What the best tires have
- A good tread warranty: Tires can include two different types of warranties: protection against tire defects (which is standard) and a tread warranty. Not all models come with a tread warranty, but the best brands offer a guarantee that the tire's tread will last for at least a few years and a reasonable number of miles.
- Good pavement performance. No matter what type of car you drive, your tire should deliver a comfortable ride on dry and wet pavement, regardless of whether they are all-season or all-terrain. If the tires are for your primary vehicle, you will most likely drive primarily on paved roads.
- Good grip. The best tires will grip well in any conditions: gravel, wet pavement or mud.
- Low rolling resistance. If the maximum fuel efficiency is a top priority, look for a tire with low rolling resistance, which cuts down a bit on traction, but boosts your miles per gallon.
Know before you go
What's your driving style? Getting the right tire for you requires more thought than just picking a top-rated model. For a well-matched tire, consider how you typically drive and what your priorities are for comfort, handling and traction.
- All-season tires are the most comfortable style, with well-balanced tread patterns that can manage rain and light snow. Their advantages include a long tread life and lower price.
- Run-flat tires are becoming increasingly popular for the safety-conscious driver. If your car is equipped with run-flat tires as original equipment, replacing them with run-flats is almost a necessity as you will not have access to a spare.
- Summer tires have higher speed ratings and feature siping -- small slits in the tire's surface -- to shed water away from the tire. This reduces the risk of hydroplaning for extra traction on wet pavement.
- High-performance tires can feature all-season traction (for occasional light winter driving) but most use tread patterns similar to a summer tire for maximum performance. Speed ratings up to 186 mph, nimble steering and excellent cornering are some of their standout features.
Traction versus treadwear. Tire manufacturers use different combinations of materials, depending on whether they are striving for longevity or traction. Softer compounds (common in summer and high-performance tires) provide extra grip for faster speeds and better cornering, with lower treadwear grades. Hard compound tires, like most all-season tires, are more durable. They typically have treadwear grades above 500 and can log more miles than soft compound tires.
Understanding UTQG specs. Many tires have a UTQG (short for Uniform Tire Quality Grade Standards) -- a rating that estimates how long a tire will last, how well it will perform on wet pavement and how fast it can go. Experts say this number can be misleading, however, since each tire manufacturer provides the data for its own tires and no third party measures UTQG.
Boosting miles per gallon. More and more tire manufacturers are producing "eco" and "green" models of tires. This type of tire features a low rolling resistance (a measurement of the amount of energy it takes for the tire to turn) and can help increase your fuel economy. Tires sometimes sacrifice a little traction to reduce fuel consumption, according to professional tire reviews. Experts also say that it's best to focus on safety, handling and comfort as a priority when selecting tires, considering rolling resistance only as tie-breaker.
Value expectations: The dollars and cents of it
There seems to be a tire retailer on every corner -- not to mention gas stations, muffler shops and large retailers such as Walmart -- but it's becoming easier than ever to buy tires online. Even Amazon.com carries many brands of tires, often at very low prices. However, if you buy online, you still have to factor in installation costs, including disposal fees for your current tires, if applicable, plus shipping costs. TireRack.com has an extensive network of partners that will accept shipment of your tires and install them; or you can designate the installer of your choice and have them shipped there, or transport them yourself. Amazon.com also now offers professional local installation services.