There was a time when you bought one brand of tires for life. Your parents bought Sears RoadHandler, and by Jiminy, you bought Sears RoadHandler, too. Those days are pretty much over. Most people shop for tires the way they shop for fuel oil or lettuce. The biggest consideration for the average American Joe/Jane is “what’s the cheapest?”
Don’t be like that. Tires are incredibly important. Your car may have ABS, traction control, stability control, auto emergency braking, and lane-keeping assist, but if it’s got garbage tires, none of that technology is going to keep you from plowing into the car in front of you.
With this guide, we’re going to walk you through a few considerations when choosing your next set of tires, so that you can be sure your family is safe and the investment you’ve made in your car is protected.
If we can offer one piece of advice, it’s to choose a tire brand you’ve heard of. If somebody’s trying to talk you into a set of Riptide Ditchfinders from the gas station for a third what the same size Yokohama tire would cost, do yourself a favor and save your money.
There really aren’t that many tire brands that might ring a bell when somebody mentions them to you, so it really narrows down the wide field of brands you should be thinking about. In general, we always look to the following brands when we need to replace your tires:
There are also a couple of specialty brands that specialize in tires that are top-shelf in that narrow field:
Why bother spending more money with a known brand when you could save tons of money buying tires from some random hoops from the Dollar Store? Tires are all the same, right? Round, black and smelly.
Not so fast. There is an incredible amount of research that goes into just the rubber compound of specific tires, long before any design considerations are made on how the tread works, how the belts overlap or how heavy duty the sidewall is.
Depending on your usage, you could destroy a cheap set of tires in a day. Literally. If your mission is to take your vehicle off-road, for example, and you’ve chosen a sub-standard brand of tires, a sharp rock could easily puncture a hole in the sidewall and your day is over. Those are exactly the hazards that the brand name tire manufacturers are hoping to protect you from when they invest the money in research and development, rather than just fulfilling the round-black-smelly opening ante. Consider one tire, for example, BF Goodrich’s All-Terrain T/A K02. It’s one of the most popular all-terrain tires in the business and BF Goodrich has spent a ton of money marketing it since it was introduced in 2014, which is why you might think you could choose a lesser brand. Why pay more for a tire just because the company that makes it spent more on marketing?
But the money BF Goodrich spent went to prove that the K02 is the best tire in its class. When the tire was introduced, the company supplied these off-the-shelf tires for the Baja Challenge class in the Baja 1000 desert race. Every single vehicle that competed in that class wore the same tires that you could have delivered to your house today, and the point was to prove that tire’s durability during one of the world’s most punishing off-road races.
You’re just not going to get that kind of testing out of some tire manufacturer that is also known for making shirts.
Most tire manufacturers have a number of different tire models aimed at a different kind of consumer. Some folks are just looking for a decent, safe, replacement tire for their Honda Fit, and most tire brands would be happy to provide them with one. Other tire consumers are looking for something more specific: a V-rated performance tire for their late model muscle car. A light truck tire for long hauls on the highway without a lot of road noise. A gnarly off-road tire for their sports SUV.
Most manufacturers are going to have a tire that meets the needs of that consumer, but if you’re wedded to a specific tire brand, it may not have all the attributes you’re looking for in its tire range.
We’ll break down our tire brand recommendations into each of the general vehicle types: Passenger Car/Minivan, Performance Car, Pickup Truck, SUV. We’re also building out recommendations for popular vehicle models. You can find links to those articles that go in much more depth in the section below.
In a way, choosing a tire brand that suits an everyday passenger car or minivan is the toughest choice you’re likely to face because just about every manufacturer offers a tire to fit those types of vehicles. Tires that fit in the passenger car class are generally constructed to reach several goals:
Treadlife - Many of the tires in this class are going to have tread life ratings that are in the 500 range, meaning that in testing, they lasted 5 times longer than the 100-rated control tire they were tested against. The tires we chose all beat the 500 rating
Traction - Most of these tires are going to be in the A range, which is good, but not the highest of AA, meaning they’ll perform well in wet and snowy conditions.
Temperature - These tires almost all have a B heat resistance rating, which is middle-of-the-road. They aren’t high-speed rated tires, so high-temperature ratings weren’t part of the original design brief.
All of these tires were rated higher than 3.5 stars out of 5 by consumers:
Budget: Yokohama Avid Ascend GT - With a 740 tread life rating, these tires are going to be in your car for a good long time. They’re around the same price as you’d find for the original equipment tires that came on your car when it was new. They feature an A traction rating and an A temperature rating.
Moderately Priced: Michelin Premier A/S - These 640 tread life rated tires should get you through the next three or four years without issue, and for a Michelin tire, they’re quite reasonably priced. It receives an A traction and an A temperature rating as well.
Price No Object: Bridgestone Turanza QuietTrack - These Grand Touring tires are designed to eat highway miles quietly, and last about as long as you can expect a tire like this to functionally survive. You may pay more for them, but with an 800 tread life rating, you’ll likely have them longer than anything else.
You’ll notice right away that tread life isn’t exactly a performance tire strong suit. Most of these tires are rated in the 450 range, and some can be as low as 200. That means that some of them are going to wear out in half as much time as a conventional passenger car or touring tire.
The advantage, though, is their road-holding capability. These tires constructed with a much stickier rubber compound, and in some cases, a much more track-oriented tread pattern, often with diagonal tread on just the outer portion of the contact patch, while the inner section is grooved almost like an F1 rain tire.
These tires are also unidirectional, meaning that when it’s time to rotate them, they can only be relocated to the front from the rear, not in a cross pattern.
Performance tires on modern cars are usually in the 19- or 20-inch range, but you can buy a high-performance tire in 17-inch sizes for your passenger car, too.
All of these tires have received greater than a 3.5 out of 5 star rating by consumers:
Budget: Kumho Ecsta PS91 - You don’t necessarily need to spend a fortune for a decent performance tire. Kumho makes an excellent tire for half the price of the brands you usually associate with performance tires. The Ecsta offers excellent wet performance and is generally highly regarded among shoppers who’ve owned them.
Moderately Priced: Continental Extremecontact Sport - Continental Extremecontact Sports are highly rated by consumers who’ve owned them. They not only offer outstanding wet traction, but their tread life rating is significantly higher than the competition.
Cost-No-Object: Pirelli P Zero - A legendary performance tire that’s original equipment on some of the world’s highest performance supercars, the P Zero is the gold standard for performance tires.
Pickups have a lot of purposes. Some pickup owners are interested in their towing and load-hauling abilities. Some are more interested in using their trucks for fun. Instead of breaking our tire recommendations into price categories, we’re going to provide recommendations on tires for three of the most common ways people use their trucks.
We’ll look at tires for work, for commuting, and for play:
For Work: Hankook DynaPro HT - The DynaPro HT is a highly rated tire with an E load range, meaning that they have 10 plies of radial cords inside, and can be inflated up to 80 psi for heavy loads. They’re also less expensive than some of the comparable brands.
For Commuting: Sumitomo Encounter HT - The Encounter HT is a highway-oriented truck tire that should provide years of service. In every category, this tire shines against the competition.
For Play: BF Goodrich Mud Terrain KM3 - For bashing around off-road, there aren’t many tires that are better than the KM3. With a blocky tread design, outstanding sidewall strength, and surprisingly low noise on the road, these are the tires that will get you there and back.
SUVs used to be just pickup trucks with an enclosed bed and a few seats thrown in the back. Today, SUVs are the most competitive category in the entire automotive landscape. You run the gamut from commuter cars like the Nissan Rogue to high-performance SUVs like the Porsche Cayman to off-road beasts like the Jeep Wrangler.
Like our pickup category, we’ll break our recommendations into how these vehicles are used, as opposed to the price of the tires:
Compact Crossover Commuter: Falken Ziex ZE001 A/S - You might not know Falken as well as you do some of the other brands, but they build an excellent tire. The Ziex ZE001 is an all-season tire built specifically for the needs of a compact crossover driver. These were original equipment on some Rogue models and they’re an excellent replacement for other models.
High-Performance SUV: Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric - These are the ultimate in sport SUV tires, and are a great replacement for vehicles like the Range Rover Sport. Available in the huge 22-inch size that these ultra-performance SUVs require, the Eagle F1 Asymmetric is more focused on nimble handling in wet and dry conditions than it is in off-road performance.
Off-Road: General Grabber X3 - The Grabber X3 is a maximum traction off-road tire with the guts to get you anywhere you want to go. Huge evacuation channels get the mud out, while the aggressive stone bumpers at the edge of the tread protect the tough sidewalls from punctures.
Online tire prices are usually less than in store
A: We’ve provided an article on tire buying with some great recommendations. The answer really depends on your individual case. If you can find a shop close by that’s an affiliated installer, sometimes online retailers are your best bet. But don’t discount the brick-and-mortar stores. There are many times when they can beat an online retailer’s price and provide a more complete service, from mount and balance to tire disposal.
A: A: Rotating tires is more about the tire than it is about the car. A typical rotation interval is somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 miles, though specific cars and tires may change those numbers a bit. Depending on how you drive, and what kind of driveline your vehicle has, tires at different ends of the vehicle may be worn more quickly than the rears. It’s important to keep this in mind and to not ignore the need to rotate your tires.
A: With a quick google search you can see how to do it yourself. In general, your vehicle either has a spare tire and changing tools, or a tire inflation kit with an aerosol spray tire sealer, and a compressor. If you don't feel comfortable doing it yourself, or if you need a new tire installed, see our article on choosing a mobile tire repair service so you can locate someone to do this cost effectively and quickly.
A: All of that information is contained in the information on the sidewall of your tire. The Tire Industry Association provides an excellent guide to finding the tire size, the UTQG rating and the date code of your current tires at its website.
A: Absolutely not. There are many other reasons to replace your tires, mostly due to road hazards. Any punctures, cuts or abrasions -- especially in the sidewall -- should be the reason to consider at least replacing one tire. If there are any bulges or other visible deformities in your tire, that’s when it’s time to place a call to replace them.
A: It’s always a good idea to, but it’s not 100 percent necessary. If you’ve got one tire that’s had a puncture and the other three are in good shape, there’s no reason to replace all four. Tire rotation will become that much more important, though, to allow the tread on all four tires to wear more evenly.
A: That’s not such a great idea. If you’re going to replace two tires, it’s a good idea to find tires of the same brand. If you absolutely have to mix and match brands, replace two at a time on the same axle.
Ordering your tires online vs. the shop will save you money