Tire Buying Guide
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Finding the best tires for you
A tire buying guide
Tires are one of the most essential parts of any vehicle. Whether you use mud tires for off-roading, passenger car tires for everyday driving or performance tires for performance driving, you'll always need to buy a good set of tires. How do you know which are the best tires for you? Consider these steps to learn how to choose tires for yourself or someone else.
What are your driving conditions?
The first step to finding the best tires is to ask yourself about the driving conditions you'll face. You'll want a set of tires that is prepared to handle those conditions. Consider how often you drive and where you drive as well. You can buy tires that have treads that wear down more slowly or special tires for congested driving if you drive often or in congested areas. Finally, how important driving is to you will impact which tires you buy. If you need to drive in icy weather almost year round for your job, then winterized tires will be very important to you.
Learn to read tire sidewall codes
You can learn a lot about which are the best tires for you by reading the 12 - 14 character combination of letters and numbers printed on the sidewall of every tire you are considering. The following outline goes step-by-step and explains the code on tires from left to right.
- First Letter: Car Type - In the code, P stands for passenger car and LT stands for light truck. These are the most common types of tires you will see.
- Next Three Digits: Tire Width (mm) - These numbers represent the tire width in mm from sidewall to sidewall. You'll need this number to correspond with your car's design, and this measurement of tire size should stay the same when you get new tires.
- Next Two Digits: Aspect Ratio - The aspect ratio is a cross section of the tire's width compared to a cross section of the tire's height represented in a percentage. This should only change if you modify your car in some way.
- Next Letter: Construction Code - In the code, R stands for radial, and B stands for bias. Both types of construction are safe. Radial construction tires grip the road especially well because sidewall flex is not transmitted to the tire footprint with this construction.
- Next Two Digits: Rim Diameter - The rim diameter should remain the same for your car even across tire brands unless you have made a modification to your car.
- Next Two Digits: Load Index - There is a standardized formula that measures load index on a scale of 0 - 280, and most tires fall between 75 - 150 on the scale. The higher on the scale, the more weight the tires can handle. You shouldn't decrease this number when you shop for tires unless you have a good reason.
- Last 1-3 Letters: Speed Capacity - These letters stand for a code based on the last few letters of the alphabet and the maximum speed that the letters correspond to. The letters go from Q - ZR. Letters Q - V represent a range starting at 98 mph and increasing to 130 mph. The Z class types of tires can handle speeds higher than 130 mph.
It is easy to break down this complicated looking code once you master what each section means. For example, P245 60R18 tires are passenger tires with a 245mm width, a 60% aspect ratio, radial construction and 18-inch rim diameter. 60R16 tires are tires with a 60% aspect ratio, radial construction and 16-inch rim diameter. P265 tires, P235 tires and P205 tires represent different classes of tires based on tire width.
You can use this code to increase your tire size or other tire features. If you modified your car, you can easily consult the code to find the right new tires to buy. Similarly, if you want better construction or more performance, search for tires with certain elements in the code to find the tire deals you are looking for.
Decide which type of tire you prefer
The next step in finding the best tire for you is to choose between all-season, winter, summer and all-terrain tires.
- All-season tires - These tires provide a good balance between the different weather patterns that most people experience throughout the year. They are made to survive cold winters while being able to withstand hot summers and perform well in the rain. These types of tires will be an attractive option for most people because they mirror most people's lives.
- Winter tires - Winter tires, also known as ice tires, are designed especially for snow, slush and ice. If you live in an especially cold area, these tires might be the best fit for you. If you don't live in an especially cold area, though, you might see some performance deficiencies in these tires during summer months.
- Summer tires - Summer tires are designed especially for hot and wet conditions. They are usually found on high performance vehicles, and many people own two sets of tires to rotate during the different seasons. These tires, however, experience some difficulties in freezing weather. You should take them off before the winter, or only buy these tires if you live in a warm part of the country.
- All-terrain tires - These types of tires are designed to handle mud and slippery conditions. If you go off-roading in your car often, having a set of all-terrain tires will give your car better performance and also prevent your regular tires from being damaged when you drive off-road.
Consider special tread features
Tire brands with computer randomized tire tread are good for reducing noise in your vehicle. This feature can be beneficial if you drive long distances often. Wide circumferences in the tire grooves will generally give your tires more grip in wet conditions. You should check your tire's product description to see if the tires contain any special tread patterns for wet or snowy conditions.
Examine other rating systems
You can use temperature, traction and tread wear grades to find the best tires for your vehicle. The temperature the tires can handle will be ranked from highest to lowest on an A-C scale. Grade C tires, however, are still safe tires. Tire traction, the ability to grip the road, is ranked on a similar scale, but the scale begins with AA as the highest ranking. Many tire manufacturers make scales to measure how long their tires last. Within the same tire brands, these scales are comparable, so a 300 tire will last twice as long as a 150 tire. The scales are not comparable outside of the same tire brand, so you should keep that in mind when you go to buy tires.
With these simple steps, you can help find not only the correct tire size for your vehicle, but the best tires as well. Be sure to do your own tire comparison between individual tires you are considering so you can make an informed decision on the types of tires you might want.