Ironman Tires Review and Buyer’s Guide

Ironman Tires Review and Buyer’s Guide

Ironman Tires is single-minded in its pursuit of just one category: affordable tires. A subsidiary of Cooper Tire and Rubber’s “Hercules” sub-brand, Ironman tackles a packed segment of inexpensive rubber filled with manufacturers that have taken extreme cost-cutting measures to stay competitive.

To keep within the budget category, though, Ironman Tires has taken a different approach. Instead of cutting costs by using outdated designs and inexpensive materials, Ironman taps into their parent company’s incredible manufacturing capacity and supply chain. By mass-producing their tires, Ironman can manufacture for the sub-$50 market without making the compromises that have destroyed the reputations of other discount brands.

What Sets Ironman Tires Apart?

Price

Simply put, what sets Ironman Tires apart is its low prices. The company exists in a segment that most manufacturers don’t even touch due to the challenges associated with low-cost production.

Take tire giant Michelin, for example—their least expensive tire barely dips below $100. Goodyear is the same, with their budget models sometimes available for under $75 at discount retailers. Ironman slashes these prices in half, with its least expensive tire models coming in at under $40 in certain sizes.

For all of Ironman’s tire segments, from truck to SUV to luxury, the company blows away price expectations. Michelin’s all-terrain truck tires run about $800 per set. Ironman? Less than half the price. Looking for passenger snow tires? Four of Hankook’s mid-range iPike tires can be had for about $600, you can pick up Ironman’s winter Polar Trax WPS line for under $350. Ironman operates in a different league of price.

Although inexpensive, the company can’t work miracles. The subsidiary does have to make some compromises to get their tires to market at bargain-bin prices. Nonetheless, the damage to the wallet is minimal, and the backing of parent company Cooper allows Ironman to provide better-than-expected warranties, customer support, and R&D. All of this means that if you’re looking for a new set of inexpensive tires, Ironman could be the perfect ticket.

USA-focused Manufacturing

In recent years many Asia-based manufacturers have had trouble breaking into the American markets. It’s because American consumers are on the same page with regards to the reputation of cheap tires—in most cases, saving a few bucks on rubber isn’t worth the risk.

Less-than-stellar reputations have chased these Asian manufacturers for the last 25 years. Constant recalls, allegations of unfair labor practices, and inattention to environmental issues have all eroded consumer trust in budget tire brands. Ironman, however, is different. The Akron, Ohio-based company focuses on quality control and, unlike Asian producers, has built a notable reputation in the domestic market.

While Ironman still manufactures its products overseas, American quality control standards have kept them from running into the same issues as other discount producers. Some industry insiders imagine that the company is less profitable than its fast-growing, fast-failing counterparts, but for Ironman (and parent company Cooper), it’s not about profit at all costs. Its philosophy is based on selling quality products in a segment that has long suffered from the consequences of cutting corners.

Ironman Tires in the Aftermarket

Most major tire manufacturers seek lucrative OEM (original equipment) placements for tires to be factory-installed on new vehicles. These arrangements are incredibly sought after, and companies throw all of their weight and resources into pursuing these OEM contracts.

Ironman doesn’t follow this model. While the contracts can be lucrative in the long term, they require a significant amount of capital investment up front as well as long-term partnerships with auto manufacturers in order to develop vehicle-specific products.

Ironman has ignored this specific market in favor of aftermarket production. All tires the company produces are sold directly to consumers (or commercial fleets, in rare cases). Instead of wasting money on courting automakers, Ironman can pass savings onto their consumers. By selling specifically to discount retailers, and in many cases selling via online retailers, the company can create efficient distribution networks that bring tires to consumers cheaply.

Ironman Tires Design Features

More expensive tire brands have more money to spend on costly research and development laboratories, testing hundreds of compounds and designs each year before settling on the configurations and rubbers that provide the desired levels of grip, tread life, safety, and rolling resistance.

Ironman Tires, unfortunately, does not have a research and development budget sufficient to compete with the high-powered, expensive laboratories that designer brands can operate. Neither do they have access to the racing teams that can help develop and test new tire technologies.

The result of all of this is Ironman having to rely on trickle-down technology from their parent companies. Since these name-brand companies with development labs need to provide value to their customers, Ironman typically uses older tire technologies. This isn’t to say their designs aren’t usable or long-lasting, but the company has to make up costs somewhere, and high-tech design features and compounds are typically the first things to go.

Buttress Design

Most of Ironman’s passenger tires incorporate a “buttress design,” which is an industry term for a tire that has a wider-than-normal tread to increase wear duration. A design concept that came to the forefront many years ago, it’s main use is to squeeze extra mileage out of tires that use lower-quality rubber.

Ironman doesn’t use the expensive silica-infused rubbers that are popular on more expensive tires meant to maximize lifespan. Impressively, though, the company can still squeeze industry-standard mileages out of lesser quality rubbers using features like buttresses.

Asymmetric Tread Design

In the past, most tires were identically shaped. Each tire was both symmetrical and reversible, and thus, tires could be installed in any configuration. While this was convenient for tire installers, it wasn’t ideal for performance or wear.

Asymmetric treads can add about a 10% improvement to grip, wear, and rolling resistance. As tires turn, the car slightly leans, so an outer edge with added grip can improve cornering. When a tire returns to its normal level, the tread is more optimized for rolling resistance. Lifespan is also improved, since high-friction parts of the rubber can be reinforced against wear.

Void Ratio

While other tire manufacturers have the luxury of using laser-cut tread designs and exotic rubber additives to help with wet-weather performance, Ironman’s budget designs use simple math to get similar levels of efficacy.

Void ratio, most simply put, is the amount of open space in a tire tread. Lower void ratios tell us that a lot of rubber is in contact with the road, increasing traction in the dry. High void ratios clear water and snow well, but they don’t have the same dry weather traction.

Whether Ironman Tires utilizes a high or a low void ratio completely depends on the tire’s purpose, but the focus on this metric shows that the company continues to expertly use basic principles to maximize performance cheaply, then pass savings on to customers.

A History of Ironman Tires

Cooper Tires

To understand Ironman tires, you first have to understand their parent company, Cooper Tire and Rubber. Ironman fits into a specific niche in Cooper’s subsidiary structure, filling out the bottom end of their rubber lineup. But it wasn’t always this way—only in recent years has Cooper pushed Ironman to the forefront; the company previously shied away from budget tires in favor of higher-end (and higher margin) products.

Cooper, a publicly owned corporation, was founded in Akron, Ohio in 1914. The company grew into a tire giant during World War Two, riding the economic engine powered by the war into the late 60s, where it became one of America’s biggest 500 companies. Selling products based on American values such as quality and technological progress, the company was hesitant to enter the budget category in fear of diminishing their carefully-curated reputation.

Asian Manufacturing

In the late 80s and early 90s, Asian manufacturing exploded across all sectors of the industry. Inexpensive tires spread across the US, upsetting the entire tire market as customers bought the cheapest rubber available, leaving shelves full of once-popular tires from companies like Goodyear, Michelin, and Cooper.

However, in the years after Asian-manufactured tires arrived in US markets, it became apparent that those cheap tires didn’t have the same quality as traditional manufacturers. Plagued by product recalls, separating treads, and low life-spans, even as Asian-manufactured ‘no-name’ tires improved in quality, consumer trust continued to erode.

It was around then when Cooper launched Ironman Tires. The company entered the market as an American-based budget brand that happened to be manufactured in Asia. Although the products were launched under a new brand name, the conglomerate was not afraid to show that Ironman was an American brand under the wing of famed and well-reputed Cooper Tire and Rubbers. Although their tires were equally inexpensive as other Asian-made brands, Ironman made great inroads in the market based on Cooper’s accountability and backing of the brand.

How does Ironman Tires Fit in the Industry?

Ironman is a budget manufacturer. The company’s most expensive tire barely crosses the $100 mark, a price point that is considered “budget: for some of the world’s most popular manufacturers. The company produces incredibly cheap tires, utilizing parent company Cooper’s supply chain to keep prices down.

At below $50, it’s hard to find products as storied or as high-quality as those from Ironman. Their tires are a combination of particularly well-known and particularly inexpensive, an uncommon brand strategy in the tire industry.

Ironman also uses unconventional distribution methods to cut costs. The company doesn’t pursue placements of their tires on new models, meaning you won’t find Ironman at car dealerships. What they do instead is target discount tire retailers, in particular online retailers, that allow their prices to stay low.

While brick-and-mortar retailers still represent a large portion of their business, the market is shifting to online simply based on cost. A tire typically costs about 20% less online, more savings that can be passed on directly to customers like you.

None of this is to say that with an Ironman tire you’ll be buying the pinnacle of design philosophy—when you buy Ironman tires, you simply won’t be getting the best product out there. Companies save the best designs for their newest (and most expensive) models. What you do get when purchasing from Ironman, though, is an inexpensive, long-wearing tire that would have been right with the cutting edge of technology about 15 years ago.

Pricing

With tires as low as $35 depending on size, a full set of sedan-focused all-season tires can be had for the price of a nice dinner. More expensive models are typically meant for SUVs, but in general, very few of Ironman’s tires cross the $100 price point.

Ironman Tires Warranty Information

60-Month Limited Protection Policy

In most cases, manufacturer warranties come in the form of a mileage guarantee. In these circumstances, if the tire degrades or grinds down to beyond its wear indicators before the quoted mileage, it’s refunded or replaced. With these policies, it doesn’t matter if you wear the tire out in five days or five years, the policy behaves the same.

While Ironman has mileage guarantees for only a few of their tires, they add on a 60-month protection policy for most of their passenger vehicle tires. Instead of covering mileage, this policy covers workmanship and materials. For any imperfection, non-driving damage, or material issue, the company will replace or refund the tire. It’s a nice perk to have, and brings peace of mind, especially alongside a mileage guarantee.

Road Hazard Protection Program

A manufacturer can have the longest mileage guarantee in the world and you can still end up responsible for a tire that doesn’t work. For most tire makers, if a tire is punctured or damaged by a road hazard, you’re out of luck. Most likely, you’ll end up on the hook for the cost of its replacement.

Ironman assumes some of the responsibility for these unexpected punctures with a road hazard guarantee. If you end up with damage that renders your tires inoperable, you can get your tires refunded or replaced.

There’s one caveat—if the tire is more than 50% worn down, or it’s over two years old, the warranty is canceled. This is typical for road hazard guarantees, but some manufacturers expand their road hazard guarantee for the whole usable life of the tire. Nonetheless, we’re still impressed by the fact that a brand as inexpensive as Ironman even offers this coverage.

Mileage Guarantees

Mileage guarantees are, as expected for a budget brand, relatively short. In some cases, they’re not guaranteed at all. The least expensive all-season passenger models have no guarantee, but some tires in Ironman’s lineup, particularly those above $50, are guaranteed. For tires with mileage guarantees, expect a tread life of about 40,000 miles. In just a few cases, Ironman provides mileage guarantees over 50,000 miles.

Ironman Tires and Racing

Most tire companies have at least a small racing component to help develop tires and increase enthusiast engagement with the company, but Ironman saves the racing for its parent company, Cooper, which has a larger marketing and development budget.

While this means that Ironman’s tires are typically not as technologically advanced as the tires of manufacturers with racing teams, the decision is a strategic one: cost savings are directly passed on to consumers like you. Sure, your favorite driver isn’t racing on Ironman tires, but that’s not the point—the point is that you can buy that set of tires for half of the price you’d normally pay.

Ironman’s Best Selling Tires

IMove Series

Ironman’s latest tire is a technological upgrade from their most basic budget models, incorporating several trickle-down technologies from parent companies Cooper and Hercules. New to the lineup is the asymmetrical format, a wear-resistant compound, and a tread design derived from research done by Cooper’s racing teams.

  • IMove GEN2 AS: This all-season tire is perhaps Ironman’s most high-tech, performing exceptionally in wintry conditions, especially for a sub-$50 tire. No, it’s not meant for the race track, but it’s a workhouse tire that will get the job done on any passenger vehicle less demanding than a sports car.
  • IMove GEN2 SUV: One of Ironman’s most expensive tires takes technology from the sedan-focused GEN2 AS and adapts it for the growing SUV and crossover categories. Its all-season capabilities will work for you year-round, but think twice before using it off-road.

All Country Series

Meant to fit the growing category of SUVs and CUVs (more commonly known as crossovers), the All Country series is an inexpensive line that spans the SUV range from highway-oriented to all-terrain. At under $100, performance isn’t life-changing, but for the budget crowd, it’s worth taking a look.

  • All Country M/T: M/T stands for Mud-Terrain on these rugged tires. A sub-$400 set of four provides off-road performance at a ludicrously inexpensive price, although we wouldn’t take them rock-crawling.
  • All Country CHT: Meant for a more highway-oriented crowd, these light truck and SUV tires are designed for good fuel efficiency and minimal road noise.

RB Series

The RB series is Ironman’s lowest-budget tire, which is impressive considering that most of the company’s products are already well under $75. For being so inexpensive, the tires still maintain a high level of quality, with modern design elements like variable tread design and tire sipes. They also come with a quality warranty and road hazard protection guarantee.

  • RB-12: An all-season tourer works year-round for well under $50. Wet weather handling is adequate, but more expensive all-season tires handle snow better. Still, most bike tires are more expensive.
  • RB-SUV: One of the cheapest SUV tires on the market gets the job done. No, it won’t win any awards, but it’s perfectly adequate.

I-109 Series: All-Steel Light Truck

All-steel had its time in the sun during the second part of the 20th century, but now this type of tire design is typically only used on commercial fleets. The I-109 series keeps a breath of steel radial tire alive for passenger vehicles, designed for light trucks.

  • I-109: One of the last all-steel tires left on the market has phenomenal puncture protection and durability, but relatively few other redeeming features. Still, if you’re looking for a long-lasting, bombproof truck tire at the lowest price, the I-109 series is a niche tire to consider.

A List of Ironman Tires Models

Passenger Tires

Touring/Performance Tires

GR906
IMove GEN2 AS
RB-12
RB-12NWS

Winter Tires

Polar Trax WPS

Truck/SUV Tires

CUV/SUV/Light Truck Tires

All Country A/T
All Country CHT
All Country M/T
IMove GEN2 SUV
Radial A/P
RB-LT
RB-SUV

All-Steel Light Truck Tires

I-109