How do you know if your favorite tire brand is worth the money?
Understand the factors affecting tire selection, and make better choices for greater value for money, performance, durability, and safety.
Factors to Consider in Choosing a Tire
When choosing which tire to buy, you need to consider the following factors:
- Rubber compound.
- Tread pattern.
- Speed rating.
- Fitness for purpose.
- Fuel economy.
- Your driving style.
- Cost and mileage.
1. Rubber Compound
You are familiar with the cliché that things get real when the rubber meets the road.
This cliché holds that the rubber compound in your tire determines performance under wet or dry conditions and durability.
In motor racing, tire manufacturers try out different formulations for tires to work out the precise mix of ingredients that performs best under adverse racing conditions.
The manufacturer takes that knowledge and applies it to road tires to improve your driving experience.
2. Tread Pattern
Tires, trainers, and trail runners use the magic of tread to provide grip on wet and slippery surfaces on and off-road. Without adequate tread, your tire isn’t legal.
Different tread patterns achieve different effects.
The principal reason for the tread is to remove water from the contact point. If your tread is worn or clogged with mud, you risk aquaplaning on a wet road.
Most tires have a traction code (as part of the UTQG code – more on this code later in the post) that shows how effectively the tire will stop on wet concrete and asphalt.
The best is AA, graded down A, B, and C.
3. Tread Wear
The UTQG code estimates standard or higher durability for the tire under normal conditions and proper maintenance.
The standard rating is 100, 200 performs twice as well, and so on.
If you want durable tires, you want a brand with a higher number.
Tires aren’t made entirely of rubber – the tire’s construction contributes to its shape, durability, and performance.
Your tire construction may be a trade secret, but you must trust that your supplier uses the best construction technique to provide you with a safe set of “boots” for your vehicle.
Radial construction uses cords (nylon, steel, or other materials) in a radial pattern under the tread as reinforcement. Different construction techniques use a belt or diagonal placement of cords, but radial is the method most popular today.
How the reinforcing cords lie under the tread impacts the bumpiness of the ride. Diagonal or Bias-ply cords give the roughest ride.
5. Speed Rating
Every tire has a maximum safe running speed. If you exceed the maximum for any length of time, then the tire suffers from excessive heat and fails.
If you spend long hours on the highway or enjoy road trips with the family, you probably use a T (118 mph) or H (130 mph) rated tire.
The higher the speed rating, the higher the price of the tires.
If you stick to light commuting, you can save money by fitting a lower-speed rated tire like the S rated at 112mph.
In the UTQG code, you can find an estimate of temperature resistance A (over 115mph), B (100-115 mph), and C (85-100 mph).
It is worth checking that the tire code speed rating and the UTQG temperature resistance tell the same story.
Tires have a shelf life of no more than ten years, even if they lie untouched on a hook in a garage.
Ideally, you replace your tires at six years, regardless of tread wear.
Although tires seem indestructible, old rubber does not perform as well as new rubber. When investing in tires, you want to know that they are young enough to go the distance.
Only buy the tires you need – storing tires doesn’t benefit you unless you know you need to change other tires in the next few months, and your favorite tires are challenging to source.
7. Fitness for Purpose
The tire you buy must fit the vehicle type and driving purpose.
The typical tire types include:
- All Season tires between 14″ and 18″ provide grip for all weather conditions and between 40,000 and 100,000 miles of happy driving.
- Performance all-season tires between 15″ and 20″ provide better traction at high speeds but a little less mileage at 80,000 tops.
- Ultra-High Performance (UHP) all-season tires between 17″ and 22″ do not perform as well on wet surfaces but give you better traction in snow.
- UHP summer tires perform better in wet conditions but don’t help you in ice and snow.
- All-season truck tires give adequate grip and wear under heavy loads.
- All-terrain truck tires – heavy loads and off-road.
- Winter or Snow tires – pliable rubber and excellent traction in snow. Terrible mileage on everyday surfaces.
- Performance winter or snow tires are the UHP equivalent.
- Truck winter or snow tires provide winter traction for trucks and SUVs.
If you live in an area where you can consistently expect to drive on snow for several weeks in winter, it makes sense to swap out your tires with the season.
Alternatively, you can use all-season tires and travel with snow chains when you need extra winter traction.
8. Fuel Economy
The best tires for your car will increase your miles per gallon (mpg) or range for electric vehicles.
There is no standard rating, but fuel economy can vary by more than 10%.
The key is to reduce rolling resistance so the car’s energy does not go into heating the tires and overcoming road resistance.
The rolling resistance of your tire depends on physical dimensions, tread patterns, and rubber quality. Radial tires improve fuel efficiency by reducing rolling resistance.
Opt for the manufacturer’s specified tires to improve your fuel economy or EV’s electric range and avoid upgrading to oversized wheels with bigger, broader tires.
The warranty can cover you against defects and tread wear within a specified mileage.
The warranty reflects the manufacturer’s confidence in their products, and the best manufacturers offer a comprehensive warranty.
If you consider buying a warranty, read the small print. Typically, you need to prove that you correctly inflated your tires, rotated them at the appropriate interval, and drove responsibly.
The fine print may contain clauses that mean you will never be able to claim the warranty, which means a waste of time and money buying it.
You are probably better off spending more on premium tires with a free warranty.
Some tires are noisier than others.
Perhaps road noise doesn’t bother you, but you may want to opt for tires that give you a quieter ride.
You can use experience and talk to other road users about the tire brands that run with less noise.
11. Driving Style
Your driving style impacts the tire qualities that suit you.
You may be a low-speed city commuter and value a smooth and quiet ride. You may be a stalwart of the school run, prefer excellent grip, and value safety.
You may be at that stage in life where you drive a little faster than average and need high-performance tires that match your sporty ride.
Be honest with yourself about what you need from the tires on your vehicle.
12. Road Surfaces
Different tires perform better on different terrains.
If you regularly drive off-road with the hazards of mud and potholes, you need a different set of tires from the driver who has near-perfect roads.
When you choose your tires, think about your driving surface, durability, and traction needs.
13. Load Carrying
You need a tire to support the extra weight if your vehicle carries heavy loads.
Heavier duty tires don’t wear as quickly under the pressure of a loaded vehicle as a standard passenger tire.
Combine the correct tire with the proper inflation, and you can carry your load and improve your fuel economy.
14. Cost and Mileage
Cost is a consideration in buying tires, but you need to balance budget tires with the cost of fuel and how much mileage you get from your tires.
Putting cheap tires on your vehicle may cost you more if you need to change them twice as often.
In many cases, you may save money by opting for a premium tire brand when you consider all the factors.
Reading the Tire Code
The tire code printed on your new tires gives you plenty of helpful information about the tire so you can match the right tire to your vehicle.
Every tire manufacturer publishes its code and meanings. Before buying tires, you must check what your vehicle needs.
A typical tire code consists of a combination of letters (L) and numbers (N) and looks like this:
L NNN/ NN LNN NN L
The first letter tells you the tire type, and you can choose from:
- Passenger or domestic vehicles – P stands for regular tires.
- Light Trucks need tires that can carry a load, and these use LT.
- A tire with a thicker sidewall is ST or Special Trailer.
- Your spare tire for emergency use will have a T.
The following three numbers tell you the width of the tread on your tire.
The two numbers after the forward-slash are an aspect ratio expressed as a percentage of section height compared to the section width. The lower the aspect number, the better the steering performance.
The next letter tells you about the reinforcing under the tread:
- R stands for radial.
- B stands for Bias Belt.
- D or “-“denotes diagonal.
R or radial is the most common as this configuration is the latest and most effective for general road use.
The one or two numbers following the reinforcing letter tell you the rim diameter the tire will fit, and the following two or three numbers are the load rating per individual tire.
The final letter tells you the speed index or the top speed at which the tire can stay relatively cool. Run too fast for your tires, and you risk tire failure. The letters run in semi-alphabetical order from L (lowest at 75 mph) to Z (open-ended).
Department of Transport (DOT) Code
In the US, every legal tire has a molded DOT code on the side, giving you some information, but most of the detail relates to the manufacturer.
You get a two or three-letter and number combination, which is unique to the factory making the tires.
There is a manufacturer’s identification number and tire size, which helps the industry in case of tire recalls.
Finally, a four-digit date code corresponds to the week and year. It isn’t apparent, and you need to look the code up on a chart to ascertain the date of manufacture.
Uniform Tire Quality Grade Code (UTQG)
In the US, any tires that are not:
- Under 12 inches in diameter.
- Spare tires.
- Winter tires.
- Deep tread light truck tires.
Must have a UTQG code detailing:
- Treadwear – how durable your tire is in test conditions.
- Traction in stopping on wet surfaces.
- Temperature resistance at speed.
The Various Tire Brands Evaluated and Compared
This blog covers an extensive list of tire brands, and they include:
- BF Goodrich Tires
- Dunlop Tires
- Falken Tire
- General Tire
- Nitto Tire
- Toyo Tires
- Vogue Tyre
- Yokohama Tire
- Cooper Tire
- Douglas Tires
- Nexen Tire
- Kelly Tires
- Kumho Tire
- Nokian Tires
- Ironman Tires
- Uniroyal Tires
Alternatively, the following major tire retailers may offer better prices for the same tires:
- Big O Tires
- Discount Tire
- Les Schwab
The best tires for you are a combination of the qualities you need at a price you can afford.
It is worth investing more in your tires to enhance the safety of your ride, but it is worth researching your tires to understand if your tires are as good as the advertising.