The Stories New (Buick Enclave) Tires Could Tell

May 28, 2011

Ever wonder how the original equipment tires wind up on your family vehicle?

It’s not that they were a bargain and the automaker thought they’d save a few coins here and there by snapping up huge lots. Of course, car companies do have their buyers negotiate the best deals possible with suppliers of all kinds, including tire producers. No, how tires end up as original equipment on new vehicles – take the Buick Enclave luxury crossover, for example – is as the result of grueling, torturous testing.

So says General Motors in a release about tire testing procedures for the Buick Enclave. All the testing takes place by a team of 50 engineers at the GM Tire-Wheel Systems Lab at the GM Milford (Michigan) Proving Ground.  

Sure, it’s important that the tires that go on a luxury crossover like Enclave look the part – that is, they look like they go along with an upscale vehicle. But to qualify to be an Enclave original equipment tire, they first have to take a lot of abuse.

Think about what tires do for a vehicle. Although we take them for granted, until we have a flat or a leak and they need attention, tires are the only point at which the vehicle makes contact with the road.

Dave Cowger with tires

Dave Cowger with tires

“Your tires influence everything from fuel economy to steering and handling, road noise and braking,” explains Dave Cowger, GM Tire Engineering Group Manager. “So we beat the heck out of these tires in the lab to make sure they have the right traction, fuel economy, durability and other characteristics.”

The team of 50 includes staff from various tire manufacturers to put the candidate tires through the schedule of 25 tests.

Hit that curb at low speed? Plowed right through a pothole? Those are two tests designed to mimic real-world abuse. Replicating tens of thousands of miles of road wear is accomplished using lab dynamometers with specially grained sandpaper. For a closer look at some of these tests, check out the video below.

Dave Cowger Enclave tire testing

Dave Cowger Enclave tire testing

“Library quiet” interior

One of the Enclave’s hallmarks is its “library quiet” interior. If the tires on the crossover don’t meet the requirements to minimize road noise, they’re a goner. The idea is for passengers in Enclave’s third row to be able to hear a conversation between those seated in the front seats without interference.

So much for the kids not listening to what the parents are talking about up-front – but, getting back to the Enclave, GM says it’s the only crossover in the segment equipped with QuietTuning, Buick’s exclusive engineering process to reduce, block and absorb unwanted road noise from entering the cabin.

Out from the lab and onto the test track

But the gamut of tire torture tests isn’t finished yet. Once tires make it through the lab tests satisfactorily, they head out to the test track for even more punishment.

Having personally experienced a ride during one of these tests, this reporter can tell you it isn’t something I’d want to do as a daily job. One strip is called Belgian blocks, and it’s like riding over rocks that make you feel like your teeth are going to jar loose. Belgian blocks are sort of like pavers, but on the test road, they’re anything but smooth.

Back again to the testing of tires for Buick Enclave, among the scores of tires tested, only the 19-inch Michelin P255/60R19 and 20-inch Bridgestone P255/55R20 all-season tires survived the cut.

2011 Buick Enclave

2011 Buick Enclave

TPC marking important for consumers

Tire test standards at GM are stringent – and include testing for tires for all GM makes, including Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC. Since the Tire-Wheel Systems Group was formed in 1968, more than 20,000 tire constructions have been tested.

GM uses Tire Performance Criteria (TPC) markings which serve as a “seal of approval” for tires that meet or exceed the automaker’s tire standards. In order for tires to earn the TPC rating, they have to deliver exceptional results in traction and handling, tread wear, noise, endurance and other factors.

But the TPC markings are also important for consumers. It lets them know what to look for when shopping for replacement tires. The point is to buy tires just like the ones that came with the vehicle, including having the same TPC markings.  

Safety is a key consideration in the purchase of any family vehicle. To that point, the 2011 Buick Enclave is the recipient of a Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and earned a five-star overall vehicle safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA’s) more stringent testing.

Bottom line, the next time you look at the tires of your GM car, take comfort in knowing that they’ve been engineered and tested to be the best they can possibly be. As for the stories they could tell, well, that we’ll just have to imagine.



[General Motors]

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