Head into the showroom at any tire retailer and you will find a dizzying array of tire types, sizes, tread patterns and other variables that can have you turning right back around and heading the other way. The good news is a step-by-step approach to choosing the right tires for your car, truck or SUV with a little knowledge can make the process much simpler and give you great results.
The type of tire you need depends on what kind of vehicle you have, your driving style and the type of weather you must cope with in your area.
All Season Tires - Sometimes called Touring Tires, All Season Tires deliver good performance, handling and ride quality on dry, wet and moderately snowy roads. This is the most popular tire type and can be found on most four door sedans, wagons, small SUVs and sporty coupes. Choose All Season Tires for the most well rounded on-road performance.
Truck Tires - As the name suggests, these tires are typically found on trucks and large SUVs. Truck tires have aggressive tread and taller sidewalls to fit the size and use of large vehicles and are rated for carrying heavier loads. Truck tires are also rated for maximum load and towing. Choose Truck Tires for your light duty truck or large SUV if you are staying on the road most of the time.
Speed, Sport and Performance Tires - These tires are for aggressive performance and are rated for high speeds and sharp cornering. You will often find Speed, Sport and Performance tires as standard OEM straight from the factory on sports cars and sports sedans. This type of tire generally has a shorter effective life due to soft sticky rubber compounds which grab the road during aggressive driving. Choose this type of tire if you already have them on your car or want to upgrade your car's handling performance. Note: These tires are generally not as good on wet roads and are not rated for winter driving.
Off-Road Tires - If you plan to take your truck, SUV or 4WD vehicle through mud, deep snow, swamp or sand, Off-Road tires offer a significant improvement in traction with an open tread design that can dig deep and throw off mud and snow. These tires generally sacrifice some ride quality and quiet operation, so they are not for everyone.
Snow Tires - As the name implies, these tires offer ultimate winter weather handling and stability. They are typically found on cars and small SUVs during winter months and are traded off in the spring for a more appropriate fair weather tire. Plan on having two sets of wheels and tires unless you live in the tundra.
Speed Rating - Tires carry a letter rating for the top recommended speed from the manufacturer ranging from an L rating for very low-speed Off-Road Tires to Z rating for speeds in excess of 149mph. Check with your tire retailer to make sure the speed rating matches your driving style and your car's capabilities.
Treadwear Rating (UTQG Rating) - A code on each tire signifies the expected tread life and durability. It is expressed based on an index, with 100 being an average tire. A 200 rating indicates the tire is expected to last twice as long as the average tire, given normal driving conditions. Generally speaking, a higher number means longer life, but it can also mean a stiffer tread which can translate to a rough ride. This number is accompanied by a letter rating for heat dissipation and traction. An AA rating is the best, followed by A, B or C ratings denoting less capability. Try to choose an AA or A rated tire in both these categories.
Size - Changing the size of your tires is a tricky business. Your vehicle can only accommodate a certain range of sizes based on the wheel width, wheel diameter and body clearance when turning. Before you change your tire size from the manufacturer recommended size, consult with your local tire retailer.
Now that you know the basics, you can start to narrow down your options and have a more educated conversation with your tire retailer… which brings us to the final point. Your local tire store deals with tire and wheel questions every day. The best approach for choosing the right tire is to educate yourself and then seek their help and guidance to make a final choice. They can balance all of these variables, take note of your budget and help you purchase a tire which meets your goals and fits your price requirements.