Tires 101: What Tires are the Best?

The enthusiasm of real-deal car professionals for their tires never tires. Read that sentence again. And again. Once its message has sunk in, continue further with this article. We cannot reiterate enough the importance of tires for successful driving. Those still unconvinced on their significance should think of tires as a surgeon would her scalpel. Her brain might conjure the thoughts of an operation, but it’s her vital tool that actually carries out the process. Every whim a driver may have to accelerate, break, turn, or otherwise handle his car is conducted on the road through those four wheels. The greater the tires, the more effectively the car drives. Great drivers insist on exceptional tires.

Courtesy of Wired.

But what exactly distinguishes a tire as “great” or “exceptional?” Does one type of tire exist that can beautifully manage any weather situation or motorist style? Could tires potentially both save drivers gas and provide them with top-tier handling on the road?

In truth, there is no one “best” tire that can perform sufficiently in every possible scenario. Not unlike vehicles themselves, the choice of the tires that will roll them forward is best made specifically and uniquely to each car. Unwitting motorists frequently believe, for example, that tires designated as “all season” are actually appropriate for all seasons. This type of tire can accommodate the majority of drivers for the bulk of a year, to be sure. They offer a bump-free ride, solid handling, and acceptable grip even when wet: important qualities for a year-round wheel. Yet they cannot substitute for proper winter tires, particularly during or after a heavy snow. Serious winter requires proper snow tires — period.

Other types of tires similarly fail to be perfectly perfect. Deep pocketed hot rod lovers might obsess over “high-performance” tires, wheels whose construction prioritizes meticulousness and road grip over durability and reliability in inclement weather. Fuel efficient tires target the more economical set. These gas savers feature low rolling resistance, streamlining their movement and therefore requiring less power (read: fuel) from the car to power them. They unfortunately grip the road worse and need more time to successfully brake than others.

Plus 1 tires, via Tires 2011.

Trending wildly among avid car enthusiasts are “Plus 1″ and “Plus 2″ tires — those which have had 1 or 2 additional inches (respectively) to the rim, plus extra rubber on the treads and smaller sidewalls. The added bulk should theoretically endow these tires with greater grip. Yet this ideal only occurs if the car features a suspension that can force the extra tire-flesh to actually touch the road. In cars without such a suspension, “Plus 1″ and “Plus 2″ tires only deplete bank accounts and frustrate anyone not a Formula 1 Racer. By now, it should be evident that choosing a “best” tire obliges a pragmatic consideration of any car and its driving demands.

Though determining the “best” tire is a somewhat futile exercise, we can easily advise you against the “worst” possible tires you can buy: any that are sold as super-cheap or lowest-possible cost. Owning a vehicle means making certain financial concessions that define the very meaning of “vehicle ownership.” We’re all a bit strapped for cash these days, but even thin-wallet drivers should devote what dollars they do have toward high quality tires — the only component of a car that has to directly confront the realities of the road. Cheap tires often lack the driving predictability and accuracy required for even professional auto enthusiasts to effectively navigate a car. Do yourself a favor, and spend the extra on excellent tires — and maybe buy that Katy Perry dashboard bobblehead another day.

In fact, the best money-saving move for everyday drivers would be to simply purchase another four-set of the same tires currently on the vehicle. Its manufacturers certainly chose the type and brand for a reason: to marry the vehicle’s suspension and driving features with a tire that would complement them.

Example of UGTQ rating, courtesy of CDX.

If you’re in the mood to venture away from your auto’s original tires, insist on specifying your thoughts on important considerations before deciding on a particular type or brand. Firstly, ask yourself for how long your dream tire would endure the road. Longevity in tires is assessed by the UTQG (or Uniform Tire Quality Grading) rating assigned to each tire by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation; the higher the figure, the longer the wear. Those who live in moisture-high climates, such as rainy Washington, should make a priority to focus on wet-weather-appropriate tires. Everyone should also determine the speed rating she’ll need in a tire — its ability to handle high velocity driving. (These TireRack and Edmunds articles enlighten readers on this paragraph’s topics.)

Space here doesn’t allow us to delve into the crucial topic of when exactly to consider shopping for new tires: look for us to do so, in full detail, in a soon-to-come piece. But suffice it to say now that two virtues reign supreme in the conversation of the “best” tires: specificity and compromise. Car owners must always pinpoint their exact driving conditions and needs for which to pick a tire, and they must also make peace with this take-home truth: no tire is perfect. But despite their imperfections, the tires most appropriate to your auto needs will be always “better” than the rest.

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2 Responses to Tires 101: What Tires are the Best?

  1. Gordon Green says:

    I have to disagree with replacing original tires with another set of the same. I bought a 2004 Corolla LE in Hudson, NH and found original tires were miserable in snow. I replaced them with Goodyear Triple Treads and solved the problem. A good friend of mine bought a 2005 Corolla LE in Lowell, MA for his wife and she kept spinning out in snow. I suggested the Triple Tread which solved her problems.

    Gordon

  2. hertzcarsales says:

    @Gordon You make a great point! What we are trying to say is in respect to original purchase an owner should not try to save a couple bucks on cheap import tires when the manufacturer has a recommended set for the vehicle. BUT, you must always consider the terrain your vehicle will be in the most and adapt the tire purchase to maximize that experience since the manufacturer is assuming normal driving conditions.

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