It’s no secret that I’m an advocate for not saving on tires and getting the best ones you can. Naturally, that doesn’t mean throwing hundreds or thousands of dollars into a new set of tires, but it also means that you shouldn’t cheap out on them.
Luckily, we live in an age where there is an abundance of tire manufacturers, so there is a lot to choose from. For the most part, there are 3 categories of manufacturers: premium, mid-range and cheap.
In my reviews, I often say that the best ones to look for are the premium and mid-range ones. I usually say to avoid the cheapest ones, as you can see from the list of the worst tire brands I outlined a while ago. However, there are still some great budget finds, even in the “cheap” category of tires.
Today’s comparison will be more of a general one, where I’ll discuss what makes a tire good or bad and what the differences are. Since the tire is the element of the car responsible for accelerating, braking and steering, it’s essential to be able to do that safely.
How Can You Determine if a Tire is Good or Bad?
On the good side of the spectrum, you have manufacturers that work on improving the technologies used for making the tires. Naturally, the details are a closely guarded secret, but some general information is known, enabling the companies to explain what it achieves.
Manufacturers that I’d consider making bad tires are all about the marketing or providing no information. Proprietary secrets are one thing, but not outlining anything about the technology used is not good.
Let’s look at the most common aspects where bad tires fall short.
There are many areas of a tire that these technologies cover, and longevity is one of them. Touring tires, for example, are among the longest-lasting ones, something we usually determine based on the warranty. While there are tires that can last longer than that, it’s a metric that we usually consider.
In this regard, a good tire will be considered the one that has a longer treadwear warranty. For the most part, the premium and most expensive tires have the longest warranty. There are mid-range options that are very close or, in some cases, on the same level as the premium ones, and then there are the bad tires.
Tires with no treadwear warranty are the ones I’d recommend avoiding. It’s not that the tires will fall apart after 1,000 miles, but having no treadwear warranty means you cannot guess how long they may last.
An important thing to note here is that I’m mainly talking about touring tires. Some performance models come without a warranty, despite being from the premium manufacturers. In these situations, there are other aspects to look at.
Another aspect of longevity that favors good tires is the rubber compound. I talked about how long a tire should be driven and when to replace it before, and this covers the good tires. While they can be considered usable until 5 or 6 years, a bad tire won’t last as much.
Cheap tires, which are considered to be bad, aren’t designed with the state of the art technologies, and the rubber compound isn’t the longest-lasting. As a result, it dries out more quickly, resulting in cracks. These cracks lead to poor performance and can get quite dangerous, which is why you should avoid them.
My pick for longevity is the Michelin Defender 2
Speaking of, this is the second aspect that can determine if a tire is good or bad. When I talk about performance, I’m not saying about the levels of grip you’d have around a track. Even in everyday driving, performance metrics can relate to a safe driving experience.
We all found ourselves in an emergency braking situation, something where inches can play a huge role. In many cases, you have the premium tires which offer the shortest distances, with the mid-range one in a close second. The bad tires are the ones where you’ll start to see some major differences.
A bad tire wouldn’t be able to deliver braking distances that are anywhere near what even the mid-range options can offer. While inches may not be a massive issue, 10 or 20 feet can be the difference between avoiding an impact and hitting a wall at 30 miles per hour. It can also mean the difference between not hitting a pedestrian and severely injuring it.
It’s not about the braking distances only, imagine doing the moose test or actually experiencing that situation on the highway. A tire with poor cornering traction can result in your car spinning or of control, something you can altogether avoid with a good tire.
As far as aquaplaning resistance goes, things aren’t too different as well. You may see a premium tire with a similar if not identical tread pattern and think that it’ll be the same when driving in heavy rain. In reality, they couldn’t be more different. What seems like the same to the naked eye can be very different in real-world performance.
Slightly wider grooves or different angles can make or break the performance in those conditions. The same can be said about snow or mud performance, so it’s not uncommon to see massive differences.
My pick for performance is the Continental SportContact 7
This may seem similar to the longevity, but I’ll be approaching it from a different perspective. In the longevity section, I talked about the tire’s ability to keep the tread depth optimal for longer. For durability, I’ll discuss the tire’s ability to handle the daily driving tasks.
You may think that a road-going tire has it easy; it just rolls around the rim and keeps the car moving. In reality, it has to deal with forces greater than you can imagine. Not only does it have to hold the weight of the car, at least a quarter of it, but it also has to be under pressure.
Then there’s the heat. As the tire rolls down the road, friction between the rubber and the surface generates heat. This can damage the blocks and deform the tire.
So how does a good tire differ from a bad one in this regard? Most of this boils down to the internal construction of the tire. Going into a corner flexes the sidewall, and if it’s made poorly, it can get warped. Even good tires have some flex in the sidewall, but thanks to the sturdy construction, it returns in the normal shape and has no issues.
A bad tire may not have the same internal construction, making it prone to damage. This damage can result in blisters or deformities. I’m not saying that this is impossible with a good tire, but this is where the warranty can come into play. Even without it, knowing that the internal construction is sturdier means that you have peace of mind, knowing that the chances of that happening are slimmer.
My pick for longevity is the Goodyear Assurance MaxLife
Last but not least is comfort, another area that touring tires are known for. For everyday driving around town or on the highway, these are the most popular options because apart from the longevity, they also offer a comfortable ride without too much noise.
Modern technologies used by prominent tire manufacturers enable them to refine their tires well. Sure, there are some differences, and not all of them are equally comfortable and quiet.
The problem with the bad tires is a combination of the tread pattern and the internal construction. A weaker construction may seem comfortable enough, but that can lead to other problems I already mentioned. On the noise side of things, having a tread pattern vaguely copied from other brands doesn’t result in a quieter ride.
My pick for comfort is the Bridgestone Turanza QuietTrack
A Few Disclaimers…
Throughout this guide, I keep referring to good and bad tires, but things aren’t black and white.
When you compare something from the premium segment with a mid-range option, you will notice a difference in performance. This can come in the form of a treadwear warranty, levels of grip, and traction or refinement.
The problem with the bad tires is that they are significantly worse performers even than the cheaper options on the market. Plus, the reliability is poor, so while you pay less for them, you get much less for the money you spend.
So, Which Tire Should You Choose?
If you’re not sure about a specific tire, check out if we have a review on it. We’ve tested plenty of tires and covered a wide range of categories. As a bonus, our guide on the best and worst tire brands should give you an idea of what to look for.
Even in the cheaper segment, there are tires that aren’t bad. I didn’t say good intentionally because while they aren’t terrible, they are far from the best, so you can consider them acceptable.
To sum things up, the mid-range models are the ones that seem to have the best bang for the buck ratio. The premium ones are more expensive, and while they do deliver better performance, they may not be worth it in some cases. If you want to learn more, check out my guide and see if paying the premium price is something you can benefit from.
On the opposite side of the spectrum are the cheap tires, some of which are poor choices. For the most part, models from reputable brands, even some Chinese ones, may be able to deliver usable performance. This can be a good enough option for some, but despite that, I’d still recommend going for at least the mid-range tires if your budget allows that.