The process of choosing the perfect tires goes much deeper than the type of vehicle you drive and the measurements of your wheels. Every driver has a unique situation, commute, and application for their vehicle. The tires you select need to account for everything including:
- The types of weather conditions you drive in.
- How climate changes throughout the year.
- The roads you typically drive on.
- The jobs you need to do.
- The driving experience you want.
When you are buying tires, you need to understand the common terminology and how it relates to your needs. Here are the major terms to familiarize yourself with:
Tread is perhaps the most important factor differentiating various types of tires. The tread is the part of the tire that comes in direct contact with the ground. The pattern is designed differently based on the requirements of the vehicle, terrain, weather conditions, or application. Tire tread is made of rubber or rubber compounds. In general, tire tread is categorized by four geometric shapes.
The lugs are the part of the tread that makes contact with the ground. Tread lugs work to provide stability, support, and performance capabilities based on the manufacturer’s goals. The lug compresses as it makes contact with the ground, then returns to normal shape. This process is commonly referred to as Force Variation. While just about every tire is designed with lugs, this component is primarily talked about in regards to farming tires, construction equipment, forklifts, ATVs, etc. Lugs assist the grooves in dispersing water, mud, and snow from under the tire, which is necessary for traction. They also help to pull through terrain, which is why you see the giant lugs on tractor and ATV tires.
Grooves are the large gaps in the tire tread patterns and are designed to channel water and slush away from the tire. Grooves can be one wide, circumferential groove or a series of smaller grooves strategically placed to channel different liquid materials quickly away from the tread patch. The type of groove will vary based on the need – weather or performance expectation.
Voids refer to the space in which the lugs are allowed to shift and flex. Void ratio refers to the space between the lugs. Lower void ratio = more contact area. Higher void ratio = less contact area.
Sipes are the cuts that run perpendicular to the grooves on a tire and give the lugs more room to flex. These help in letting water escape from the center of the tire toward the sides. Additionally, they pinch and grab snow for enhanced traction in wintery conditions. The sipes are critical in maintaining grip and preventing the vehicle from hydroplaning.
Common Sidewall Markings
Department of Transportation (DOT) Safety Code
This code is a certification that the tire’s manufacturer meets the DOT’s standards for tire safety. You can find this code on the tire located after the ID number. The DOT safety code is the entire number. The first set of numbers show where the tire was manufactured and by whom. The last four digits are the DOT Date code. In the image below, you will see the DOT Date code “2614.” The “26” indicates the tire was manufactured in the 26th week of the year. The “14” indicates it was manufactured during 2014.
Uniform Tire Quality Grading (UTQG)
UTQG is a testing method used to determine the tread wear, traction, and temperature resistance of a tire. This information is typically located on the outer edge of the tire:
Snow and winter tires are not required to have UTQG ratings.
Maximum Inflation Pressure
This number indicates the maximum pressure the tire can hold while operating. Keep in mind, this number DOES NOT represent the recommended inflation pressure for the vehicle – you will need to see the manufacturer’s specifications in your owner’s manual for this.
Maximum Load Pressure
The maximum load pressure refers to the load carrying capacity when the tire is inflated to the maximum pressure. To be clear, this is not the recommended load carrying capacity for your vehicle.
This number is roughly the speed that the tire can safely handle over time. When you are buying tires, speed rating needs to correspond with the typical speed you drive at per the given terrain. A is the lowest speed rating and Y is the highest. Here is a speed rating chart to give you a better idea:
The load index number is based on the tire’s ability to withstand a specific load level without compromising performance. The higher the load index number, the more weight it can carry at the proper inflation. For safety reasons, it is not recommended to purchase a tire with a lower load range than your vehicle manufacturer recommends.
Finally, by now you have a good idea of what your unique terrain requirements are and what exactly you need your vehicle to do. Let’s discuss some of the common types of tires based on terrain.
Snow & Winter
If you live in a climate that sees frequent snowfall and ice, keeping your vehicle from sliding and losing control is essential for surviving the winter months.
However, even if your situation meets the criteria, buying the perfect set of snow tires is hardly a one-size-fits-all scenario. Before you go out and spend your hard earned money on a set of snow tires, there are a handful of questions you need to answer.
Do I really need snow tires?
Snow and winter tires are crucial for staying safe when driving in places with snow, ice, sleet, or freezing rain. However, the factor you need to keep in mind is the average temperature of the region you live in during the winter months. If you live in a generally-warm region and experience a rare snowfall, this shouldn’t warrant you to go out and buy heavy duty snow tires. In this case, you are better off sticking with all-season tires with an M+S rating (Mud & Snow). The best quality all-season tires for snow and ice can be used year round and are built to handle moderate snow storms and temperatures.
For an all-season tire that can handle occasional wintery conditions, the Goodyear Eagle RS-A line is a fantastic option built with a unique asymmetrical tread pattern designed to provide excellent traction on wet, dry, and snowy roads.
Now, it’s recommended to invest in snow tires if you drive in a climate that experiences snow, ice, sleet, or freezing rain and average temperatures in the winter months drop to 40-degrees or colder.
Think of a tire like a chocolate bar. When you throw it in the freezer, it becomes hard and brittle. The same thing happens to tires that are not designed for cold temperatures. The result is that the traction and grip is compromised. Winter tires are designed with special compounds to stay flexible, grab the surface, and maintain control in extreme winter temperatures.
I only have a two-wheel drive car. Do I need to buy four snow tires?
This is a common myth that needs to be put to rest. When you invest in winter tires, always put them on all corners of your car to maximize traction and handling – even if you don’t have a four-wheel drive vehicle. Mounting snow tires only on the front would cause uneven traction and can destabilize acceleration and braking, which could lead to increased fishtailing.
Should I buy studded tires or non-studded winter tires?
The answer to this question will come down to your driving habits and the terrain you drive on during the winter.
Studded tires are built with plastic or metal studs embedded within the tread. These are designed to dig into ice and packed snow to provide added traction. The major advantage to studded tires is you can expect shorter stopping distances and controlled acceleration on hilly terrain. If you live in a mountainous area that gets lots of snowfall and ice, studded snow tires are a great choice. Keep in mind, studded tires are very noisy and can cause damage to the pavement. Some states have even outlawed them because of this.
The Nokian Hakkapeliitta 8 line offers a wide range of studded options for winter driving built with open grooves for extra traction, sipes for biting edges, and pliable tread rubber designed to stay soft in extreme cold. One of the biggest advantages of this tire is the unique construction made to reduce noise and damage to the road.
Non-studded tires work well in flatter terrain on packed snow and slush. They are built with deep and wide grooves, irregular surfaces, and sharp edges that work to gain traction in winter conditions. Instead of metal studs, these tires rely on advances in rubber compounding, unique tread designs, and a slew of modern technologies for extra traction. Many would argue that the advancements in non-studded winter tires have more or less eliminated the need for studded tires.
Cooper’s Evolution Winter line offers some of the best snow tires on the market. The Snow Groove technology is built to trap snow for snow-on-snow traction. These tires come with the “Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake” symbol, which means they are rated for severe snow conditions. If needed, studs can be installed.
Can I just get chains instead of winter tires?
Putting chains on your tires can certainly be necessary in some situations, like extreme snow and/or icy conditions in mountainous terrains. However, chains should not be viewed as a viable trade-off for winter tires. They shouldn’t be used when driving at highway speed or on bare pavement – this can cause all sorts of damage to the road and your equipment. Check to see if your state requires snow tires during winter to be sure you are complying with the laws.
Now, when it comes time to pull the trigger on buying the best snow tires, there are a handful of things to keep in mind.
- Snow tires should ideally last about four seasons.
- They need to be taken off during the warmer months (factor in the cost of swapping out the tires twice per year).
- It might be more feasible to buy winter tires with rims to avoid the costs of having the tire dealer swap them out in the winter/spring.
Off-road tires have come a long way in recent decades. Nowadays, there are all kinds of options for mud terrain tires and the market is extremely competitive.
With so many options out there, how can you choose the right mud tire for your needs?
What is the exact reason you need mud tires?
Mud tires are incredibly diverse. At the core level, all mud tires are designed for regular off-road use. Even though off-road capability is the primary concern, manufacturers work to give these tires on-road manners. The variation in certain models is based on the types of conditions and terrain requirements.
In general, mud tires are built with deep tread blocks for extra traction on treacherous roads. These tires are designed with compounds for extreme puncture, chip, and cut resistance. The more deluxe (and expensive) mud tires are built with 3-ply sidewalls. The purpose is to add durability and allow the tire to run on a lower PSI for optimal performance on extra-precarious off-road terrains.
In order to purchase the best mud tires for your intended use, you need to think of your unique driving situation and everything that factors into the decision.
What types of mud will you be driving in?
Step one of choosing the best mud tires is knowing what type of mud you will be going up against. Some mud terrains might typically have mud & clay that is thick and sticky, while others experience thinner mud with more water.
Wet & dry sand, loose dirt, or gravel are other common types of “mud” you might need to tackle.
You need to consider the most extreme type of mud you will potentially have to drive in. As a general rule of thumb when buying mud tires, it’s best to plan for the worst. The last thing you want is to get stuck because you bought a mud tire that was too modest for the terrain.
How much will you be driving off-road?
Most importantly, you need to know how much you will be driving off-road compared to on pavement. If you buy a mud tire that is strictly designed for off-road use, you will likely experience a noisy, rough ride with reduced handling on paved roads.
If your tires see a fair amount of both on and off-road terrain, you should look for a model that has a healthy balance of capabilities.
The Cooper Discoverer STT Pro series has outstanding versatility for both paved and unpaved roads. The wave-pattern of the tread is built to make the transition from mud to pavement smooth and easy. The inner ribs of the tread are built with a 3-2 block pattern to reduce noise and improve stability on both wet and dry roads. Perhaps the premier feature of this tire is the “flex grooves” between tread blocks. These work to handle the frequent inconsistencies on both paved and mud roads. This model is ideal for Jeeps and pickup trucks.
Mud claw tires are also a great option that offer great versatility on extreme roads and can hold their own on the highway. The Mud Claw Extreme M/T line is a fantastic choice. These tires have large center lugs for excellent pulling power on loose dirt and mud. The alternating lug pattern does a lot to improve stability and the high void tread design efficiently expels mud and water. These tires are also equipped to handle wintery conditions.
If you are an extreme mud bogging enthusiast, you need to invest in a mud tire with aggressive tread patterns that can stand up to the toughest terrains out there. In most cases, these types of tires will not do very well on paved roads.
The Achilles Desert Hawk X-MT is one of the most capable tires for serious off-roading adventures and an unbelievable price. The aggressive tread pattern and biting side blocks are engineered to tackle the toughest terrain you can imagine. The wide void areas are designed to evacuate large amounts of mud easily for superior grip and stability. If you need a tire for the most rugged conditions, this one is a great choice.
All-terrain tires have been promoted as a “jack-of-all-trades” type of tire for a long time. They are ideal for drivers who need on-road comfort and stability combined with efficient off-road ability.
In the old days, all-terrain tires were viewed as a middle ground between on and off-road driving; not build for extreme terrains, yet not perfectly ideal for extended highway driving. These days, the technology of all-terrain tires provides exceptional performance on pavement and can rival dedicated trail tires. Most combine the signature open-tread design of off-road tires with the handling ability of on-road tires. The result is a versatile option that can be used year round.
When buying the best all-terrain tires for your needs, there are many different factors that come into play.
What does your average day or week look like?
The justification for investing in all-terrain tires lies in the variety of driving experiences you normally have. Keep in mind, all-terrain tires are meant for all-purposes; you need a healthy mix in order for these to be your best option.
For example, if the majority of your driving is done on the highway or in-town, investing in this type of tire is not a smart choice. The rubber is specially designed to be easily manipulated and adaptable to a wide range of surfaces. In turn, you won’t get optimal fuel economy on paved roads and the ride will be noisy. If this is what your days look like, investing in a good highway tire is a better choice. However, some of the more advanced all-terrain models have great on-road capability, in addition to stellar off-road performance.
Now, if you live out in the country or take off-roading trips from time-to-time, all-terrain tires are an excellent choice. Pickup trucks and vans that need to perform jobs on dirt roads or primitive job sites are prime examples of applications that require a good set of all-terrain tires.
The Hankook Dynapro ATM RF10 line is an incredibly versatile option that provides all-terrain traction for trucks, SUVs, and Jeeps. The casing design creates large contact patches to distribute the weight of the vehicle over a greater area for excellent handling. The tread is built with lots of open space for superior grip on treacherous terrain, as well as on the highway.
Would it be better to invest in mud tires for tough construction work?
If you frequently work in rugged conditions and have to drive through heavy mud, clay, or sand, mud tires would certainly be a smart option for the workday.
However, you need to factor in the commute to the job site. If you drive on paved roads periodically every day, go with all-terrain truck tires.
If your vehicle primarily lives at a tough job site or your commute is short, mud tires might be the ideal choice.
Depending on the severity of your job site, the Toyo Open Country A/T II line is a great option built to handle tough off-road conditions including mud, dirt, gravel, and snow.
This tire is designed with an innovative tread rubber for excellent cut/chip resistance, grip on wintry roads, and good mileage on the highway.
What about snow capability?
The versatility of all-terrain tires can provide sufficient performance on icy and snow-covered roads. But, similar to all-season tires, most compounds in these types of tires may become worse during extreme cold bouts.
The Falken Wildpeak A/T3W line is a fantastic all-terrain tire available in a wide range of sizes. This tire is specifically designed
with big central lugs and open shoulders for a balanced performance both on and off-road. All tires in this line come with the Rubber Manufacturer Association’s Mountain Snow Flake Symbol, which signifies outstanding capability on snow and ice.
Keep in mind, all-terrain tires are meant for those who see a fair amount of driving on both paved roads and back roads. If the back roads you drive on experience extreme wintry conditions and do not normally get plowed after a snow storm, be sure the all-terrain tire you buy has a Mountain Snowflake symbol.
When looking for the best all-terrain tires, the first step is identifying the diversity of your driving situation. These tires are most ideal for those who experience a consistent balance of on and off-road driving in various conditions.
Sports Truck tires are designed for optimal handling and performance on light trucks. In regards to terrain, they ARE NOT built to handle off-road, excessively cold, or wintry conditions.
If you are looking to buy sport truck tires, you need to understand the limitations that come with them. The short and stiff sidewalls equate to limited shock absorption, durability, and wear.
Plain and simple, sports tires are best when used primarily on paved roads. Most models are designed for excellent fuel economy and optimal grip on dry and wet roads. Additionally, sports tires are built with large contact patch areas to provide superior grip and improved performance. The stiff sidewalls are meant to add lateral and cornering forces at high speeds.
When are sports tires the ideal choice?
The most important factors to keep in mind when buying sports tires are:
- The condition of the roads you typically drive on.
- The handling you desire
- How many miles you drive.
Sports tires are not meant for those who drive on rough, unsmooth, or pothole-filled roads. In fact, hitting a serious bump can potentially cause damage to the tire and the rim. So, in terms of terrain, the best situation to buy sports tires is if you drive entirely on paved roads. Moreover, the roads should be decent quality to avoid any mishaps.
In terms of how often you drive, it’s important to note that sports tires are built with soft compounds for excellent grip and traction.The trade-off is that many models will wear more quickly in comparison to all-season tires.
The Achilles ATR Sport line is a phenomenal choice that alleviates many of the common drawbacks associated with sports tires. These models are designed with a directional tread pattern meant to provide better fuel economy and handling. The center rib and casing is constructed to quickly dissipate heat, extend tread life, and produce above average fuel economy.
For the most part, the process of buying sport truck tires is more dependent on the type of vehicle you have, the styling you desire, and how you drive it. In terms of terrain, these types of tires are one of the most limited in that they should be driven on paved roads in manageable weather conditions.
There is never a “good” or “convenient” time to get a flat tire. In most cases, this unfortunate occurrence means you need to either call assistance or dig out your spare tire, jack the car up, put in the doughnut, then drive to a tire shop to get a replacement. Regardless of your approach here, you are probably looking at lost multiple hours.
In this sticky situation, Run Flat tires can be a saving grace.
What are Run Flat Tires?
Run Flat tires, also commonly referred to as Zero-Pressure tires, are designed to support the weight of the vehicle for a short period of time until the driver can make to the repair shop. Most models hold up for around 50 miles and allow you to drive at 50mph.
How do Run Flat tires work?
From an overview perspective, Run Flat tires are designed to provide temporary stability to get home or to a repair shop in the situation that you puncture a tire.
There are two main types of Run Flat tires:
This is the most common type of Run Flat tire. The sidewalls of these tires are heavily reinforced so the weight of the vehicle can be supported when the air pressure is compromised – or depleted altogether.
- Support Ring System
Tires with the support ring system are built with a physical structure that is attached to the wheel. In the case of a puncture, the weight of the vehicle is supported by this structure, as opposed to the tire itself.
The major selling points of Run Flat tires are:
- You don’t need to lug a spare tire around.
- You don’t need to sit on the side of the road to change a flat.
- You can get to a repair shop or back home on your own.
- There is better stability after a blowout.
- Peace of mind.
Why wouldn’t everyone just buy Run Flat tires?
For as convenient as Run Flat tires can be, there are certainly a number of downsides compared to conventional tires. First and foremost, the stiff sidewalls make for a harsher ride. Typically, if your vehicle did not come with Run Flat tires, you should consult your manual or a local dealer to be sure run flats would be a good choice for your vehicle.
Second, these types of tires have shorter tread wear. A J.D. Power study actually found that people tend to replace their Run Flat tires about 6,000 miles sooner than those with regular tires. Now, there are a lot of differing opinions on the tread wear of Run Flat tires. Many say that tire makers use a softer compound (that wears faster) to counteract the harsh ride.
Third, it’s tough to gauge your air pressure by looking at them. Thanks to the reinforced sidewalls, the tire won’t bulge if it is low on pressure. So, it is very important to have a TPMS pressure monitoring system in place if you buy these tires.
The Bridgestone Driveguard RFT is an incredibly versatile Run Flat option that is designed to alleviate the pain point of shorter tread wear. Additionally, it offers excellent performance on wet and dry roads and optimal fuel economy. When it comes to Run Flat technology, Bridgestone leads the way in extended mobility to ensure you are confident on the road in managing unwanted surprises.
What is the ideal situation to buy Run Flat tires?
Generally speaking, if you have Run Flat tires, chances are they came with the vehicle; it’s not common to switch to them. However, as a flat tire can happen at any time or place, there are certainly some situations that fully justify spending the extra money on Run Flat tires.
In terms of terrain, you need to critically assess the roads you normally drive on.
- Are your regular touring routes laden with potholes, bumps, ruts, or uneven paving?
- Do you frequently drive on roads known to have lots of debris, like nails, broken glass, or other sharp objects?
Another huge factor to consider is the weather. Higher temperatures can cause the air in your tires to expand. This creates more internal pressure and increases the chances of a leak. If you live/drive in areas that see hot temperatures, Run Flat tires can potentially prevent an unwanted surprise.
Buying the best Run Flat tires will all come down to how well you understand your unique situation and the potential of tire punctures. Generally speaking, if you frequently drive on rough city streets, this type of tire will certainly come in handy sooner or later.
Most vehicles can benefit quite a bit by investing in highway tires. As the name implies, these tires are meant for long drives on paved roads. The choice to invest in highway tires is pretty simple; if you drive at least 90% on-road, want good gas mileage and long wear, this is the ideal option.
Highway tires are designed with independent tread blocks and multiple sipes meant for excellent on-road performance in reasonable conditions. The construction of these tires are meant for extra-long mileage, smooth rides, and comfort.
How do highway tires hold up in ranging weather conditions?
Being as how the terrain aspect will essentially be the same, the weather you typically experience will need to play a key role in choosing highway tires. For the most part, highway tires will come with the M+S symbol, meaning they are equipped with all-season capability and provide grip on wet and dry roads. While these tires will not perform as well in a blizzard as designated snow/winter tires, they should be able to get the job done in moderate winter weather if they have the M+ S rating.
If you spend a great deal of time on the highway in various weather conditions, you’ll want to invest in the most versatile tires. The Dunlop Grandtrak ST30 is one of the best highway tire lines on the market. The M+S rated tire is built with a versatile tread design that provides all-weather traction. The construction of this tire also features the innovative Multi-Pitch Tread Design Technology to reduce noise while driving at high speeds.
As the cherry on top, the black serrated sidewall and raised letter design add a trendy look to the tire.
Which highway tires are good for extreme temperatures?
If you live in a climate that experiences sub-zero temperatures, you cannot risk a tire becoming stiff and brittle on the highway. At high speeds, this can be very dangerous, and in some cases lead to fatal accidents. On the other hand, you cannot have a tire that becomes weak in extreme hot weather.
For those who live in places that frequently experience both extreme hot and cold bouts, highway tires with Dynamic Range Technology are the ideal choice. This technology uses a silica tread compound and asymmetric design for better tolerance in severe temperatures.
The Falken Sincera SN250 A/S is a great option that is designed with Dynamic Range Technology for extreme cold weather. The tread compound is meant to withstand both sub-zero and severely hot temperatures and maintain flexibility.
Depending on how many miles you typically put on your vehicle during highway commutes, highway tires can be a great investment. In general, the more time you spend on the highway, the more you should splurge on a good set of tires.
Touring tires, primarily meant for cars and CUVs, are built with asymmetric tread patterns to provide balanced handling, exceptional tread wear, and a quiet, comfortable ride. Most of the touring tires sold in North America have all-season capability, with adequate performance on snow and ice. From an overview perspective, fuel efficiency is where most of the emphasis is placed nowadays when manufacturing these types of tires.
Touring tires are designed to handle just about all of your on-road driving needs. Many praise these tires for their long distance capability and predictable handling.
How well do touring tires do on moderate off-road conditions?
Touring tires are certainly capable of holding their own on the scenic route, it just depends how scenic you are talking. These types of tires will provide adequate performance on dirt and gravel roads, but aren’t designed to handle treacherous off-roading paths or heavy mud.
Take your daily drive into consideration here. If you typically drive on less-than-ideal roads or terrains, you might want to look into a more versatile option. For this purpose, the Cooper CS5 Ultra Touring Tire is an excellent all-season line that offers great performance on wet and dry roads, as well as long tread life. The internal belt construction is designed to offer superior flexibility to manage road irregularities with ease.
Now, if you typically spend a good amount of time driving on rough, unpaved roads in extreme conditions, an all-terrain tire might be more ideal.
If I want excellent handling and high speed ratings, would high performance tires be a better choice?
This is a bit of a loaded question.
If you are purely looking for handling capability and high speed ratings, high performance tires are going to be a step above your average touring tire. However, it’s critical to note that high performance tires are commonly referred to as summer tires. They will not give you the same all-season capability as a touring tire. Additionally, due to the stiff, low profile sidewalls, you would have to compromise on the quiet and comfortable ride you would get from touring tires.
Fortunately, some of the more innovative touring tire models can provide a driving experience comparable to high performance tires – with significantly more versatility in weather and various road conditions. The Firestone Precision Touring line combines incredible handling, long tread wear, and excellent fuel efficiency to provide a perfect balance of performance and all-season practicality.
This model is one of Firestone’s best. The close attention to detail throughout the design and manufacturing process provides unbeatable quality for drivers wanting extra performance capability without sacrificing comfort!
The choice to buy these types of tires is similar to that of highway tires; if you spend at least 90% of your driving time on paved roads, need fuel efficiency, and value a smooth, comfortable ride, touring tires are your best bet.
Buying the perfect set of tires will require a unique process for every single driver. In regards to the terrain, you need to critically assess your average day, potential obstacles, and how you can get the best bang for your buck.
If you need more assistance finding the optimal selection for your needs, feel free to reach out to our knowledgeable staff here at Tires Easy. We’ve helped drivers find the perfect tires for just about every situation imaginable!