Tire Buying Guides

What Kind of Tires Do I Need?

Last updated 2/08/2023 - Originally published 2/08/2023
Written by SimpleTire

There are a LOT of different kinds of tires out there on the market. That includes all-season tires, all-terrain tires, touring tires, performance tires, on and on. It can be downright bewildering to go through the process of choosing tires that fit your vehicle, your budget, your driving style and your needs. But if you go into the process armed with a little basic knowledge, you can make an informed decision and come away with a set of tires that will be a perfect fit.

The Important Questions to Ask

This is where the rubber meets the road, if you’ll pardon that obvious joke. By going down this little list and giving some thought and consideration to each of these questions, you’ll be able to zero in a little closer on the kind of tires that’ll offer the best performance and value for your vehicle. Once you decide on a category of tires that would be right for you, you can start to break it down a little further with decisions about speed rating, tread life, warranty and other variables.

What Do I Use My Car For?

For most people, that means commuting and errands, but not necessarily for everyone. Maybe you’re the kind of person who puts in a lot of miles on the interstate, or maybe you’ve got a sportier model and like to do some spirited driving with hard cornering and braking. Or maybe you’re one of the millions of people who use a pickup truck or SUV as a daily driver, and light truck tires would make the most sense for your needs.

What Type of Terrain Do I Typically Drive On?

Is your part of the country pretty flat, with straight roads and right-angle corners like a grid? Or maybe it’s more hilly and mountainous where you are? Maybe you’re closer to a coast or in the middle of an arid desert environment, or maybe you live in a rural area where gravel roads, blacktop, dirt roads and even mud are pretty common. These are all things to consider when you’re going into the tire-buying process.

What’s the Weather Like Where I Live?

This is a big one, obviously. If you’re in an area that sees heavy snowfall that stays on the ground for weeks at a time before it melts, all-season or touring tires aren’t likely to be able to get the job done for you. If you live somewhere like the Northwest with many rainy days every year, you’ll need tires that can deliver good traction in wet or dry weather. Hot, arid climates call for a tire that can put in long hours on the highway without overheating (and heat buildup is the enemy of any tire).

How Much Do I Drive Annually?

Statistics show that most American drivers put 12-14k miles a year on their vehicles. That’s an average, though – long commutes can put that number far higher, while people who live in a city and rely on public transit, bikes, or their own two feet can average only 7-9k miles a year (or less). Think about what kind of miles you’re putting on a vehicle annually and what kind of treadwear warranty might be a good fit once that’s taken into consideration.

What Is My Budget?

Obviously, just like with any other major purchase, the amount of money you have to spend is a huge consideration. For the most part, tires are a “you get what you pay for” equation, but there are more and more tires available at lower price points that can rival the value, quality and performance of their premium-brand counterparts. Your decision might also be driven to some extent by the age of your vehicle, since plenty of drivers aren’t willing to spend a huge amount of money on a set of tires for a car or truck that’s already 15 years old with 200k miles on the odometer.

Deciding the Right Tire

Let’s just mention this right now and get it out of the way: the vast majority of vehicles on the road are fitted with all-season tires. All-season tires are a jack-of-all-trades/master-of-none, but for most drivers that’s exactly what they need. Modern all-season tires are designed for low road noise, predictable handling, long tread life and even wear, good straight-line stability and road manners, and dependable traction in wet or dry conditions. About the only time that all-season tires don’t do well is in heavy snow, slush, and ice (which we’ll touch on in a minute). All-season tires can be further broken down into high-performance all-season (designed for sharper, more responsive handling, cornering and braking, possibly at the expense of winter traction) and grand touring all-season (designed for lower road noise and a more forgiving ride).

If you’re in an area that sees heavy snowfall every year, your best bet might be winter tires. Modern winter tires are a far cry from the heavy, clunky, noisy “snow tires” that were on your grandpa’s Ford wagon 40 years ago. Today’s winter tires offer ride quality, handling, and noise levels that are on par with the best all-season tires, but they’re designed with a more aggressive tread pattern and a dense network of sipes, which are hair-thin slits that boost traction in snow and slush by adding thousands of extra biting edges to dig in. Some winter tires also come pre-drilled for easy installation of plastic or metal studs that can get you through ice and heavy snow, the kind of extreme winter conditions where nothing else can get the job done. (NOTE: studs are not legal in all states, be sure to check state laws).

Winter tires also use a tread formulation that’s softer and more pliable at sub-freezing temperatures (think about the traction of a rubber boot vs a hard-rubber hockey puck), but this softer tread compound will wear quickly on warmer days which means that winter tires shouldn’t be used when temperatures are above 40-45 degrees Fahrenheit.

For sports sedans and sporty crossovers, you can consider summer and ultra-high-performance tires that deliver even better cornering, steering response, braking, and handling. Summer and UHP tires are inspired by racing tire designs, and are outstanding when it comes to both wet and dry weather performance. The one downside to summer and UHP tires is that they can stiffen and lose traction on colder days so these are tires that shouldn’t be used when temperatures are below 40-45 degrees.

With the prevalence of light trucks on American roads, tire makers know that most trucks are used as daily drivers and don’t get off the highway very often. For those drivers, highway tires are a perfect solution since they offer the same kind of year-round traction, ride comfort, low noise and long wear as all-season passenger tires. Highway tires, though, are also designed for improved load capacity and durability, making them a good choice for hauling heavy loads or occasional towing duty.

All-terrain tires are a good compromise between ride comfort and road manners on the highway, and dependable traction off-road. Modern all-terrain tires aren’t just for light trucks and SUVs, as they’re also a good fit for crossovers and all-wheel-drive vehicles like the Subaru Forester or Outback. Many all-terrain tires come with a generous tread life warranty, and also are made to be more durable with reinforced construction and tougher, damage-resistant tread formulations. All-terrain tires usually perform well in snow and slush as well as gravel, loose dirt, sand and mud; some all-terrain tires are pre-drilled for installation of studs for winter weather conditions.

Mud-terrain tires are like a more extreme version of all-terrain tires. Many mud-terrain tires are oversized, making them a good choice for trucks and SUVs that have lift kits for better ground clearance. Mud-terrain tires are designed with a more aggressive lug tread with deep, wide grooves that make it easy for the tire to eject mud and debris as it turns, so there’s always a clear section of tread that can dig in. Many mud-terrain tires can be operated in “aired-down” condition, inflated to about half of normal inflation pressure so they can easily conform to rocks, roots and other obstacles for offroad traction. Just be aware that mud-terrain tires are usually noisier on the pavement and may not be the best choice for daily drivers.

Verify Your Needs

So now we’re getting down to the final decision, with all the factors taken into account:

  • What kind of vehicle do you drive?
  • What’s your budget like?
  • What’s the weather like where you live? Do you see lots of snow?
  • What’s the terrain like where you live?
  • How many miles do you drive every year?
  • What kind of use does your vehicle see? Commuting? Long hauls on the interstate? Do you like to push the envelope and carve corners and curves?

These are all factors to weigh and take into consideration when it’s time to shop for new tires.

Do Your Research

Part of the beauty of the internet age is that there are so many avenues available where you can do the necessary research for a purchase, especially when it comes to something like tires. There are automotive websites and magazines and tire-only sites that do head-to-head comparisons of tire performance and value, exploring brands and models and stacking them up against other tires at the same price range and in the same category.

Make the Purchase

Ready to pull the trigger? You can shop around to all the different tire retailers and find the best price, but we’re pretty confident that you won’t find a better price and value than what we can deliver here at SimpleTire, and with the added convenience of having your tires of choice shipped to an installer near you so you can have them mounted at your own convenience!

By law, minimum tread depth is 2/32”, which is pretty easy to measure by using a coin. Take a penny and insert it into a tread groove; if the rubber reaches the Lincoln Memorial, your tread depth is about 6/32” and you have a significant amount of tread life left. Now try a quarter, inserted into the tread with Washington’s head down; if the tread reaches the top of George’s head, your tread depth is 4/32”. 4/32” might be legal, but it means you don’t have a lot of tread life left to go and your traction and performance are already compromised. Now, one more time with the penny, Lincoln head down; if the tread reaches the top of Abe’s head, you’re down to 2/32”, the bare minimum, and it’s definitely time for new tires. Also, tires have wear bars molded into the base of the tread; these bars are at a right angle to the grooves and are 2/32”, so when the tread wears down to a point where it’s level with the wear bars, you need new tires.

It’s also advisable to inspect your tires regularly and be on the lookout for damage, debris, uneven wear and any problems like bulges in the sidewall, separation in the tread, exposed cord or steel belt material. Any of those signs mean it’s time to replace tires (and can also mean mechanical, steering or suspension problems that need to be addressed).

This question is a little open-ended, like asking “how much is a pair of shoes” or “how expensive is a smartphone”. Truth is, a set of tires can cost about as much as you’re willing to spend on them, and it can vary greatly by brand, design, the make/model of vehicle you drive, the tire’s features, and lots of other factors. As a very broad rule of thumb, though, you can expect to spend a minimum of $100 per tire on any set of quality tires for a vehicle.

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