Tires 101

Should I replace my tires with the same tires that came with the vehicle?

A minority of vehicle owners in the U.S. feel it is appropriate to replace worn tires with the same exact make, model and size.  It is important to recognize that the vehicle manufacturer selects the OE (Original Equipment) tires with a variety of variables in mind for the entire fleet, such as rolling resistance for improved fuel economy, price per unit, long-term contracts with suppliers, universal weather conditions, and certain performance characteristics. Most vehicle owners prefer to make their tire selection based on their own personal criteria.  You should not change from the OE size without professional assistance, even when plus-sizing your wheels.  Factors such as speed rating, tread type, rolling resistance and price can all help you make a determination of which particular tire is best for you, and not for the manufacturer’s fleet.

What are Speed Ratings and why are they important?

The Speed Rating of a tire is the most underused tool that is available to every consumer, once it is understood.  Every tire sold in the U.S. has a Speed Rating on its sidewall.  Technically, the Speed Rating is a result of manufacturer testing to determine that the tire has performed in a laboratory setting for an extended amount of time (to allow heat buildup) at a given speed without failure.  Even the lowest Speed Rating for a tire that fits your vehicle is well beyond the type of performance you will ever experience on U.S. roads, so as long as you are buying the correct size tire you should not have a problem. However, the Speed Rating can also give the knowledgeable consumer an indication of the construction properties inherent in any particular tire.  For the most part:

  • S- and T-rated tires are long mileage and low rolling resistance with limited grip or traction.

  • H-rated tires are typically a good combination of characteristics for most passenger cars under most normal driving conditions, combining better grip than S- or T-, reasonable traction, and comfort.

  • W-, V-, Y- and Z-rated tires are all high performance, designed for exceptional handling and road grip under most road and weather conditions.  

You will find the Speed Rating on the tire sidewall usually after the size, and often with the letter “R” which stands for radial.  

Examples:    195/60R15 HR      245/35R20 ZR

What is the difference between All-Season and Summer tires?

Generally, All Season tires are designed with tread blocks that are separated by wider grooves and channels to improve water displacement in wet conditions.  If you live in snow country, you are likely to need tires that are rated M & S (Mud and Snow) which are designed for even more extreme weather conditions.  If you can use a Summer tire, the benefit is usually lower road noise.  The wider the channel, the more road noise is created as air moves through those channels when the road surface is dry.  If you drive in locations with heavy rains or water-soaked roads then All-Season tires are best for you.  Some of the modern, high-quality silica based All Season tires lower noise while still giving the superior grip of an All-Season model.  On trucks and SUV’s a similar distinction comes from tread designs known as All-Terrain (bigger tread blocks) vs. Street tread (quieter).

What is UTQG and how can it help me make my selection?

(The Uniform Tire Quality Grading standards are currently under comprehensive review by the NHTSA for changes coming soon.)

The UTQG consists of 3 components:  Treadwear, Temperature and Traction, all of which are noted on the sidewall of each tire.  Temperature ratings are A, B or C and Traction are AA, A, B or C both with obvious connotations.  The more valuable feature is the Treadwear rating which consists of a three-digit number.  Most quality brand tires are A or AA in Temperature and Traction categories.

First, the most important point to understand is that UTQG ratings are NOT subject to verification by any government agency.  They are self-reported by the tire manufacturer and non-audited.  The more reliable the manufacturer is in protecting their brand name and reputation, the more accurate the UTQG ratings will be.  It is also important to note that the Treadwear rating is really a “percentage” of performance against a standard of 100.  In other words, a tire rated 200 should last twice as long as a tire rated 100 on a government approved standard.

All that being said, the most part reliable manufacturers will have a UTQG treadwear rating that can be a reliable ESTIMATE of the life of the tire in miles, assuming proper maintenance and normal driving habits and conditions.  Just add two zeros to the number.  So a reliable UTQG rating of 320 should correlate to a tire designed to last about 32,000 miles; one rated 500 about 50,000 miles under the same conditions.  Obviously, there is no guarantee to this estimating process.

How do I compare Price vs. Value?

For starters, if you’ve skipped to this question you need to go back and review some of the above comments.  The basic fact in the tire industry is that the no-name, low-priced bargain tires do not hold themselves to the performance standards shown on their tires, and there is no auditing agency.  Indications of how much grip, tread life, temperature-related performance and even load capacity have no reliable meaning.  Some of the bargain brands are more reliable than others, but unless you know that based on prior experience or trust in someone with tire knowledge, be forewarned.  Any tire is only as good as the reputation of the manufacturer. 

It’s fairly easy to compare price vs. value in strictly dollars-and-cents terms by doing a little math with the dollars spent per mile, or per month of usage. For now, we’ll leave those calculations to you and your calculator.  The true value of any set of tires is how they perform when you really need them. That means their braking distance on wet as well as dry roads and their handling when you need to keep control of your vehicle to avoid a road problem should be crucial determinations in your decision.  To protect against adverse conditions, whether from nature or from other drivers, your best value comes with a tire manufactured by a major national brand, with good metrics for tire wear and good reviews for handling and braking distance.  For that information, look for unbiased reviews and ask a professional for advice.

The value of a well-designed, reliable performing tire is equivalent to the value of the safety and well being of those who depend on that tire.  If you’re looking for economy, there can be some tires that deliver true value that might fit your criteria for size and driving habits.  Just remember that there are better ways to save money in your budget than to only shop for price when it comes to safety on the road.

I keep reading about “Tier 1” tires.  What does that mean?

The tire industry has developed an informal working shorthand for categorizing tire manufacturers.  Tier 1 Brands are typically considered to be Michelin, Bridgestone, and Goodyear - but in part that is due to the fact that they are the 3 biggest-selling brands.  Some may argue for Continental, Dunlop, BF Goodrich, Pirelli, Toyo or Yokohama but they are generally considered Tier 2 brands.  None of this matters too much, though, because no single manufacturer excels at every tire they produce any more than a single electronics company makes only excellent products. 

Similarly, it no longer matters all that much WHERE a tire is manufactured.  Some excellent tires manufactured under Tier 1 or Tier 2 brand names come from China or Indonesia.  The issue isn’t so much where the factory is located, but under whose standards it operates and its level of compliance with its own and governmental standards.  Decades ago, Wheel Warehouse featured Nitto and Toyo tires when they were considered inferior because of where they were made or how little the brands were known.  That’s no longer true as those brands have gained wide acceptance regarding quality and reliability.  Hankook tires greatly improved the reputation of Korean manufacturing many years ago and although they are at best considered Tier 2 the company openly targets Tier 1 acceptance in the future, as does Toyo. 

The point is to do your homework and find a retailer you can trust.  On one final note, the true test of how well a particular tire model will perform cannot be determined in a laboratory or on a test track or within its first few months of usage on vehicles.  The true test of any tire comes after the market has acted, after the tire has some significant wear, and after results are compared to reviews and expectations.  Once again, be careful and find someone you can trust because only you really know what is riding on your tires and only an experience, unbiased tire expert can give you the best advice.


Beware the "Trap"

Sadly, most tire manufacturers now promote what they call "loyalty" programs to provide incentives to independent tire retailers to feature primarily their brands, with escalating performance rewards for ever-increasing unit sales.  Be assured that Wheel Warehouse buyers scout every single tire model we offer to make sure we provide the best value without regard to these needless marketing promotions.  Our loyalty is to our customers, and that is achieved by treating your tire purchase as one of the most important decisions you will make for you and your family.