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Making a tire purchase decision purely by searching for the best tire brand is nonsensical. There are many worthy brands available with a variety of models of varying quality and utility. It is not simply a matter of looking for the best all season tires, the best performance tires, the best winter tires, or the best all terrain tires.
The best tire for you is a balance amongst tread life, traction, heat dissipation, performance and handling, ride, and purpose. It is not possible to have the highest ratings in all these attributes in one tire.
There are tradeoffs amongst these attributes. Understanding the trade-offs and finding the optimal balance of attributes you are willing to live with will help you make the best purchase decision possible.
Some manufacturers do a very good job balancing opposing attributes on certain models, but there are still trade-offs.
When buying tires, the most important specs to focus on are the UTQG treadwear number, the UTQG traction rating, the UTQG temperature rating, and the speed rating letter. UTQG stands for Uniform Tire Quality Grading. It is a uniform federal grading system required for passenger tires. Winter tires are excluded. These specs can be found on the sidewalls of each tire.
For the UTQG treadwear rating, the higher the number, the longer the treadwear. Although tire manufacturers make claims of how many thousands of miles the tread will last or will be warrantied, these claims are inconsistent with actual results. However, the UTQG treadwear rating is very reliable. The numbers typically range from lows in the 200s to highs in the 800s. So if you want to find a tire with the highest treadwear rating and lasts the longest, look for a high UTQG treadwear number.
The UTQG traction grade rating indicates how well a tire stops in the wet. The grades are AA, A, B, and C. AA is the best. C is the worst.
The UTQG temperature grade rating indicates a tire’s ability to resist heat buildup. A tire that dissipates heat poorly will degrade faster under heavy stress. Since there is friction between the tire and the road, heat builds up as revolutions accumulate or the speed of revolutions increase. If taken to the limit where tire temperatures are extreme, the tires will develop blisters and begin to fall apart, for example, as auto racing fans will notice on tires taken off during pit stops. The grades are A, B, and C. A is the best. C is the worst.
The speed rating indicates the maximum speed the tire is designed to handle. Performance tires have the highest speed ratings. Truck, snow or winter tires generally have low speed ratings. Below is a chart.
- Q = 100 mph
- R = 106 mph
- S = 112 mph
- T = 118 mph
- U = 124 mph
- H = 130 mph
- V = 149 mph
- W = 168 mph
- Y = 186 mph
- ZR greater than 186 mph
There are lower ratings, but most passenger tires fall into these ranges.
Unless you are buying tires for a specific purpose, such as driving in severe snowy or icy conditions or off-roading, there are different types of tires that can serve your vehicle well. There are also tires made especially for SUVs since this is a popular vehicle today. And tires are also specifically designed for truck use, too.
General purpose all-season tires are the standard baseline tires. These are built for all around driving and typically have longer tread life than other tire categories.
High performance all-season tires offer improved traction and handling but sacrifice tread life in exchange. Better traction requires building a tire with a softer rubber compound which will not last as long as a harder compound. Ultra-high-performance all-season tires go even further, the trade-off between traction and handling versus tread life is even greater.
Typically, there is a trade-off between performance and tread wear. Generally, higher performance tires hold better temperature ratings as well as higher speed ratings.
Most tires today designate themselves as all-season, but there are summer high performance tires available. Just because a high-performance tire claims it is all-season, beware it is not necessarily great on wet or snowy surfaces. Much depends on the tread pattern. If there is a lot of wide and flat surfaces on the tread with shallow channels, the tire will not grip well in wet conditions. If the channels are deeper and interspersed evenly and frequently, the wet weather traction is much better since there is more space for water to channel away from the contact points with the ground.
Snow and Ice
For driving in heavy snow and icy conditions, all-season tires will not suffice, and winter tires will enter the picture.
The size of the tire is marked on the sidewall by an alphanumeric designation, for example, 205/60R15 91V. Here is a decoder for the designation:
- 205 = section width (mm)
- 60 = aspect ratio
- R = radial construction
- 15 = rim diameter (in)—should match the diameter of the rims
- 91 = load index—important to make sure the tire can support the weight of a fully-loaded vehicle
- V = speed rating
Tire load is also an important index to consider. It ranges per tire from an index of 0 which supports 99 pounds total load to 150 which supports 7,385 pounds total load.
To know how much your vehicle’s tires can support at maximum, multiply the tire load capacity by the number of tires on the vehicle.
The total load capacity assumes the tire is pumped up to maximum air pressure. The more load carried, the more air pressure a tire requires, so the tire does not compress.
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