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The era of green automobile technology marches on, with hybrids, electrics and even Ferrari getting into the act. As cars improve in earth friendliness, car makers are encouraging the development of earth-friendly tires. Eco-tires offer just one more feature to round out an increasingly efficient package designed to appeal to the ethos of green living.

It’s fair to wonder if earth-friendly tires are really better for the environment, or if its “green” attributes are just a hyped-up marketing ploy. In fact, tires aren’t even close to being as environmentally sound as a paper cup—and they’re not getting much, if any, closer. Manufacturers are approaching the earth-friendly challenge by a different route.

Green Tires = Better MPG

So if tire manufacturers aren’t talking about environmental sustainability or landfill reduction when referring to earth-friendly tires, what is it all about? It’s all about the miles per gallon and conserving fuel.

The physical tire itself isn’t recyclable (although engineers have found ways to use shredded tires for playground covering and pavement). What is green about the eco-conscious tire is its performance. Green tires conserve fuel and raise gas mileage, thereby contributing less to global warming and ozone-layer destruction than their non-green counterparts. Consumers enjoy a bit of savings with the higher MPG offered by these tires.

The tires achieve their efficiency because they’re engineered to roll more easily. To achieve lower rolling resistance (LRR), according to Dow Corning, a leading supplier of silane-treated silica to the tire industry, tire manufacturers worldwide are adding silica (instead of carbon black) to tread formulations in order to:

  • Increase fuel efficiency
  • Lower greenhouse gas emissions
  • Boost handling and performance
  • Increase traction, resiliency and lower breaking distance

Major tire manufacturers describe using nanotechnology to form tight molecular bonds between the natural and synthetic rubber blends, polymers and filler materials that make up the tire tread. Many of these earth-friendly materials and manufacturing techniques are also making their way into mainstream tires not necessarily marketed as eco-tires.

Does It Really Work?

Yes, according to the Alternative Fuels Data Center of the U.S. Department of Energy. The energy savings in California alone from low-rolling resistance tires is substantial, about 300 million gallons of gasoline per year. The California Energy Commission reported that each 10 percent decrease in rolling resistance improves fuel economy by up to 2 percent. Promising results.

However, nearly as important as having LRR tires is proper tire inflation, the Department of Energy points out. This also makes a big difference in your vehicle’s fuel efficiency. For instance, by allowing your car to fall just 7 pounds per square inch (from a recommended 35 psi down to 28 psi), you’ve increased the rolling resistance by over 12 percent. Keep those tires inflated to avoid being a drag on the environment and your pocketbook.

The Race Toward Eco-Tire Technology

The race to the eco-tire began back in the 1980s, when the first earth-friendly passenger tire called the ContiEcoContact was created by Continental, a German company. In 2003, Continental added the ContiSportContact 2 Vmax for high-performance sports cars that go up to 224 mph. Since then, other tire companies have begun developing green tires.

New cars are typically equipped with LRR tires, and you can find Continental tires from TireBuyer. If you’re looking for replacements, do your research before purchasing to ensure you’re getting LRRs for your car.