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Tyre noise and driving comfort

Most often, when people think about tyre performance, they think about criteria such as safety, price, or fuel consumption. But, did you know that your choice of tyres can also make a significant difference to ride comfort? Read on for all the facts on how your tyres can help give you a comfortable drive...
Rolling noise and tyre comfort

Tyres play a part in ride comfort © www.istockphoto.com

Road irregularities and ride comfort

In terms of ride comfort, a good tyre is a quiet tyre: one capable of reducing rolling noise and absorbing any road imperfections which might otherwise be felt in the cabin.

Vibration caused by road imperfections such as potholes, presents a challenge for your tyres which can either dampen or amplify the vibrations transferred to your vehicle. Therefore a tyre with a casing able to absorb road irregularities and reduce vibrations should help to improve driving comfort. Another important factor is the quality of your vehicle's shock absorbers and suspension which also help absorb road surface irregularities.

Certain tyre manufacturers focus on mechanical and acoustic comfort so that their tyres generate less noise and block road imperfections, without compromising other performance criteria.

Is it normal for new tyres to be noisy?

Yes, this is normal as new tyres need to be run in. They should become quieter over time, as long as the tread wears evenly. If your tyres wear unevenly, they may cause unpleasant vibrations.  

Are winter tyres noisier than summer tyres?

Summer tyres are indeed quieter than winter tyres which have a deeper, more pronounced tread pattern and a harder tread compound.

Tread pattern and tyre noise

A tyre is a flexible casing which deforms in order to grip the road surface. Simply driving along a normal road generates tread pattern noise, known as rolling noise, which can get louder the faster your drive. Poor road surface conditions with bumps or potholes inevitably increase rolling noise by accentuating tyre vibration.   

Here are three ways that tread pattern and depth generate noise:

  • The tread blocks coming into and out of contact with the road surface as the tyre deforms (changes shape)
  • Air being compressed between tread blocks and released as the tyre rotates  
  • Rubber “slippage” whereby tread elements hug or lose contact with the road surface

How does tyre maintenance affect noise?

Poor tyre maintenance such as incorrect wheel balancing or powertrain components (steering, suspension, transmission etc.) in poor condition can increase rolling noise.

Can the tyre manufacturing process affect rolling noise?

Yes, a badly designed or deformed tyre can increase the noise inside the vehicle.

What are the effects of tyre vibration and noise on the driver?

Driving on tyres that are unable to absorb road surface irregularities and filter the noise generated can result in discomfort and fatigue for the driver and any passengers (in the long term even to backache, if vibrations are too intense). At the same time, external rolling noise can be a significant source of noise pollution in residential areas.

How to choose tyres which maximize your ride comfort and minimize noise:

Tyre noise is one of the three mandatory criteria on the European tyre label. So before buying your tyres, you can check the label to find out if the tyre offers good ride comfort. The tyre label shows the exact figure for external rolling noise in decibels. It also shows a noise rating of one, two or three sound waves.

1 sound wave: quiet tyre

2 sound waves: meets average noise standards

3 sound waves: noisiest tyre category

How is rolling noise tested on a tyre?

Before a tyre is launched on the market, numerous tests are carried out which include measuring rolling noise in accordance with current standards. Tyre manufacturers conduct these tests on the track (at 50 miles per hour with the engine switched off and two microphones placed at 7.5 metres from the vehicle) and on a machine (simulation?) to measure and check the rolling noise.

How do tyres compare to other noise-generators?

Measured noise levels from tyres are generally similar to those of a passing train or a vacuum cleaner. This is why improved acoustic comfort is important, not only for passengers in the vehicle but also for pedestrians or those living in urban areas.

How can I reduce tyre rolling noise?

A simple and effective way to reduce rolling noise is to make sure your tyres are correctly inflated to the manufacturer’s specification. Correct inflation helps your tyres to absorb road irregularities and prevents them from generating additional road noise.

Also, it's a good idea to think beyond your tyres. As we’ve seen, tyres play an important role in ride comfort, but there are several other factors to consider.  For example, do you have good quality shock absorbers and are they still in good condition? Does your vehicle have effective soundproofing? Finally, there are some things which you can’t really do much about. At the end of the day, you’ll be more comfortable in a large saloon with good soundproofing than in a small city car, providing of course that the tyres fitted correspond to your vehicle and driving style. 

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