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.
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 improve mpg, 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, using rolling resistance only as tie-breaker.
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 (usually about $2 per tire), 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. If you buy from a site such as Amazon, you may need to rustle up your own installer and transport them yourself.