Out of all the components of your car, your tires are one of the most important -- safety, comfort and handling all depend on the quality of your tires. So many details factor into tires, in fact, that professional tests are typically extensive and very precise. Measuring braking distance in different weather conditions, evaluating handling on corners, and testing traction during acceleration are just some of the tests experts complete in a tire review. A tire's ability to wear evenly and maximize your fuel economy will help save money in the long run. Also important -- and not to be overlooked -- is the comfort the tire provides. Reviewers grade ride noise and ride comfort to determine this.
More than just one brand stands out in tire reviews -- we found a number of top passenger tires from brands like Michelin, Goodyear and BFGoodrich, ranging in price from $80 to more than $200. To find the tire that best suits you, narrow this selection down to one of the three main categories: all-season, summer or high performance. Not one type is better than the other, so consider your traction needs, budget and driving style to find the right fit for you.
All-season tires: Experts say it's more accurate to call these three-season tires. Though the best can keep you on the road for the occasional snowstorm, and most have pretty good traction on the ice, if you live in a region with heavy snowfall, consider switching to a winter tire for optimum traction for the cold months. Our report on snow tires includes a buying guide and a selection of the best tires for snow and ice.
Summer tires: Because summer tires don't need to bulk up on extra traction for icy roads, they focus on maximizing grip for higher speeds and increased maneuverability. The best, say tire experts at TireRack.com, "are capable of delivering an unsurpassed blend of dry and wet traction and handling for the street using high-tech materials and advanced manufacturing techniques."
High performance tires: High performance tires break down into several subcategories -- ultra high performance, extreme performance and maximum performance -- depending on their speed rating. To tap the full potential of your sports car, experts say a high performance tire is essential. "Even armed with huge horsepower, wind-tunnel development, and a fear-free driver, cars wouldn't be able to attain big speed without tires capable of handling the inertial forces of 2700-plus rotations per minute," says K.C. Colwell with Car and Driver.
Budget tires: The best tires in the above categories can cost $130 or more. But reviews say a few select models have excellent performance with a price tag at $100 or less. Their performance gets top marks in many areas, but tires at this price point typically don't compare across the board to the more expensive tires. A shorter tread life is often one of the trade-offs for spending less money.
For easier tire comparison, we used a few standard sizes for our report. Most tires (unless otherwise noted) are 215/60R16, a common size among midsize cars. High-performance tires tend to be larger; we used P235/55R17 or a similar equivalent for our report.
To find the best passenger tires, ConsumerSearch editors researched dozens of road tests performed by auto professionals and tire experts. We selected tires that excelled at braking quickly, were responsive on the road and maintained their grip on wet roads. From there, we narrowed the field down by considering rolling resistance and durability. We included hundreds of owner reviews at retail websites for additional feedback on life span, ride comfort and tread noise.