Do you need to buy EV tyres for your electric car?

Electric cars can be more demanding on their tyres than petrol or diesel models, but does this limit your options when it comes to replacing them?...

Cupra Born and Kia EV6 EV tyre advice

There are a whole host of new questions to ponder when you switch from an internal combustion-engined (ICE) car to an electric vehicle (EV). How will you cope with the logistics of charging? What do you do in the event of a flat battery? Even the simple prospect of choosing replacement tyres throws up a new quandary: should you buy tyres that have been specially designed for electric vehicles, or will any tyres do the job just as well?

What makes EV tyres different? 

Continental Tyres produces tyres fitted to many new EVs, including those made by BYD, Kia, Mercedes, Porsche and Tesla. The company’s head of technical services in the UK, Steve Howat, explains how the growth of electric car popularity has forced tyre design to rapidly evolve.

Volkswagen Golf Mk3 – Rewind Wednesday

“If you think about a popular car from the 1990s, such as the Mk3 Volkswagen Golf, it weighed around 1000kg and had 14in tyres. The latest comparable model is the Volkswagen ID 3, which weighs around 1800kg and has 18in or larger tyres. As you can imagine, the demands both of these vehicles put on their tyres are very different,” he says.

Volkswagen ID 3 2022 right front tracking

Load capacity is an important consideration when designing a tyre. Because EVs are often heavier than their petrol or diesel equivalents, the largest, fastest models need heavy load (HL) rated tyres to cope with the extra strain put on them. In fact, the heaviest electric SUVs might need extra load (XL) tyres that have been reinforced to cope with greater loads and higher speeds than other tyres.

Another big consideration, explains Howat, is efficiency. “Range potential has been a big issue for EV buyers, and improving a tyre by just one rolling resistance class, as shown on its EU tyre label, can increase an EV’s range by around three to four percent.

“Our engineers even look at seemingly insignificant details, such as the rotational aerodynamics of a tyre and how the letters on its sidewall can create drag, because tweaking these small things can give marginal improvements in performance.”

Contidrome EV tyre advice

Noise from the road and tyres is more of a concern for EV drivers than for owners of other types of car, because this can be more noticeable without the sound of an engine to drown it out. To help mitigate this, some tyres have a layer of polyurethane foam bound to the inner surface of the tread to absorb noise from the tyre cavity and prevent it from being passed into the car.

However, Howat says consumers shouldn’t think of tyres as just being suitable for either EVs or ICE cars. “Every car has unique performance characteristics,” he says. “A Renault Zoe is a very different car from a Tesla Model S, so it’s not possible to design one tyre for all EVs and a different one for all combustion-engined models. In fact, there is often a great deal of variation within a model line-up, because it may have petrol, hybrid and electric variants, and there are often eco and performance-focused versions of each.”

EVs on track EV tyre advice

How to choose EV tyres

Howat advocates replacing worn tyres on a like-for-like basis, down to the same brand and model. That might not be a surprise, but he backs this up with some salient points.

“Tyres are a critical safety component of a vehicle,” he says. “If a tyre maker has developed a tyre that ’s optimised for a specific model of car in terms of handling, grip, economy and noise, buyers have the guarantee that they’re getting the best performance for their car by choosing that tyre.”

Ray Kavanagh, the CEO of leading online tyre retailer Blackcircles, acknowledges that consistency is an important consideration for EV owners. “Sticking with the tyres that were fitted as standard equipment ensures that they’re aligned with the engineering and design of the vehicle, promoting safety, performance and efficiency,” he says.

“However, it’s also important to note that many of the tyre designs created for ICE vehicles are also suitable for EVs. There are many tyre options with similar qualities and capabilities to the tyres originally fitted that would be perfectly suitable for that vehicle. In terms of the law, you can use any roadworthy tyres that correctly fit your EV.”

Kia EV6 EV tyre advice

However, Kavanagh says it’s vital to consider the kind of driving you tend to do. For example, are you likely to encounter wet conditions regularly, or is dry-weather grip more important to you? And is efficiency more important than quietness, or vice versa?

In short, you can legally fit any new tyre that matches the dimensions, load and speed ratings of that which you’re replacing. However, there are numerous benefits to be found in choosing one whose design has been optimised with EVs in mind.

Do EV tyres improve efficiency?

To find out how much difference there is between a regular premium tyre and one that’s been fine-tuned for efficiency, we tested two types of Continentals at the brand’s Jeversen test facility in Germany.

The PremiumContact 7 is a standard summer tyre with high levels of grip in all conditions. The EuroContact 6 is also a summer tyre, but one that’s designed to have exceptionally low rolling resistance, increasing fuel economy in an ICE car, or the range of an EV.

Cupra Born EV tyre advice

To find out how much of an effect tyres can have on range, we drove a pair of Cupra Born EVs around an oval track. We had three test drivers, each doing three laps of the track, first at 30km/h, then at 50km/h and 70km/h, driving as gently as we could. When the range used on each lap was averaged out, the car fitted with the EuroContact 6s used up 9% less of its range than the car with PremiumContact 7s.

Just bear in mind that there’s usually a trade-off in grip with efficiency-focused tyres.

How to recognise EV-optimised tyres 

Whereas winter tyre sidewalls are marked with the ‘three peaks mountain snowflake’ emblem, there’s not yet a universal emblem to distinguish tyres designed specifically for use on EVs.

Conti tyre EV tick logo EV tyre advice

However, Continental’s EV-suitable tyres are marked with a ticked EV logo, and other brands are following suit with logos that confirm that a tyre is suitable for use on EVs.

Is EV tyre wear worse than petrol or diesel cars?

Automotive data expert group Cap hpi has provided information on the rate of tyre wear of EVs and ICE cars. Its findings reveal that EVs’ tyres wear out on average 67% more quickly than those of ICE cars. Measured over 30,000 miles or three years of driving, an EV will have an average of 5.3 tyres changed, while an ICE car will have 3.6 replacements.

Cupra Born EV tyre advice

Rear-wheel-drive EVs have the highest wear rate of all, getting through an average of 5.9 tyres in three years, compared with 3.7 for their ICE equivalents – a difference of 62 percent. For four-wheel-drive cars, the difference is 51 percent (5.4 tyres for EVs, 3.6 for ICE), but it’s closer for front-wheel-drive cars (4.4 for EVs, 3.5 for ICE, a difference of 26 percent).

Cap hpi also compared average tyre prices between EV and ICE cars, and here there was only a marginal difference (1-4 percent in favour of the latter for front wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive cars), while those for rear-wheel drive EVs are, on average, 4 percent cheaper.

Cap hpi says the gap between the average tyre sizes of ICE and EV models has closed over the past 18-24 months, and this has brought the prices closer.

How tyre labels help compare products

Tyre labels provide useful information on tyre performance in three areas: fuel efficiency, grip in wet conditions and noise levels.

The fuel efficiency rating is based on the rolling resistance of the tyre and is graded from A to G, with A being the best performance and G the worst. Friction from a combustion-engined car’s tyres can account for around 15% of its fuel consumption, and it follows that it would have a similar effect on the efficiency of an EV.

Tyre label EV tyre advice

The braking rating relates to the stopping distance from 50mph in wet road conditions and is again shown on a sliding scale from A to G. The difference between these two extremes can be around 30 percent, or one to two car lengths, so it’s important to pick tyres with a good rating, no matter what kind of car they’ll be fitted to.

There are two ratings for external noise. The first is a decibel (dB) reading that tells you how much noise the tyres generate, as measured in laboratory conditions. There are also up to three sound wave arcs, and these denote how noisy the tyres are compared with the industry average. One arc means the tyre is relatively quiet, while three means it’s relatively loud.

Although it’s unusual for a tyre to gain the highest ratings in all three areas, we’d advise picking one with an A rating for wet braking and either A or B for fuel economy.

What Car? says…

Renault Megane E-Tech EV tyre advice

The best option for EV drivers is to stick with the tyres that were fitted as original equipment because these are often developed alongside the car to provide the best braking, handling and range. However, if you’re on a limited budget, you can save money by opting for an alternative, as long as its specifications are suitable.

The key to picking the best tyres is to ensure they adhere to two important criteria: they need to have high ratings for wet braking and fuel efficiency, and these are shown on their EU tyre labels. Good news, too, is that buyers will only have more choice in the future, with more brands introducing EV-optimised tyres.

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