where the rubber meets the road
Just a few inches of your tires touch the road at any given time. It’s as if your car is up on its toes. Those few inches are called the “contact patch.”
You might be surprised to hear just how important those few inches are in determining how your car handles when driving. The contact patch is your car’s connection to the road.
High performance tires
The wider the contact patch, the better your car can grip the road. High performance tires are wide tires, and their contact patch looks like a wide horizontal strip on the highway. That wide strip holds your car on the road when cornering, and it adds stability when you drive at high speeds in dry weather. On wet roads, that same wide footprint could generate hydroplaning, which is why tire designers add special grooves to expel water out the sides of high performance tires.
Most tires are built for comfort
Most care tires are built to be thinner than the high performance tires, not nearly so wide. That gives them a long thin patch instead of one that is wide and short. Why are most tires built that way? A long thing contact patch provides a much smoother ride, even though handling won’t be as responsive. Noise reduction and improved wet weather performance features of a thin, long contact patch.
Tire traction and rolling resistance
The bigger and wider your contact patch, the more traction there is. Traction makes it that much harder to roll your car forward. Conversely, if your tires create just a tiny contact patch, there’s less traction and it is easier to roll your car forward. The lower the rolling resistance, the less fuel you will use to move your car. Low rolling resistance tires are designed to be rounder than other tires so the tread doesn’t flatten as much where it touches the road. Low rolling resistance tires increase your fuel mileage by keeping the contact patch small.