Choosing The Right Tires For Your Car

pile of tires

When it comes to taking care of your vehicle, most people think of the engine as their main concern, and keeping an eye on oil life and everything that comes along with it can help extend the life of your car. But making sure you have the right tires for your vehicle can not only help ensure your car is performing at its best, but a set of well cared for tires can help extend your vehicle’s life and keep you safe in inclement weather.

The average vehicle owner does not look too deeply into their tire history, usually opting for the factory recommended tires available on the market, but like any aspect of vehicle ownership, the more you know about the tires that go on your vehicle, the better equipped you’ll be to ensure that your tire choices work for your unique driving needs.

Types of Tires on the Market

Much like the different makes and models of motor vehicles, there is a wide range of tires available in a range of sizes and styles. Because of the specialized designs and sizing that go into each and every tire, changing the tires on your vehicle is a bit more complicated than just choosing any old tire. Most vehicles operate using very fixed tire diameters, meaning that choosing too large of a tire can interrupt things like braking, turning, and more, putting the driver in danger when on the road. Besides the mechanical concerns that come with choosing the wrong tire size, there is the added aspect of tire design. Not all tires are created equal for each situation, which is why putting in the time to understand what sets the different styles of tires apart can prepare you to better take care of your vehicle.

For those of us who like cruising down the highway at moderate speeds, our tire needs differ from those who speed along at breakneck speeds, and the presence (or absence) of tread, respectively, can make all the difference in the world depending on tire use.

Another thing to keep in mind is the driving conditions you find yourself in. Whether you’re looking at driving in a wet climate, braving snow- and ice-covered roads in the winter, or are looking to take your vehicle off-roading, there are individualized tire designs that can help you accomplish your goals.

Another thing to keep in mind is the noise generated by different designs of tires. The more tread on a tire the louder the wheel will sound when in contact with the road, so while a large tire with lots of treads might seem like a good idea at the time, you may change your mind once you’re speeding along the highway with a loud buzzing noise following wherever you go.

Since you have a general idea of the different aspects that go into choosing a tire, here are some of the tire options you can choose from:

  • Performance/Summer Tires

    These tires are made of a softer rubber than your generic all-season tire and have less tread. This allows them to quickly grip the road once the tires heat up (whether from the weather or from speeding along), providing adequate grip for the weather at hand. Keep in mind these tires do wear out faster than many other tire designs, but for most drivers, the added performance benefits outweigh the slightly shorter lifespan.

  • All-Around/All-Season Tires

    This is the most common type of tire on the market (and on the roadway), as they are the generic tire choice for new vehicles and are usually the tire style recommended by your mechanic when it’s time to swap out your old tires. These tires come in all manner of styles, from tires meant for wet weather conditions to winter and mud tires meant to give you that extra grip on the road. All-around tires are made of a harder rubber than summer tires, meaning their performance is limited in comparison, but they are ideal for anyone looking for a middle-of-the-road tire that can hold its own in most weather and road conditions.

  • Wet Weather Tires

    Similarly to summer tires, wet weather tires are made of soft rubber so that they can adequately grip the road in rainy weather. Wet weather tires have tread specifically designed to pull water away from the tires through the use of siping (thin slits in the surface of the tires that channel water away from the gripping surface). These tires are made to warm up and provide grip despite slick weather conditions, and they feature contact patches larger than summer tires for this purpose.

  • Winter Tires

    For anyone who does not live in an area that receives heavy snowfall, the idea of winter tires may seem entirely foreign to you. However, winter tires can be lifesavers in heavy snowfall and icy conditions due to their studded design and large block patterns on the surface. The goal of these tires is to provide grip in even the slickest of conditions, and while they do produce significantly more noise than all-around tires, the added safety they provide is well worth the added noise. Many states have laws about when you can and cannot have winter tires on your vehicle, so be sure to check local ordinances to ensure you are complying with their guidelines before swapping out your tires for the season.

  • All-Terrain Tires

    These are the tires of choice for trucks and SUVs, and of course for anyone who likes to take their vehicles off-roading frequently. These tires feature thicker sidewalls to support heavier loads, as well as to stand up to the wear and tear of climbing over rocks and debris. Much like winter tires, all-terrain tires feature larger tread blocks, to allow your vehicle to make its way over nearly any road condition. However, on the downside, these tires are much louder than other options, and the grip design means you’ll have to go slower on paved roads than you would with all-around tires, as they give you an increased risk of slipping on smooth surfaces. However, for anyone who likes to push their vehicle to the limit, these are the perfect tires for you.

  • Mud Tires

    Similar in nature to all-around tires, these tires feature large tread designs that look similar to paddles to help provide more grip, and they do not function well on non-mudded surfaces. However, for backroad driving and mudding, these tires can’t be beaten.

Types of Tread Patterns

Tread patterns influence much more than just how your tires work. They provide traction, can create or reduce noise, impact fuel efficiency, and are crucial to handling and durability. That’s why it’s important to learn the different kinds of tread to ensure you choose the best options for your vehicle.

  • Symmetrical Tread

    As the name implies, symmetrical tread is identical if cut down the middle, meaning the left side is a reflection of the right. These tires tend to wear evenly, giving them slightly more durability.

  • Asymmetrical Tread

    Asymmetrical tread is, as the name suggests, is not symmetrical. Most asymmetrical tread designs have larger blocks on the outside for better turning grip, with smaller grooves on the inside to help move water away from the tires.

  • Unidirectional Tread

    This is the kind of tread that has a one-track mind, literally. Made to go only one direction, this style of tread is clearly marked with the correct direction, since installing them incorrectly can cause serious issues. These are made for performance cars that need a shorter stopping distance and are used for traveling in one direction at fast speeds.

Choosing the Right Tire Size

The best way to choose the right tire size for your vehicle is to check the manual or look online from the maker. As we’ve mentioned previously, the wrong tire diameter can cause braking issues, as well as other complications for your vehicle. However, here is the best way to parse out what the different markings on your tires mean, and what they indicate for your vehicle.

  • Type of Tire

    This is identified by a single or dual letter marking depending on where you live. In the United States, P tires stand for passenger tires, while LT stands for light trucks. The different styles of tire change their weight and pressure ratings, as LT tires need more pressure to properly deal with heavy loads. If there are no letters on your tire, it could be a Euro-Metric tire, which has a completely different scale of load capacities, so it’s best to do your research before investing in this tire design.

  • Tire Width

    This measurement tells you the distance from one tire wall to the other and is usually marked in millimeters.

  • Aspect Ratio

    While this sounds like something you’d check when buying a new TV for your home, the aspect ratio refers to a cross-section of the tire’s height compared to the width, usually indicated in percentages. So if a tire has an aspect ratio of 75%, for example, it would be marked as R75 on the tire. A larger aspect ratio means a larger sidewall.

  • Construction

    This references the way the tire was constructed and can include sections such as radial and bias-ply.

  • Wheel Diameter

    This tells you how wide a rite is from one side to the other, and can help you make sure you’re choosing the right sized tire for your vehicle.

  • Load Index

    As long as your tires are properly inflated, this references the maximum load your vehicle can safely carry when equipped with these tires.

  • Speed Rating

    This is the maximum speed recommended by the tire manufacturer.

Each of these aspects is summarized by the numbers and letters on the side of the tire, as well as inside of your vehicle’s door and in the manual if you are using the factory-issued tires.

On the sidewall of your tire, you should be able to find the letters DOT, meaning the tires fall under the United States Federal Motor Vehicle safety standards. Next, you’ll find the Tire Identification Number, or TIN, which is made up of 12 numbers and letters and tells you when and where the tire was made. Finally, there is the UTQG (Uniform Tire Quality Grading), which is determined by the United States Department of Transportation. This includes traction grade, as in cases of wet or inclement weather, temperature grade, which indicates how well the tire will perform at high speeds, and treadwear, which indicates how long a tire’s tread will last before it needs to be replaced.

Installing Different Tire Sizes on Your Vehicle

As mentioned previously, it is extremely important to ensure you ate using the right size tires for your vehicle, as many tire designs will not work with your braking system if they are too large. That being said, some people are interested in switching out the manufacturer recommended tires for another size, and, though it can be risky, it can be done. It just takes some additional planning.

You want to make sure you keep as close to your original tire diameter as possible—within 1%—as this will yield the best results and protect you from potential dangers down the line. It is important to note that this diameter references the total tire diameter, not the internal tire diameter listed on the tire, so you should be sure to check outside sources to determine what the true tire diameter is for your vehicle.

Another thing to keep in mind is to check with an expert. They know the ins and outs of tire design and can let you know if your desire for a new tire size could put you at risk for an accident down the road. In short, it is usually best to just stick to your vehicle’s recommended tire size to avoid impacting performance and maneuverability.

Caring for Your Tires

The best ways to ensure your tires are working at peak performance are to:

  • Regularly inspect your tires and have them inspected by a professional routinely.
  • Make sure your tires have the correct air pressure, as this can prevent uneven wear.
  • Obey the local speed limits and the limits listed on your tires for best performance.
  • Rotate your tires to encourage even wear and improve lifespan.
  • When in doubt, use a spare tire in the event of a damaged or deflated tire.

 

While there is a lot to keep in mind when it comes to choosing the right tire for your vehicle, making sure to pay attention to these key factors will help ensure the quality of your vehicle and increase the lifespan of your tires.