When I landed in San Antonio, Texas last month to test tires at a professional track, I was met at the airport by Philippe, who greeted me with a smile, a joke, and Rush playing on the car stereo. I felt right at home. Although Philippe is a west-coast transplant he knew enough about the city to answer all the questions I peppered him with and he laughed at my jokes, so it’s safe to say he’s the best taxi driver ever.
What’s a food and travel writer doing burning rubber on the Cooper Tire test track? Driving fast, obviously! No woman who can hold her own behind a wheel could turn down such an offer. I went to drive on a pro track — because who gets to do that? — visit a bit of the famed San Antonio Riverwalk, and taste authentic huevos rancheros; at least more authentic than how I make them. I came home with respect for the scientists and designers who make tires and an understanding of just what keeps us safely on the road.
I spent a full day testing Cooper Tires in different conditions using a few different vehicles. The day began with all attendees doing side-by-side comparisons between Cooper Discoverer SRX Tires and a comparable brand mounted on Tahoes, which we drove on a wet track. Safety first though! Before the amateurs got to drive, the pros took us around individually to show us the track and explain what we could and couldn’t do — no off-roading. I tried to keep my enthusiasm in check, but once I got behind the wheel of both vehicles, it was clear the Discoverer SRX was superior when mounted on a large SUV and driven in wet conditions at high speeds.
Everybody knows to check her car tires, right?
We should be checking tire pressure monthly and ensuring tires are neither over nor underinflated, which increases the wear and shortens the longevity of the tire. Now is not the time to subscribe to the more is better philosophy. Every Cooper Tire has a Five Stages of Wear square engineered to show the wear on the tires. Wear indicates how a car is running, which keeps drivers aware of any changes in their tires and ensures driver and vehicle safety. Keep your tires rotated regularly too; check the car manual (The booklet shoved under the front seat.) for manufacturers recommendations.
The cool tire nerds explained the science behind why certain tires are made the way they are by describing the materials used, the percentages of certain components, and showing us the different layers that go into making a tire. It’s a lot more complex than I imagined; I never gave my tires much thought beyond buying the best I could. The gist is tires are made for specific road conditions and vehicles, so do your research and purchase accordingly.
Before we broke for lunch I took a drive around a real test track in a Corvette Stingray with Johnny Unser (decorated race car driver and a member of a famed racing family) at the wheel. As much as I like driving, I’m a terrible passenger. Unser commented on how cool I stayed as he flew around hairpin turns, and I was cool, but I was mainly trying to keep the nausea in check. Nobody needs video of me throwing up all over the inside of a sports car.
Our afternoon was spent testing used and new tires in BMW M3s — That’s as fun as it sounds! — and then taking and failing a distracted driver test. Stay focused, friends. And here’s where I pass along the most valuable tire lesson: if your vehicle needs new tires, but four is stretching the budget thin, buy two and put them on the back axle. The older tires should be moved to the front. You’ll have greater control and avoid hydroplaning or drifting on wet roads and prevent a potential accident.
Even though I was repeatedly told, “No, Katja, you can’t take the pretty Jeep out for a test drive,” the day wasn’t a wash. I got behind the wheel of a few fun cars, had a great day driving, and I learned the difference between tires designed for tricky conditions and those that aren’t. After such an intense driving day I needed a walk along the Riverwalk to decompress and luckily the hotel overlooked the canal. It’s almost like being in Europe and a place I look forward to spending more time in.
Thank you Cooper Tire for inviting Life in Pleasantville to visit. Our expenses were covered to visit San Antonio, Texas and the Testing Facility, but all opinions expressed in this article are that of the author’s.