Factory tires, Original Equipment (OE) tires, Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) -- it all means the same thing: the tires that your car left the factory with. A lot of engineering goes into your car’s front end and ride quality, with specific parameters and goals.
Obviously if you’re driving a sports sedan, the engineering team is going to opt for tires that are responsive and sticky around corners. If you’re driving a luxury car, tires that offer a forgiving ride and low road noise are the best call.
Sometimes you can improve on your OEM tires with aftermarket tires, and other times it can get a little complicated. After all, the manufacturer chose those premium-quality tires for a reason, other than the best price from a vendor.
Where To Find Your Original Tire Information
Every vehicle has a placard that will let you know the manufacturer’s recommendations for your tires (although not the OEM brand info). This placard is a sticker that can usually be found on the door frame of the drivers’ door (sometimes in the glovebox door, fuel door or under the hood, but not usually). This info includes:
- Size (presented as, for instance, 235/55R19)
- Load rating (expressed as “the combined weight of vehicle and occupants should never exceed XXXX pounds)
- Cold inflation pressure (usually between 30 and 40 pounds)
You shouldn’t ignore any of that information. A change in tire sizes can have effects on your handling and braking (we’ll get into that in a minute).
Load rating is important too; when you’re driving a big, robust SUV it can be easy to not think about the total weight of your passengers and luggage (including whatever’s strapped to the roof rack). Driving an overloaded vehicle affects fuel economy, handling, braking ability and center of gravity (especially with SUVs).
Benefits of Keeping Your OEM Tires
So you’re hitting about 55k or 60k miles and those original tires on your car or truck are starting to look pretty worn. When it’s time to replace them, there are some pretty solid reasons for staying with the same tires your car came from the factory with:
OEM tires are good at a lot of things (but usually not great at any single thing)
Your OEM tires are tested and vetted pretty thoroughly in your vehicle’s design process. They have to be able to perform in rain, snow, different dry pavement surfaces, gravel and mud. They’re subjected to thousands of miles of road testing and test-track processes. In the end, you can think of those tires as a sort of jack-of-all-trades: they’re adequate (or better-than-adequate) at a lot of things, but they don’t usually really excel at any single thing. For 90% of drivers who just rely on that vehicle for commuting, grocery-getting and road trips, a jack-of-all-trades tire is perfect.
OEM tires were chosen for your car
Like we mentioned above, the automaker’s engineering department didn’t just go rummage around in a warehouse and say “yeah, I think these tires will be fine for that vehicle.” Automakers work with tire companies and invest huge sums in helping to develop tires for a specific make/model of vehicle. Think about the all-terrain tires you’d find on a Jeep Cherokee vs the low-rolling-resistance tires on a Prius. In either case, those tires are pretty specialized and were chosen to help get the most out of that vehicle’s performance expectations. It gets even more complicated when you consider the tradeoffs, such as the fact that low-rolling-resistance tires usually give up a certain amount of grip. Pretty much everything your vehicle does is communicated through the tires, and that’s why a vehicle is tuned for specific tires and vice versa. Suspension, braking, steering geometry, ride quality, even power steering calibration are all part of this equation, and the OEM tires have a huge role as well. Long story short: changing from OEM tires isn’t as big a deal as changing your car’s engine, but you’d still better know what you’re doing if you do.
Tires are one of those things we tend to take for granted until there’s a problem or until it’s time to replace them. We just don’t generally give them a lot of thought until we have to.
We’ve laid out the reasons why you should stick with the tires that your vehicle was riding on when it came from the factory. In the end, the decision is as subjective as every driver’s different viewpoint, but as complex as your vehicle’s whole design.
It doesn’t really have to be, though. You’re smart and informed, you’ve done your homework and thought it over and there are countless options to replace your tires, at every price point.
Ready to find the perfect tires?