blizzak models: the R-rated DM-V1 for high-performance cars, and the H-rated LM-60, for more general applications. The DM-V1 uses a proprietary rubber compound to disperse water. A directional tread pattern enhances performance on dry roads, while “multi-Z” tread grooves improve grip on snow and ice.

    The Bridgestone LM-60 was designed specifically for North American road conditions, with continuous lugs and zigzag sipes to enhance snow and ice traction. Grooves around the tires’ circumference channel water out of the way, in order to prevent hydroplaning.

    The Bridgestone web site has more complete information on the complete line of Blizzak winter tires. The Tire Rack, based in South Bend, Indiana, is a good resource for information as well as products. Their web site includes product reviews by in-house evaluators, as well as information on regional tire installers. The Tire Rack has a huge inventory of tires from all of the major manufacturers, and can drop ship tires throughout the United states.

  • Bridgestone and Toyota Support Teen Safety

    OEM programs support National Safety Month with driving instruction and a video contest

    Bridgestone Driver's Edge Program

    Bridgestone Driver's Edge Program

    In honor of National Safety Month, Bridgestone and Toyota have announced programs targeted towards teen drivers. Teenage drivers are involved in fatal traffic accidents at over twice the rate of the general population. Traffic accidents are the number one cause of death among teens age 16 to 20.

    Bridgestone is currently accepting entries for the third annual Safety Scholars video contest. Students create short videos about automotive safety or environmentalism. Three winners receive a $5000 college scholarship, and will have their videos aired as public service announcements on television stations nationwide.

    Videos must be 25 or 55 seconds in length. Bridgestone is accepting the first 300 entries by June 17 at safetyscholars.com. A panel of judges will evaluate entries by how well they compel viewers to be more safety or eco-conscious when using their videos. The ten finalists will be posted on safetyscholars.com, YouTube, MySpace and Facebook on June 25. Bridgestone will announce the grand prize winners on July 23.

    Toyota driving skills program helps teens in California learn about accident avoidance

    Toyota’s Driving Expectations program consists of interactive and hands-on instruction, to help teens become safer drivers. The program is free to Los Angeles area residents. Toyota has partnered with the National Safety Council since the program’s debut in 2004. Since then, over 12,000 teens in 18 cities have benefited from the program.

    Four-hour programs will be held over two weekends: July 11-12, and August 8-9. To learn more about the program and register, visit the Toyota Driving Expectations web site.

  • Bridgestone Driving Programs Target Teen Safety

    Web site, video contest and driving school aim to reduce fatalities

    Tire pressure check

    Tire pressure check

    Bridgestone Americas is taking a three-prong approach to improving safety among young drivers. In addition to its Safety Scholars video contest, the tire manufacturer has a new web site called Think Before You Drive, with information about car maintenance and accident avoidance. The Driver’s Edge program is a free driving school for 15 to 21 year-old drivers that gives them hands-on experience in defensive driving.

    “We know that car accidents are the leading cause of death among drivers aged 16-20,” said Christine Karbowiak, vice president, community and corporate relations for Bridgestone Americas, Inc. “That’s why… we are fully committed to doing what we can to educate motorists- particularly new teenage drivers- on the importance of safe driving every time they get behind the wheel.”

    According to US government statistics, car crashes are the leading cause of death for 15 to 20 year-olds. More 16 to 20 year-olds die in auto crashes than by drugs, guns, and violent crimes combined. Teen drivers have higher fatality and injury rates per 100,000 licensed drivers than any other age group.

    Bridgestone’s Safety Scholars program awards $5000 college scholarships to applicants who create winning videos about car safety or automotive environmentalism. The deadline for this year’s contest is May 17. In addition to scholarship money, winners get to see their videos broadcast in public service announcements on television stations nationwide. For more information, visit the program’s official web site.

    Young drivers who want to sign up for the Driver’s Edge program can access current schedule on that web site, along with online registration. The half-day classroom and hands-on course includes skid pad exercises, evasive lane changes, and braking techniques. Participants must have a valid learner’s permit and those under 18 must have a parental consent form.

    Bridgestone’s new teen safety web site includes online instruction about maintaining correct tire pressures, tire tread wear, accident avoidance, improving fuel economy, and advice for parents of new drivers.

    Online videos show young drivers proper braking techniques, how to deal with road rage, how to corner, and what to do if their car is forced off the road. A newsroom has updates on state and federal safety legislation focused on teen drivers.

    An online safety contest gives entrants the chance to match skills, with monthly drawings for free gas cards.

  • Are Winter Tires Worth the Investment?

    While all-season tires save the car owner time and money, they lack the safety and performance that winter tires can provide in cold, wet weather.

    By Nina Russin

    Photo courtesy of Volvo public relations

    Photo courtesy of Volvo public relations

    Back in my parents’ time, semi-annual car maintenance was a way of life. Every six months my father would take the family Rambler down to Joe Huber, our neighborhood mechanic. Joe would tune up our “bag of bolts” by changing out the spark plugs and wires, replacing the rotor and distributor cap, and rebuilding the carburetor. All of this saved my father, who was not at all mechanically inclined, a rash of headaches.

    Since these tune-ups typically took place in the spring and fall, Joe also swapped out the tires. Snow tires were the only thing that gave the Rambler a fighting chance when it came to climbing up our hilly street, and our even hillier driveway. Keeping two large sacks of cat litter in the trunk over the rear wheel wells didn’t hurt either.

    These days, semi-annual tune-ups have gone the way of the carburetor. So have semi-annual tire changes, thanks to the advent of all-season tires. However, the all-season tires don’t offer the performance and safety of winter tires, especially for drivers who live in cold, snowy climates.

    “Think of your tires like a pair of shoes,” said Matt Edmonds, vice president of marketing for the Tire Rack, an online tire retailer. “We have everyday shoes that allow us to walk around, and maybe even run a block or two if we need to rush to catch a bus. But to get the most out of our performance, we need special shoes. For winter activities, we wear winter shoes that keep our feet warm and give us better traction on ice and snow.”

    Winter tires are compounded for cold weather. They perform best at temperatures below fifty degrees. In warmer temperatures, winter tires get too soft and sticky. Leaving them on a car in the warm weather will make these tires wear out prematurely.

    But in the winter, they’ll be soft enough to provide adequate traction during emergency maneuvers and braking. In comparison, an all-season tire, designed to perform in both cold and warm temperatures, will be too hard in the cold to provide maximum traction.

    Winter tires also have a different tread design, so that the vehicle can maintain an adequate contact patch with the ground in deep snow. While all-season tires have relatively small tread blocks, the tread blocks in winter tires are larger. Void areas between the tread blocks are also larger, so that the snow can channel up and out of the way. Small blades on the tires called sipes give winter tires a biting edge in the snow.

    Off-road tires are similar to winter tires, in that they also have larger tread blocks and big void areas. But these tires tend to be noisier and cause more vibration when driven on paved roads. Winter tires are also compounded to wick a certain amount of water into the rubber for better traction on ice.

    As temperatures drop, drivers should also check their tire pressures, explained Edmonds. A decrease of ten degrees in temperature equates to a one-pound drop in tire pressure. A decrease of just ten percent in tire pressure can damage the inside structure of the tire, making a blowout more likely.

    Drivers in warm winter climates that decide to head up to the mountains for a weekend of skiing should remember to take the tire gauge along. If the pressure gets extremely low in a tire, have it checked by a qualified technician as soon as possible, to make sure that the inside structure is still sound.

    What is the cost of putting winter tires on your car?

    “Less than the deductible on your car insurance,” said Edmonds.  A set of winter tires costs between $350 and $600, depending on the vehicle. Edmonds recommends also purchasing a separate set of rims to mount the winter tires on. This allows car owners to swap their own tires out in the spring and fall, saving the costs of mounts and dismounts: about $60 for all four wheels. Car owners who upgrade their rims from the original equipment wheels can use the OE wheels to mount their winter tires. Otherwise, Edmonds recommends using an inexpensive set of alloy or steel wheels.

    One tire manufacturer that has led the way in winter tire technology is Bridgestone. Bridgestone recently introduced a new generation of its Blizzak studless snow tires, slated to go on sale next winter. The new Blizzak tires contain NanoPro-Tech: a proprietary technology that improves the tire’s tread flexibility and traction on wet and snow-covered surfaces.

    A multi-cell compound on the Blizzak tires wicks water away from the tire’s contact patch with the ground to improve grip. Bite particles bite into the surface of the ice to enhance traction on slick surfaces. The new Blizzak WS60 tires are available in R-speed rated sizes in the 70 to 45 series, ranging from 14 to 17-inch.

    Car owners can find a wealth of information about tire technology on the Tire Rack web site. In addition to selling tires, Tire Rack also employs over ninety test drivers that evaluate tires on a special test facility in South Bend, Indiana. Tire Rack surpassed two billion miles in data this year, including ongoing consumer surveys. Visitors to the site can search for results by tire make, vehicle make and model, or even driving styles, from over seven thousand tire SKUs in stock.