How to Choose the Right Tires for Your Car
Regardless if this is your first car or your 10th, one common thing is the fact that you need to replace certain parts. Every vehicle has expendable aspects that need to be replaced over time.
Take tires, for example. Any car owner would be more than happy to have one set of tires that will last as long as the car would, but unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Tires need to be replaced once the tread depth begins to drop near the minimum or after a few years.
As you drive them, the tread depth reduces as the tire wears down, meaning the performance degrades over time. At a certain point, the tire will literally become unsafe to drive. The same goes for age. If you don’t drive much, you may think that a tire will be fine to be driven for 10-15 years, but that’s a bad idea.
Manufacturers have done a lot in the past decades for the compound, and even though they are pretty durable, at the end of the day, they’re still made of rubber.
A tire begins to age from the moment it leaves the factory, and for the most part, you have around 5 or 6 years before the rubber starts to harden.
I know plenty of people that believe that the tires can be driven after that, and they are right. You can drive a 10-year-old tire, but the performance won’t be anywhere near what it was when it was new, and I’d categorize it as unsafe. In this regard, storing the tires properly may prolong their life, but it won’t result in wonders.
So, regardless if your tires are worn down or old, it’s time to replace them, but which ones should you get? A safe bet would be to get the same model you are looking to replace, and you probably won’t go wrong if the ones you had performed well.
The problem is that manufacturers release newer and often better models, so you could miss out on performance. With this in mind, you may want to get something new, but where should you start?
The tire industry has grown a lot, and today we have tons of categories and models, so it’s not impossible to get confused and don’t know what to get. You can talk to the experts from prominent retailers who will give you some good advice. On the other hand, you can go for a more hands-on approach and make the decision for yourself.
I’m going to sound like a Youtuber here, but I get asked a lot about what tires are the best and which ones people should get, and the answer is always “it depends.”
Getting the correct tires is crucial, so I’ve decided to make an extensive guide that should help you make the best choice possible. Most importantly, it’s going to be one that should suit your needs perfectly.
Summer vs Winter Tires?
For a long time, you had only two options – summer or winter tires, but that changed in the 70s with the introduction of all-season tires. A while after that, all-weather tires began appearing on the market, so now you have 4 categories and don’t know where to start. To help you with this, let’s define a few things.
What are Summer Tires?
Summer tires, as the name suggests, are models that should be driven in non-wintery conditions. This doesn’t mean that you should drive them only in summer, but not in autumn or spring.
The compound is designed to deliver performance in dry and wet conditions in warmer temperatures. There isn’t a strict limit at what temperature the performance drops drastically, but it’s around 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit.
What are Winter Tires?
Once the temperatures begin to drop below 40 degrees F, it’s time for winter tires. They are designed with a softer compound which enables them to remain pliable in cold and subfreezing temperatures.
As a result, you have tires that can deliver safe performance in these conditions. Plus, winter tires have a different tread pattern, enabling them to perform on snow. For even better winter performance, especially on ice, you have the option to get studdable tires.
What are All-Season Tires?
All-season tires are a combination of summer and winter tires but with a twist. Most people think all-season tires are superior as you can use them in summer and winter. Yes, that is true, but the performance isn’t as good. The difference between summer and all-season tires isn’t as massive, and most people may not even notice a difference in everyday driving. In winter, all-season tires are usable only in lighter conditions, and the performance cannot be compared with proper winter tires.
For a slightly better winter performance, you have all-weather tires. In many cases, these come with the 3PMSF rating, so they can be used in some slightly harsher conditions, areas where the all-season tires would struggle. As good as this sounds, they still aren’t as good as summer tires in warmer temperatures and will struggle a bit in the harshest winter conditions.
Summer vs. Winter vs. All-Season Tires
With all this knowledge, what kind of tire should you get? It depends primarily on the weather conditions in your area. If you live in Florida and walk around in shorts during winter, you’ll probably be fine just with summer tires. The temperatures almost never drop below the point where these tires will be unsafe to drive, so you’ll be fine.
On the other hand, if you live in an area with average winters, you have several options. A common choice is to go for all-season tires in areas where the winters are mild. They will be fine if there’s an inch of snow and the temperatures aren’t extremely freezing. There is also the option for all-weather tires for a bit better winter performance, but these tires aren’t the most common ones.
Your safest option, the one I’m going for, is having two sets of tires – summer and winter. You’re getting the best of both worlds, and you know that the chances of your tires struggling in winter are significantly reduced. The drawback of this approach is that two sets of tires are more expensive, and you’ll need to figure out where and how you’ll store the set you’re not using.
Finally, we reach the most extreme situation – winter. People that live up north where the summer isn’t a summer in the literal sense won’t need to think and just get winter tires. There is also the option to get studdable tires if the roads are often icy or you want to ensure that you’ll never get stuck.
Should You Prioritize Better Performance or Longer Life?
The next categorization is the type of tire you’re looking to get and will depend on what you’re looking to get from the tires and the type of car you drive. In this regard, you mainly have two types of tires – touring and performance.
What are Touring Tires?
There are several sub-categories on the touring side of things, and they vary slightly in terms of what they can offer. Essentially, touring tires are designed to be longer lasting and well refined without compromising performance.
When we dive deeper, we begin to see the differences I mentioned. Standard touring tires lean towards longevity as they come with the longest treadwear warranty. Grand touring ones, on the other hand, have a slightly shorter warranty but have slightly better performance in terms of grip and traction.
- Longer lasting
- High refinement levels
- More affordable
- Handling isn’t very dynamic
- Grip and traction levels aren’t the highest in the industry
What are Performance Tires?
Performance tires are just what they sound like – tires capable of delivering the best performance possible. It means you’ll get the highest levels of grip and traction, but you will be sacrificing refinement and longevity.
- Higher levels of grip and traction
- Better handling characteristics
- Shorter braking distances, especially in an emergency braking scenario
- Not the best option for fuel economy
- Ride quality isn’t the best
Touring vs. Performance Tires
This is where your driving habits and type of car will come into play, and it’s much more complicated than most people think. If you spend a lot of time driving, you’re probably looking for a tire that will be soft, quiet, and last a long time, something you’ll get with a touring tire. The standard touring tires are your safest bet for the longest tread life.
The grand touring tires aim to provide some middle ground, offering a bit better performance while slightly sacrificing longevity. You may be able to have some fun on a twisty road but keep in mind that they are not performance-oriented options.
Finally, the performance tires are the ones you should get if you don’t care too much about refinement and longevity. You’ll get the highest levels of grip and traction, so enthusiasts will probably go for this option.
Performance Isn’t Always Better
Remember I mentioned that the car type plays a role, and now I’ll explain why. I own a 1992 Corolla with 70 horsepower from the factory, meaning that at least a dozen of those have died over the past 30 years.
Being an old car with barely enough power to get out of its own way means that performance tires are crossed off the list. Fitting a set of Pilot Sport 4S, hypothetically, if I can find the right size, would be pointless. I would never get the most out of them, and I’d lose refinement and longevity. Sure, I’d be able to have some fun, but in general, I’d spend a lot of money on something that I’ll never enjoy.
On the other hand, when I look at tires for my Lexus IS250, things are a bit different. The car isn’t massively powerful, but 208 HP is no joke, meaning that I’d be able to utilize some of the extra grip and traction that a UHP tire could provide me with. With that said, going for something more touring-oriented isn’t a bad option, as the car does very well as a cruiser.
So what did I do? I chose refinement over fun because it’s my daily driver and racks up a lot of highway miles, meaning refinement is essential. I aimed for the middle ground that grand touring tires offer and got a set of PremiumContact 6. They’re sticky enough to have some fun but still decently comfortable and quiet-ish.
The type of car plays a massive difference in which tires you should look at. A luxury sedan may benefit from performance tires, and you’ll have a better handling car, but at the end of the day, the car is designed for pleasureful driving. A sports car, on the other hand, will be fine with touring tires if you want that, but primarily, the car is designed for sporty driving, so performance tires would suit it well.
On-Road or Off-Road?
Next up, we’ll be talking about where you plan to drive your car or, to be precise, your off-road capable vehicle. Crossover owners beware – this section isn’t for you.
SUVs or proper off-road vehicles can drive in non-paved conditions (like gravel), so in this case, you have some options which are quite simple, at least I think.
If you have this type of vehicle and you drive only on paved roads and never take it off-roading, you might want to skip ahead, as you should be looking at standard tires. If you need something capable of delivering performance off-road, there are several options to choose from.
What are All-Terrain Tires?
All-terrain tires are a pretty new addition to the tire segment and are similar to all-season tires in terms of what they offer. As the name suggests, these tires are designed to blend on and off-road performance, but like the all-season tires, they aren’t superior in each condition.
Yes, they are pretty good on the road, but in off-road conditions, you won’t be overly impressed if you’re looking for the best possible performance.
- Decent road performance
- Usable in multiple driving scenarios
- Not the best option for extreme off-roading conditions
- Refinement isn’t as good as road tires
What are Mud-Terrain tires?
Mud-terrain tires are the opposite of road tires. With these, you can tackle the harshest off-road conditions, whether we’re talking about sand, mud, or rock crawling. With that said, you shouldn’t expect wonders on paved roads. They are usable, but I’d categorize them as barely usable, as the performance isn’t particularly good.
- The best of extreme off-road scenarios
- Extremely durable
- You can air them down without any serious issues
- Poor road performance
- Nosy on paved surfaces
What are Hybrid Tires?
In recent years, manufacturers have begun releasing hybrid tires, which fall between all-terrain and mud-terrain tires. With these, you are looking at better performance in off-road conditions when compared with all-terrain tires without a massive drawback with performance on the road.
- Better off-road performance than all-terrain tires
- Acceptable characteristics for paved surfaces
- Durable even in extremes conditions
- Refinement isn’t the best
- Not a lot available models
All-Terrain vs. Mud-Terrain Tires
So, how to choose the right set of tires? Like in the previous sections, it depends. As I mentioned at the beginning of this section, people that drive on paved roads shouldn’t worry about off-road capable tires.
The amount of off-roading you do will determine the type of tires you should get. For the casual off-roaders that drive on dirt roads, shallow mud, or a bit of sand, all-terrain or hybrid tires will be the best choice.
The idea behind this is similar to getting a set of all-season tires. You have one set that can deliver decent performance in both conditions, so you probably won’t feel like you’re missing out. The hybrid ones are a bit better option for the harsher conditions, but you may exhibit a bit more road noise from them. Also, in off-road conditions, they could do a bit better in light rock crawling situations when you deflate them.
For the best off-road performance, the mud-terrain tires are your safest choice, as they will perform the best. If you own an off-roader and rarely drive it on paved roads, then just a set of these tires will be an excellent choice.
On the other hand, some people do a combination of on and off-road, in which case, they’ll probably need a set of road and off-road tires. This is the more expensive option, but it will ensure you’ll have the best performance in both conditions. Also, you will need to change the tires according to your needs. This can be a logistical nightmare, but veteran off-roaders consider this the best choice.
Should You Choose the Cheap or Expensive Tire?
The last thing I want to cover is the price, which is crucial when deciding which tire to get. Often people get a set of tires based on their budget, but I’ve seen some bad choices from people that cheaped out and made some poor choices.
A while ago, I wrote an article outlining if expensive tires are worth it, which you are more than welcome to treat yourself with. Despite my opinion in that piece, there is a reason why premium tires are expensive, and in some instances, you can benefit from that.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, you have the cheapest Chinese tires, which I recommend avoiding. With this in mind, you probably think the mid-range tires are the best? Yes and no.
Mid-range tires are an excellent balance between great performance and affordable price. It means you’ll get almost similar performance to their premium counterparts without a higher price tag. As good as this may sound, it’s not the ideal choice for everyone.
I’ll take both of my cars as an example. The Corolla is old, and just like my example with the touring vs. performance, the same rule applies here, but not to that extent. As things stand at the moment, I could get something like the Turanza QuietTrack and have one of the quietest tires on the market. That’s all fine, but the problem is that cars from 3 decades ago weren’t all that refined, so while the tire noise won’t be an issue, every other noise will be.
The IS250 is a different story, and I could benefit from going premium. The refinement is excellent, and at the moment, most of the noise I hear is from the tires, meaning that Bridgestone’s model would complement the car nicely. I could save a few bucks and go for something cheaper from the mid-range class, but there are a few potential issues.
Even though mid-range tires have come a long way and have gotten close to the premium ones, they still aren’t on the same level. It means that the first thing I’ll notice is slightly higher noise levels, even from the ones that get high scores during testing. Then there’s the performance, which may not seem crucial to people that don’t drive on the limit.
To be honest, most of us drive normally and obey the laws of the road, but there are situations where a slight bump in performance can be crucial. You can have the same car in the same conditions with premium and mid-range tires, and in an emergency braking situation, the premium morels will stop in shorter distances, in most cases.
Again, I’m not saying that you should avoid the mid-range tires, nor should you always look at the premium ones. I’m trying to say that there are situations where you won’t need to pay top dollar for the premium ones or that you shouldn’t cheap out.
Most people think that tires these days are expensive, which is something that I would disagree on. At the end of the day, you know how much budget you have for the tires, and it’s your decision. As long as you avoid the cheapest tires on the market, you should be fine. Regardless of which class you go for, it’s essential to have your expectations based on your purchase.
With all of this said, there is an important thing I have to note. Occasionally, retailers may sell premium tires at a discount, which can be good news for you. If a set of premium tires comes at a similar price to the mid-range ones, you should go for the premium ones.
Time for the closing words, and I feel like I could write a book on this. If you’ve reached this far, it means that you either want to learn how to choose the correct tires, or you’re curious and want to critique my work. If you’re in the second category, feel free to reach out with some recommendations for improvements.
If you’re in the first category, then you have some thinking to do. All of the aspects I covered above are intertwined, meaning that you won’t be able to make a decision just by looking at a single element.
For example, people on a tighter budget will look mainly at mid-range options, but they will probably avoid the grand touring tires as they are a bit more expensive than the standard touring ones. Also, most people live in areas with milder winters (thanks to global warming), meaning that a set of all-season tires should do the job just fine.
There isn’t a wrong or right answer to this question; there is just your answer based on your needs, car, and financial situation. You can follow my guide on making the correct choice. Alternatively, if you’re unsure or want a consultation, reach out to us, and we’d be happy to help.