How to Buy New Tires for Your Vehicle
Tires are the single most important variable component of your vehicle when it comes to altering ride, handling, and braking capabilities — so why do so many drivers purchase tires based on an enticing low price published in a newspaper ad? In an attempt to prevent yet another person from putting the wrong tires on their vehicle, we have come up with a guide to help all Speedy Daddy drivers appear as if they are… well… tire experts.
It is important to note that as there is no perfect shoe for every occasion, there is no one tire design that is best for all types of driving — tires are specialized for vehicle type, weight, road surface, and seasonal conditions. Making matters even more complicated is the fact that there is not an ideal way to match each vehicle to a set of tires. Consumers must educate themselves, or take a knowledgeable friend with them at the time of purchase.
THE FIVE BASIC TYPES OF TIRES
ALL SEASON TIRES
This type of tire is common on most passenger vehicles today, and the type of tire which is most likely to be on your vehicle when you drive it home. All-season tires will deliver a compliant and quiet ride, long tread life, and good handling. All-season tires won’t grip the road like a performance tire, but they will last much longer and be better suited for a variety of driving conditions. An excellent all-around tire choice, all-season tires perform admirably in heavy rain and most will provide decent traction with a dusting of light snow. They work best in temperatures between 30 F and 105 F.
High-performance tires hug the road with razor-sharp handling and tenacious grip. They add a feeling of confidence to the driving experience. Short, sturdy sidewalls, and a tread compound designed for warmer climates, give this type of tire much better performance when compared to all-season tires. High-performance tires actually work better — increases grip — the warmer they get. On the downside, these types of tires relinquish some ride quality, comfort, and tread life as a trade-off. While they offer good traction in the rain, performance tires should never be used on snow or ice as their rubber compound literally freezes. They work best in temperatures between 60 F and 115 F.
LIGHT TRUCK TIRES
Designed to handle heavier loads, many light truck tires require tire pressures nearly double those of passenger car tires. The higher air pressures, combined with reinforced sidewalls, help prevent the tire from wearing heavily on the tread during cornering. Though the ride won’t be as comfortable as with an all-season tire, owners of pick-up trucks and SUVs can expect increased tire life and better fuel economy from a light truck tire. They work best in temperatures between 40 F and 90 F.
OFF-ROAD / ALL-TERRAIN TIRES
Off-road tires are designed to take abuse. Their primary mission is climbing over rocks and gravel, or crawling through mud and sand. With these operating parameters in mind, they are built with reinforced sidewalls and heavy tread patterns designed to shed mud and dirt (to prevent the tread from becoming clogged). The heavier tread and construction of an off-road/all-terrain tire will be heard and felt with increased tire noise on the highway, a rougher ride, and decreased fuel economy. They work best in temperatures between 40 F and 90 F.
Specialized winter tires are designed with a rubber compounds that remains soft and compliant in cold temperatures, providing excellent traction on frozen surfaces. Their tread surfaces have thousands of tiny cuts, or sipes, for additional traction in snow or ice. As their tread construction is soft and pliable, winter tires should be removed in the spring as they will wear quickly on dry pavement. They work best in temperatures between -20 F and 50 F.
UNIFORM TIRE QUALITY GRADE STANDARDS
All tire manufacturers are required by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to stamp the sides of their tires with Uniform Tire Quality Grade Standards (UTQG). The numbers serve as a guide to help consumers determine what type of performance and longevity they can expect from a tire. Unfortunately, the number is only to be used as a guide as the tire manufacturers, not the NHTSA, are responsible for their own testing. You can find the UTQG rating on the side of the tire, written out completely in this format: “TREADWEAR 280 TRACTION AA TEMPERATURE A”
This numbered score is typically falls between 50 and 800. Low numbers are associated with soft compounds, meaning they will wear quickly. Performance tires will generally have treadwear ratings below 200. Tires for track use (also called “R-Compound”) will have a number lower than 80. All-season tires, with harder compounds designed to last much longer, will have treadwear ratings between 300 and 500.
This letter score is either AA, A, B, or C. The “AA” rating, the highest assigned, means the tire has been tested to have the most grip on wet concrete. The traction test does not measure dry grip.
This lettered score is either A, B, or C. The “A” rating, the highest assigned, means the tire can sustain more heat than a “B” or “C” rated tire. A high temperature rating is important for high speed driving, or carrying heavy loads.
Since 1991, all tires must also carry a speed rating — their maximum operating speed while carrying a standard load. In general, the higher the speed rating the sturdier the tire. Some of the most common speed rating numbers are found below:
S 112 mph
T 118 mph
U 124 mph
H 130 mph
V 149 mph
W 168 mph
Y 186 mph
The tire in the lead image reads “255/55R18 109H.” The last letter — “H” — says the tire is rated to 130 mph.
SPEEDY DADDY SUGGESTIONS
Speedy Daddy suggests that you always start with the tire already on the vehicle. Match its size and speed rating, at minimum. If you are looking for more traction, seek out a high-performance tire. If you want a quiet ride, seek out an all-season tire. Winter tires should have their own dedicated wheels — they are not to be used year-round. Lastly, do not mix tires on a vehicle as this will change the handling of the vehicle rather dramatically.
If you have questions, post them below or drop us a note!
– Michael Harley
BMW X5 Tire Photo Copyright 2012 Schnell Auto, Inc.