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A Beginner's Guide to Buying Car Tires

A Beginner's Guide to Buying Car Tires


Car tires are one of the most crucial parts of your vehicle. Whether you're driving on pavement, gravel or dirt, they're always taking a pounding. Fading tread and noticeable wear mean you should consider purchasing new ones as soon as possible. The right tires can help you drive better, save gas and feel more in control of your vehicle. Before making a decision, consider and review the following types of car tires and features.

Car tires in a garage

Types of Tires

Passenger Tires

Constructed with higher profiles to reduce noise and create a comfortable ride. As a result, these models can handle an everyday commute exceptionally well. Passenger tires are available in all-season, winter and summer varieties.

Best Scenario: They can be used on almost any size vehicle. Most models are best suited for sedans, hatchbacks, standard minivans and small SUVs or trucks. 

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Passenger car tire

Pickup truck with light truck tires

Light Truck & SUV Tires

Specially constructed to support heavy loads on mid-size and heavy-duty trucks or SUVs. These models come in all-season, winter, summer varieties, so you can find options that suit any season. A set of these tires are perfectly suited for mid to large-sized SUVs or pickup trucks.

Best Scenario: If you're someone that uses a pickup or SUV to transport items regularly for work, light truck tires are able to handle heavy loads for almost any project.

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Performance Tires

This type features a very low profile, large tread blocks for dry traction grip, a very stiff sidewall and a nylon cap over the steel belts to hold the tire together. These features all contribute to creating a tire that is built for high speeds. In general, this type stops better, reacts quicker, steers better and stands less of a chance blowing out on the highway.

Best Scenario: Many car owners are already driving on performance tires without even realizing it. High performance tires can work on most vehicles, but they're best for sports cars. 

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High-performance car tires on sports car

SUV with all-terrain tires

All-Terrain/Mud Tires

This type uses large, block-style tread patterns to give vehicles improved grip on dirt, sand or gravel surfaces. The deep tread design allows them to efficiently dig into these kinds of surfaces, letting mud move in and out of the tread without getting stuck.

Best Scenario: These types of tires are available in all-season and winter varieties, giving you plenty of options for any season. You should only install these on vehicles, trucks or ATVs that you drive off-road. Driving them on paved highways can cause damage to your tires or the road.

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Winter Tires

Whether studded or studless, this type is designed to maintain better traction in extreme cold and on icy, snowy and slushy roads. The rubber remains softer, making it more flexible, which allows the tire to conform to the road better in extremely cold conditions.

Best Scenario:
Any vehicle that will be driven in snowy, icy or extremely cold conditions. 

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Winter tire on snowy surface

Tire Features

SUV with all-terrain tires


  • All-season - Designed to handle different kinds of weather conditions throughout the year, this type performs well on dry and wet roads and can grip the road through light snow.
  • Summer - A high-performance option for handling dry and wet surfaces in warmer conditions.
  • Winter - Also known as snow tires, this type provides exceptional grip through large amounts of snow and ice (read more).

Performance Grades

  • Standard performance tires - Built with a thinner composition, this variation is well-suited for sports cars and more aggressive drivers.
  • High-performance tires - A soft tread compound improves handling, cornering and traction at high speeds.
  • Ultra-high performance tires - Best for drivers looking for a smooth ride, ultra-performance tires usually operate best at the highest everyday speeds.
  • Touring tires - A low profile and wide tread create exceptional control in drier conditions.
  • All-terrain tires - Typically used on four-wheel drive vehicles, all-terrain options are built to handle on and off-road capabilities.
Open road

Sidewall of tire

Tire Codes

  • Tire size - This code lists a tire's class, section width, aspect ratio, construction and wheel diameter.
  • Tire speed rating - Speed rating denotes a tire's maximum driving speed using different letters that indicate specific mph.
  • Tire load index - Tire load index measures the maximum amount of weight the tire can carry.
  • Maximum pressure rating - This code lists the maximum air pressure in pounds per square inch that a tire can handle.
  • Tread wear grade - The rating measures a tire's durability based on manufacturer tests.
  • Tire traction rating - This code grades how a tire stops on wet surfaces in controlled conditions.
  • Temperature rating - Temperature rating specifies a tire's resistance to heat in normal conditions.
  • Manufacturer code - Tire sidewalls include a code specifying U.S. Department of Transportation standards and the official tire manufacturing date.

Learn more about reading tire codes.