Dear Tom and Ray: I have a 2007 Toyota Prius. I was hoping you could help me with what I suspect is a cheap sales tactic by my Toyota dealer. The dealer says that if I buy tires from anyone else, I will adversely affect my gas mileage. He says that the Prius takes a special low-rolling-resistance tire that is available ONLY through the dealer.
Like you guys, I have been around awhile, and this seems like a big, fat load of you-know-what. What do you think -- is this a sales pitch, or is it really the case on the Prius? Of course the dealer wants about twice as much for the special tires as the local tire shop. I love your column and read it first each week! Thanks for your help. -- George
RAY: The 2007 Prius came with either Goodyear Integrity or Bridgestone Turanza tires, George. Those tires are available at lots of places other than your dealership. We even found them at Sears. So your dealer is -- what's the word? -- lying!
TOM: He's right that the Prius uses low-rolling-resistance tires to improve gas mileage. But there are a lot of low-rolling-resistance tires on the market these days. In fact, some will give you even higher mileage than the original-equipment tires.
RAY: The website Tire Rack tested a bunch of low-rolling-resistance tires in your size (185/65R15). The Michelin Energy Saver A/S, the Bridgestone Ecopia EP100, the Yokohama dB Super E-Spec and the Goodyear Assurance Fuel Max all beat your original tires for mileage ("When Round and Black Becomes Lean and Green" at www.tirerack.com).
TOM: Of course, mileage isn't the only thing to consider when buying tires. There's dry handling, wet handling, snow-and-ice traction, comfort and tread life. So, depending on your needs and desires, and the weather conditions where you live, you should look at the research and pick the tire that best balances all of your needs.
RAY: For instance, if you live in Portland, Oregon, you may be willing to give up a mile or two per gallon to be able to stop better in the rain.
TOM: If you live in Minnesota, it may be worth a couple of mpg to get better traction in the snow.
RAY: Or, if you live near us, it may be worth a small reduction in mileage to soften up the potholes and reduce the number of welts on your head from bouncing up and hitting the roof.
TOM: But in any case, you've got plenty of choices, George, and plenty of competition for your business. Good luck.