Ultimate Buying Guide For The Best Rated Tires in 2020

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Paul does not blindly buy a set of tires for his vehicle. He does a ton of research and makes an informed decision. Paul is smart; be like him!

There aren’t many Pauls out there, that’s for sure. When it comes to buying a set of tires, people seldom know what to look for, and nearly all young drivers have no clue about the all-important treads on a car.

Ask an 18-year old who just got their driver’s license about the type of tires on their vehicle, and they would likely have no answer. Unfortunately, ignorance is not bliss when it comes to tires. The wrong ones can turn driving into a nightmare and compromise the safety of both yours and others on the road.

So, there is no other way around this problem, if you ask us. You need to know the optimal tire model to buy for your vehicle. And to help you do that, we decided to come up with this guide.

What’s In Store For You?

For the sake of brevity, we have divided this comprehensive guide into five parts. Each part deals with specific vital information that would come in handy for buying the ideal set of tires.

Here’s a list of the five parts to follow:

  • Types of tires
  • Top tire brands to consider
  • Reading a tire sidewall
  • Tire maintenance guidelines
  • Tire FAQs

Without further ado, let’s take you on a long (and fun!) drive through the details.

Types Of Tires

If you were to talk to any tire expert, they would tell you that the first thing you need to know about tires is their different categories. Most amateur tire buyers fail to cross this hurdle itself.

Don’t get us wrong; we are not saying it’s too complicated. In fact, it’s one of those often overlooked aspects because of which many vehicle owners hate being behind the steering wheel. When the tires are not cruising, drivers end up cursing – it’s just that!

So, we thought it was time to break down the different tire categories and ensure that you know which one is perfect for your vehicle.

All-Season Tires

We are going to start this list off with perhaps the most popular type of tire you’ll find out there. Those of you who haven’t figured it out yet, we are talking about All-Season (AS) tires.

Drivers prefer these tires when they are looking for year-round traction through different seasons. As such, these tires are designed to provide traction on dry, wet, and low-to-moderate snow-covered roads.

When it comes to the tread life of all-season tires, it may vary significantly across brands and specific models. Usually, it ranges from 40,000 miles to as high as 100,000 miles.

Performance All-Season Tires

Think of this next category as an upgrade to the regular all-season tire. Performance all-season tires are ideal for driving enthusiasts who love covering several miles throughout the year.

You must be wondering how a performance all-season tire is any different from all-season tires. First, it comes with a higher speed rating, allowing you to go higher on the speedometer without having to worry.

And that’s not all; it offers better braking and handling as well. To cut a long story short, if you want better performance, go for these tires.

Summer Tires

Not everyone is fortunate enough to live in an area that experiences all the seasons. If you’re looking for a dedicated set of tires for summer driving, this is the perfect option.

Summer tires are mostly designed for high-performance vehicles, so you can expect to get top-notch performance on both dry and wet terrains.

The only thing you need to keep in mind when buying one of these tire models is that they aren’t meant to function in cold weather conditions. So, you cannot use them in temperatures lower than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Snow/Winter Tires

Driving on a snow-covered road is no joke! Tire manufacturers know that very well, and that’s why there has been a greater emphasis on developing tires for winters.

Inclement winter conditions can take a toll on tires that are not explicitly built for snow. As such, snow tires offer significantly superior grip, and the tread compound is formulated in a way that allows it to stay pliable even at freezing temperatures.

But you should go for snow tires only if you don’t experience harsh summers where you live, as these tires will wear out very quickly on dry, hot pavement. Here we have some recommendations from tire experts on which winter tires to go for.

High-Performance Tires

Now that we have covered the types of tires based on the season and weather conditions, it is time to talk about sheer performance.

High performance (HP) tires are ideal for vehicles that require high-speed capabilities along with superior grip for tight corners. It should come as no surprise that some of the high-end HP models are used on race cars.

High-Performance Touring Tires

If you’re someone who loves road trips, these tires are meant for your vehicle. They can be of two types – summer or all-season. Depending on the weather conditions in your locale, you can choose either. But what makes it stand apart from the other categories is how great it is for highway driving.

Most of these tire models come with V or H speed ratings. If you aren’t familiar with speed ratings, we’ve got that covered in this guide as well.

Ultra-High Performance Tires

When it comes to sporty vehicles or upscale sedans, you will likely see a set of these beasts installed on them. Again, Ultra-High Performance (or UHP) tires can be of two types – summer or all-season.

All-season UHP tires ensure responsive steering and unmatched traction in both dry and wet conditions. As you’ve already figured, summer UHP tires will not do well on snowy surfaces. You can expect to see a tread life of 30,000 to 60,000 miles for UHP tires.

All-Terrain Tires

Till now, we have focused only on the tires for on-road driving. However, when it comes to off-roading, it’s a different story altogether. That’s where a set of all-terrain tires is needed.

These tires are specially engineered for off-road driving on challenging terrains. You can expect to get excellent traction on several surfaces like dirt, gravel, rock, sand, and light mud. However, we can’t say the same for highways and roads, as the traction is somewhat compromised there.

Mud-Terrain Tires

Driving in mud is the only thing that comes close to driving in snow in terms of difficulty. Let’s face it, none of the other tire categories we have already mentioned are capable of surviving in deep mud.

A Mud-Terrain (MT) tire is an enhanced variant of the All-Terrain (AT) tire, as it can tackle the toughest terrains. Even in deep mud, these tires do not disappoint. Thanks to the rough tread pattern and a durable compound, MT tires offer traction on nearly every off-road surface.

However, like AT tires, they suffer from compromised traction and comfort on highways and dry pavements.

Best Tire Brands To Consider

Now that we have covered the different types of tires you would find on the market, it is time to tackle another significant aspect – tire brands. With hundreds of them competing for your attention today, it can get real confusing, real quick to pick the best brand.

But don’t worry as we have carefully handpicked the six best brands in the tire industry that deserve your time and money, so you can rest assured that tire models bearing any of these names will not disappoint!

Here’s a brief overview of the tire brands you can rely on.

Michelin

Michelin Tires is probably the most successful tire brand in existence. This French brand is known for offering the best quality tires for all types of vehicles, including motorcycles, scooters, and bicycles.

You can expect to get unmatched tread life from these tires, but they are a tad bit on the expensive side.

Pirelli

Pirelli is one of the oldest tire brands, with its origin dating back to 1872 in Milan. It made a name for itself on the grounds of providing excellent tire models that offer superior tread life. Also, some of its models are designed for high-performance race cars.

Pirelli is not as expensive as some other premium brands.

Cooper

After France and Italy, it is time to look at a tire brand of American origin. Cooper is best known for its versatile product portfolio and competitive pricing. The brand believes in delivering top-notch tire models for all kinds of vehicles without burning a hole in your wallets.

If you’re looking for tires that do not cost a fortune but also do not compromise on long-lasting performance, Cooper is your safest bet!

Goodyear

If you’re looking for an American tire brand that offers better quality than Cooper and you’re willing to spend a bit more, then Goodyear is the ideal brand. After all, it is hailed as one of the four leading tire manufacturers today (along with Michelin, Bridgestone, and Continental).

Goodyear offers a wide range of products to cater to all types of vehicles, and it provides better treadwear warranties than most of the other brands.

Continental

Continental is the best tire manufacturing company based in Germany. It offers a full range of replacement as well as original tires that primarily focus on three elements – fuel-saving, eco-friendly, and safe.

What sets it apart from other brands is its rigorous 65-day road test to ensure the unparalleled safety and long-lasting performance of its tire models.

Bridgestone

A list of the best tire brands across the globe would be incomplete without Bridgestone, the most successful name from the Japanese market. Today, this brand has managed to dominate worldwide markets with the help of its high-quality products that leave little to be desired.

Bridgestone is famous for exceptional treadwear warranties for its SUV and truck tires, but it is a tad bit more expensive than most of its competitors.

Reading A Tire Sidewall

Let’s talk about something that confuses every new tire buyer – the sidewall. You will see what appears to see a random set of numbers and letters on every tire model’s sidewall. But if you know what those numbers and letters mean, you know everything about that particular tire model.

So, knowing how to read a tire sidewall is a must-have skill if you don’t want to rely on the word of tire vendors. Now, we are not saying that all tire vendors are unethical and will rip you off, but exercising caution and knowing what you’re buying is always advisable.

Apart from the name of the model and manufacturer, here are the things you will always find on a sidewall:

Size

This is an alphanumeric set that denotes a couple of things. The first set of numbers here indicates the cross-section width of the tire in millimeters. So, between two models that have 235 and 215 in this part, the former is wider than the latter.

The next set of numbers (after the oblique) denotes the aspect ratio of the tire. It is the ratio of the sidewall height to the width. If you see 70 here, it means that the sidewall height is 70 percent of its width. The lower this ratio, the better is the steering response and handling of the tire. That’s why UHP tires have a ratio as low as 40, 35, or even 20.

This is followed by an alphabet, which is mostly “R” denoting “Radial.” But you may find a “B” in some models, which refers to “Bias-Ply” tires.

The final two digits tell you the ideal rim diameter for that particular tire model. So, if you see a 16 there, do not try to fit a 15-inch tire on it.

Load Index

Right next to the alphanumeric code for tire size is another alphanumeric set that denotes the load index and speed rating. The first two digits here are related to the load index, so let’s first understand what that’s all about.

The load index tells you the maximum weight that each tire of a particular model can carry safely. A standardized chart of load carrying capacity per tire will tell you what that weight threshold is. For instance, a load index of 94 denotes a maximum weight of 1,477 pounds, while 95 denotes 1,521 pounds.

But don’t forget that the load index is for each tire. So, when you buy a set of four, the maximum weight your vehicle can safely carry will be four times the load index that is specified on the sidewall.

The load index is significant for anybody who wants to use their vehicle for hauling of cargo or passengers.

Speed Rating

The load index is followed by a letter that denotes the speed rating. It is the maximum speed at which your tires can go while carrying the maximum weight specified by the load index. Here are all the different speed ratings you can find on a tire model:

  • S-rating: 112 mph
  • T-rating: 118 mph
  • U-rating: 124 mph
  • H-rating: 130 mph
  • V-rating: 149 mph
  • W-rating: 168 mph
  • Y-rating: 186 mph

You can expect to see a speed rating of S or T on standard all-season tires. Winter tires usually come with a unique speed rating of Q (99 mph).

Manufacture Date

Each tire model also includes a Department of Transportation number on its sidewall. The last four digits of this number denote the week and year of manufacture. For instance, 2716 means that it was manufactured in the 27th week of 2016.

As a rule of thumb, you should refrain from buying tires that are more than a couple of years old.

Temperature and Traction Scores

These numbers denote the temperature resistance and wet-stopping ability of the tire. Temperature scores range from A to C, with A being the best. Traction scores range from AA to C, AA being the best.

Additionally, you may find one or all of these on the sidewalls of some tire models:

M+S

This is a Mud and Snow rating, which implies that the tire model meets all-season standards and will provide above-average traction in light snow and mud. But it does not mean that it is as robust as a dedicated winter tire.

Mountain Snowflake Emblem

It is a unique three-peak emblem that validates the fact that a tire model has met severe snow service requirements. If you want to buy winter tires, you should be looking for this symbol on the sidewall.

XL

Some tires may come with an “XL” on their sidewalls, which is shorthand for “Extra-Load.” So, these tires can handle more weight than other tires without this designation.

Tire Maintenance Guidelines

If you want the tires on your vehicle to go the extra mile (literally), you have to maintain them in the best way. Don’t worry; there are only a few basic steps you need to take to keep those wheels rolling!

  • First and foremost, check the air pressure regularly (at least once a month). Under-inflated tires significantly compromise road performance and accelerate tread wear, so you don’t want that.
  • Check the tires for cuts, cracks, or bulges in the tread or sidewall. If you find any, it is time to buy a replacement.
  • Do not exceed the stipulated weight capacity of the vehicle (you can find it on the driver’s side doorjamb placard).
  • Rotate your tires every time you get an oil change to prevent uneven tread wear.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Although we have covered everything there is to know about tires, nothing works like some good old FAQs to get rid of any doubts. So, here are some answers you might still be looking for.

  1. When should you replace the tires on your vehicle?

Tire manufacturers recommend changing the wheels of your automobiles every six years, irrespective of the wear and tear. But we recommend getting your tires checked regularly so that the mechanic can inform you about significant damages if any, and you may buy replacement tires.

  1. Should you replace existing tires or go for an upgrade?

Replacing your tires with something equivalent should suffice, right? Or do you need to consider upgrading them? If you faced any significant issues or were not happy with the performance of your old set of tires, you should probably look for an upgrade. It is far from easy, so we strongly advise consulting tire experts before buying a new set of tires.

  1. Do all four tires have to be the same?

More often than not, each of the four tires should be of the same size, tread pattern, and age to deliver optimal performance. But some cars use front and rear tires of different sizes. So, talk to your mechanic and tire vendors to know what’s the best course of action.

  1. Should you buy tires at the car dealership where you purchased your vehicle?

You should buy tires from car dealerships only if you cannot buy them elsewhere. Why? Because you could end up paying twice as much as you would pay at a local tire store or online. Tire prices can vary quite a lot across stores, so we recommend checking a few options and then going for the cheapest.

  1. What is Uniform Tire Quality Grading (UTQG)?

It is a rating system that is meant to reflect the tread life of a particular tire model. If a tire model has a UTQG rating of 600, it should last twice as long as a model with a UTQG rating of 300.

The only drawback of this rating system is that it isn’t uniform across brands. So, you should only use it to compare different models of the same brand. You will find this grade on the tire sidewall along with all the other information we talked about in the earlier part of this guide.

  1. Where can you find the correct air pressure level of a tire model?

Most people think that the pressure level mentioned on a tire’s sidewall is what they need to maintain, but that is the maximum pressure for the tire.

The ideal pressure level will depend on the vehicle you are driving. As such, you can find it on the door jamb placard, glove compartment placard, or fuel-filler door placard.

Summing It Up

Take a deep breath! We know that was a lot, especially if you’re new to tires and automobiles, but there is no substitute for useful information. Now that you know all about tires, you are ready to buy the perfect set for your vehicle.

You should also check out our reviews of each brand: