H vs S Speed Rating: The Main Differences

Last Updated July 8, 2022

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If you want the best for your car you have to equip it with proper tires. This means that you should buy the right size tires for the right driving environment and style. Those who drive SUVs and trucks are likely going to prefer all-season all-terrain tires that can do on-road and off-road driving. Those who own performance cars are likely going to prefer performance tires.

H vs S Speed Rating

However, your style and your driving environment aren’t the only important aspects to pay attention to while buying tires as there are many other variables that are potentially even more important. Let’s say you own a performance car and you love driving fast. As such, H speed-rated tires are a good choice. On the other hand, if you aren’t too serious about high speeds, you should consider S speed-rated tires. So, H vs S Speed Rating tires, which ones to get?

H vs S Speed Rating

A tire speed rating refers to a specific maximum speed a tire can continuously endure without any compromises in regard to safety, performance, and longevity.  An H speed-rated tire can go up to 130mph or 210kph which means that these tires can comfortably drive at any speed below 130mph/210kph. If you go over this threshold, you are risking various consequences such as accelerated tire wear.

On the other hand, an S speed-rated tire is rated for 112mph or 180kph which means that this tire isn’t nearly as capable of withstanding the stresses associated with high-speed driving. Be that as it may, an S speed-rated tire does have a few advantages over an H speed-rated tire.

Why Do Tire Speed Ratings Exist?

The tire speed rating system exists to manage and better control the performance of a tire at certain designated speeds. Because high-speed tires require different compound stiffness levels and because they aren’t the most comfortable out there, the speed rating was born so it can let you choose what you value more, speed, or some other driving quality that can not co-exist with a high-speed tire.

Therefore, this system rates tire according to the maximum speed they can continuously endure without hampering safety, longevity, and traction. Because higher speeds exert more stress onto the tires as opposed to lower speeds, a system was needed so it can be communicated to the driver how fast you can go with a specific tire while maintaining all the qualities associated with that exact tire. If you want to know more about the origins of the speed rating system, click here.

Which Tire Speed Ratings Exist?

Speed Symbol

Maximum Speed

Vehicle Type

L

75 mph

Off-Road & Light Truck Tires

M

81 mph

Temporary Spare Tires

N

87 mph

 

P

93 mph

 

O

99 mph

Studless & Studdable Winter Tires

R

106 mph

H. D. Light Truck Tires

S

112 mph

Family Sedans & Vans

T

118 mph

Family Sedans & Vans

U

124 mph

 

H

130 mph

Sport Sedans & Coupes

V

149 mph

Sport Sedans, Coupes & Sports Cars

W

168 mph

Sport Sedans, Coupes & Sports Cars

Y

186 mph

Sport Sedans, Coupes & Sports Cars

Z

149 mph+

Sports Cars, Exotic Cars

What Happens If You Exceed A Tire Speed Rating?

If you go over the designated tire speed rating by just a little or only for a few seconds, nothing is going to happen as tires aren’t fragile enough for it to make a substantial difference. However, if you exceed the top speed by quite some margin or you continuously drive over the designated tire speed rating, you are risking potentially catastrophic consequences.

An H speed-rated tire can go 18mph faster than an S speed-rated tire which isn’t really much different. Although these differences are rather marginal, an H speed-rated tire is likely going to perform better at virtually all speeds when compared to an S speed-rated tire. A tire speed rating is closely tied to how the tire manages to endure heat and friction which are the two greatest enemies at higher speeds.

If you drive over the designated maximum speed for a while, the tire is going to reach heat levels that are going to start hurting the tire. This can cause a bunch of issues such as increased tire wear, lack of traction, or even tread separation or tire blowouts. It is rather obvious that none of us want our tires to blow up at 150mph or higher which is why you shouldn’t be doing that.

Can I Mix And Match Tires With A Different Speed Rating?

Mixing and matching tires with different speed ratings is something you should never do, even if the ratings are similar. For example, a Y speed-rated tire is one designed to endure speeds of up to 186mph which means that this tire is designed and built completely differently as opposed to an S speed-rated tire which can only endure speeds up to 112mph.

This also means that a Y speed-rated tire performs better not only in regard to top speed, but also in other aspects of driving. First of all, these tires don’t wear evenly which will throw off the balance of the car and can cause the car to understeer or oversteer. Different tire temperatures will make the car fidgety as the outer heat of the tire corresponds to how well a tire can grip the road.

Pretty much all tire metrics are going to be different across multiple corners of the car which is somewhat similar to a human being sporting a running shoe on one foot and a flip flop on the other. These tires communicate with the road in a completely different manner which means that your car will not feel the way it is supposed to.

As such, don’t mix and match tires with a different speed rating as that can hamper virtually all aspects of tire performance. If you absolutely have to use tires with a different speed rating, be sure to mount the tires with the higher speed rating on the rear axle.

Why Do Ultra-High-Speed Rated Tires Exist?

We have already talked about Y speed-rated tires because they can comfortably roll at speeds exceeding 186mph which poses the question of why these even exist in the first place. There really is no place where you can drive a car so fast which means that there shouldn’t be much interest in buying ultra-high-speed rated tires.

In the US, there are no roads where you can reach these speeds, not even close. There are some tracks, drag strips, circuits, and airstrips where you can legally drive fast, but it still makes little to no sense to buy a tire that can exceed 186mph. Germany is a bit different because you can legally drive faster than even 186mph on certain stretches of the autobahn.

The main reason why people buy ultra-high-speed rated tires is that they enjoy knowing that they use tires that can go that fast. Some tracks and circuits in the US such as Talladega Superspeedway are long enough so you can even reach speeds exceeding 200mph, but you need a NASCAR to do that or a multi-million-dollar hypercar such as the Venom F5 or the Bugatti Chiron Super Sport.

Why Should I buy H Speed-Rated Tires Over S Speed-Rated Tires?

H speed-rated tires are mostly designed for sporty sedans and coupes which means that you should buy H speed-rated tires if you often drive a sporty coupe/sedan. The higher the speed rating of a tire, the better the tire usually is at all other performance metrics, especially handling, acceleration, braking, and cornering.

H speed-rated tires can endure friction and heat much better which means that they are able to perform better at all speeds, not just at the limit. The main reason why you should go for H speed-rated tires over S speed-rated tires is if you truly do exceed the speeds rated for S speed-rated tires.

Why Should I Buy S Speed-Rated Tires Over H Speed-Rated Tires?

S speed-rated tires do hold some advantages over H speed-rated tires because they usually use stiffer rubber compounds in construction and because the sidewalls on S and H-rated tires are different. For starters, the lower the maximum speed rating, the longer the tire is likely to last because it never should reach the same heat and friction levels.

An S speed-rated tire is also likely to perform better in the wintertime as the tire is not solely designed to tackle higher temperatures only. Therefore, a Y speed-rated tire is going to fare a lot worse in winter than a T speed-rated tire. Finally, tires with a lower maximum speed rating are usually more comfortable and quieter as well.

Conclusion

At the end of our “H vs S Speed Rating” article, we can comfortably say that there are benefits and drawbacks to each of these. An H speed-rated tire can withstand friction and heat better, it usually handles better in the dry, it accelerates better, and it stops a lot better when compared to an S speed-rated tire.

On the other hand, an S speed-rated tire is likely the more comfortable tire and one that should outlast an H speed-rated tire in most cases. Furthermore, an S speed-rated tire should also perform better in winter because it is not as focused on withstanding higher temperatures.

All in all, one tire is not really better than the other as this is more of a question of what you need more, is it higher speed and more performance, or more refinement and longer life.  

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