Tire Types Explained

tire-typesThere are many factors to consider when it comes to selecting tires. While it is important to choose a quality brand and get a good value, it is equally essential that you buy the right type of tires for your vehicle. The tire type you select should be not only be recommended for your vehicle, but also suited  for the kind of driving you do. A wide range of tire types are available to suit every kind of vehicle and all driving conditions.

Below is a listing of the most common tire types, as well as the corresponding speed rating. The speed rating and tire type are both identified in the tire code, found imprinted on the side of all tires.

All Season Tires

The most common speed ratings for all season tires are S and T. All season tires deliver a good all-weather grip and long mileage. They are most commonly used  standard cars and SUVs.  All season tires are designed to perform in a wide range of conditions from dry pavement to wet weather and light snow. A good choice for a comfortable and quiet ride, all season tires offer reliable handling and long tread life. For year-round traction in moderate climates, all season tires are an excellent choice.

Performance All Season Tires

Performance all season tires have H and V speed rating and are a popular choice for cars with enthusiast appeal or upgraded wheels. These tires feature a better cornering grip than regular all-season tires, but typically need to be replaced more often.


Winter/ Snow Tires

Winter or snow tires are identifiable by a mountain and snowflake symbol displayed on the sidewall. Winter tire tread is designed with gripping edges for better handling on snow and ice. They are made with a softer rubber compound to stay flexible in extremely cold temperatures. Winter tires do not perform as well on cleared roads, lacking the solid grip of all season tires. They also tend to wear more quickly. Winter tires should be exclusively used during extreme cold weather driving conditions.

Summer Tires

Summer tires usually have speed ratings of ZR, W, and Y,  for sports cars and performance sedans. For all-around best performing tires in mild climates and seasons, summer tires offer a performance level above all season tires. As the name implies,  summer tires are not suited for driving in snow and ice, but they offer solid handling on dry and wet roads in mild temperatures. Summer tires are also made with softer compounds however, unlike those used in winter tires, they become harder in colder temperatures. Though they tend to have shorter life span and more rapid tread wear, summer tire do offer enhanced driving performance.

All  Terrain Truck Tires

All terrain truck tires are available in larger sizes and designed for light duty hauling and towing. They are a great choice for light-duty pickups and SUVs. All-terrain tires usually have a more aggressive tread pattern to aid off-road traction. All-terrain tires usually have A/T or All Terrain in the model name.


Snow Tires for an SUV?

Dear Tracy,

I thought that having a 4-wheel drive vehicle meant that I would not need snow tires, but my SUV’s handling on icy roads is not as great as I thought it would be. Would having snow tires installed help?

Rob T.

Dear Rob,

An SUV does offer many winter driving advantages. When you drive on snow covered roads, or try to get up  an unplowed driveway, you will be especially appreciative of that 4-wheel drive. Unfortunately, when it comes to slippery ice and slush, the power advantage of the 4-wheel drive system does not provide much benefit.

SUVs and other 4-wheel drive vehicles usually come equipped with large, wide all season tires. While great for driving in most conditions, these standard tires are less than ideal for winter driving conditions. The type of rubber used does not grip well in cold temperatures, and the tread pattern is not designed to channel large amounts of water on the road. Also, tires with a larger surface area may not cut through snow effectively, and be likely to hydroplane.

Snow tires, or winter tires are developed from a softer rubber than all season tires. This allows them to provide better road grip and handling. Winter tires also feature an open tread design, which gives them better handling capability on slush and snow. When it comes to stopping and cornering on snow and ice,  winter tires will give you a definite advantage, especially with four-wheel drive vehicles, which tend to be heavier and take longer to come to a stop.

If you are doing a lot of driving in slick and icy conditions, winter tires are well worth the investment. Using them will also help you extend the usable life of the your all season tires!

Summer Time, Summer Tires?

Dear Tracy,

I live in the Midwest and as long as I’ve had my car, I’ve always put on snow tires during the winter and changed over to all-season tires for the spring, summer, and fall. Recently a friend told me he was shopping for a set of summer tires for optimal driving performance in the summer months. I’d never heard of summer tires and now I’m wondering if the all-season tires are best for spring and fall only. Can you shed some light on these different types of tires and how to make the right choice?

-Chuck A.

Dear Chuck,
Understanding the differences between winter tires, summer tires, and all-season tires will help you in selecting the right tire type for your vehicle. The climate in which you live, the season, and the type of driving you do are important factors in your decision.

Winter or snow tires are a necessity in areas that get a significant amount of snow and ice. The softer rubber used for winter tires is developed to grip better in low temperatures. The tread design features small tread blocks with tread cuts called siping, to promote better traction and help prevent hydroplaning. Winter tires wear faster because of the soft rubber, so they should be only used during the winter temperatures and conditions.

Though called summer tires, these performance tires are not necessarily the best choice for all summer driving. The name “summer” is more of a limitation than a recommendation, meaning  that these tires are appropriate for warm seasons and climates only. Summer tires do offer excellent driving performance by enhancing handing, acceleration, and braking response. These features aside, they are probably not the most practical choice for the typical driver due to expense. The rubber used in summer tires is soft like winter tires, but summer tires are subject to more heat and friction so they wear out  even more quickly.

All-season tires are designed to provide the best ride and driving performance in a range of climates and weather. The rubber composition and tread design are engineered for reliable handling and grip in a variety of temperatures and road conditions. I’d say your current tire game plan is probably the best approach for you.

All Season Tires Really For All Seasons?

Dear Tracy,

I am from southern California and college freshman now living in Michigan. This will be my first winter driving in an area that gets ice and snow. While I don’t do a lot of driving, I do have to drive across town several days a week to get to a part time job. Do you think it would be worth it for me to invest in a set of snow tires for the coming months? Is there really much difference between the performance of snow tires and all season tires?

James B.

Dear James,

Michigan winter driving  will definitely be a very different experience than what you are used to. Navigating ice or snow covered roads is very challenging, and nothing really prepares you for it other than experience and a properly equipped car with the right tires. Snow tires are without a doubt worth the investment.

Contrary to what the name suggests, all season tires are really not the best tire choice for driving all seasons and weather conditions. All season tires are designed to provide the best ride and driving performance in a variety of temperatures. Snow or winter tires are made to perform optimally in cold temperatures, and driving on snow or ice.

The reason snow tires are better for winter driving lies in the design and the type of rubber used. The rubber in snow tires is developed to grip better in low temperatures. Additionally, snow tires feature small tread blocks and siping, which means that the treads are cut for better traction and to prevent hydroplaning. Since the rubber used in winter tires is softer, it wears faster than all season tires. Winter tires may need to be replaced every three or four seasons, and it will be important to switch back to those all season tires as soon as winter is over.

Are All Season Tires Really All Season?

Dear Tracy,

I recently moved from Florida to Kentucky. This will be the first winter that I will be experiencing driving in ice and snow. I am wondering if I need to get a set of snow or winter tires for the coming months. My car currently has a new set of all season tires installed – doesn’t that mean these tires are appropriate for driving in all seasons?

Sophia L.

Dear Sophia,

In moving from the sunshine state to bluegrass-country, you are undoubtedly in Winter Drivingfor a very different driving experience this winter! The mild weather you experienced in Florida probably never gave you the opportunity to navigate ice or snow covered roadways. Kentucky will most likely give you that chance on many occasions this winter.

Even though it would seem that all season tires should be suitable for driving in all seasons, they are not appropriate for driving in all types of weather conditions. While all season tires are designed to provide the best ride and comfort in a variety of temperatures, winter tires have specific features, developed for cold, snow, and ice. One basic difference in winter tires is that the rubber used in these tires is developed to grip better in low temperatures. Winter tires also feature small tread blocks and siping, which means that the treads are cut specifically for better traction and to prevent hydroplaning. Since the rubber used in winter tires is softer, it does wear more quickly, so winter tires may need to be every three or four seasons. It will be important to switch back to your all season tires as soon as spring returns.

It is definitely a good idea to invest in a good set of winter tires, especially if you are in a rural part of Kentucky that may not get roads treated as quickly as more populated areas. It is also important for safe winter driving to keep your tire pressure at the recommended levels.

A Tire for All Seasons or an All Season Tire

Dear Tracy,
I have recently heard that summer tires are the best choice for driving performance in warmer climates and during the summer months. Because I live in the Midwest, and have to drive in a variety of conditions throughout the year, I have always used a set of snow tires on my vehicle during the winter months, and switched to a set of all-season tires for the spring, summer, and fall months. Should I have a set of tires specifically for summer driving? Are the all-season tires best for spring and fall only?

-Troy D.

Dear Troy,
With all of the different varieties of tires available, including summer tires, all-season tires, and winter tires, choosing the right tire type can be a little confusing. While winter or snow tires are pretty straightforward, the name “all-season” may be a little less clear, because for some areas, an all-season tire may not work for all the seasons. Depending on whether or not you deal with harsh winter driving conditions, which as a mid-westerner, you likely do, an all-season tire may not meet your needs. A winter tire designed for snow and ice may be a better choice.

Summer tires are not exclusively the best choice for summer driving. The name “summer” is actually more indicative of the fact that these tires are ONLY appropriate for warm seasons and climates. Summer tires do offer excellent driving performance because they are made of a softer rubber that enhances handing, acceleration, and braking. Despite the great performance, they are probably not the most practical choice for the typical driver. The reason is that these tires wear much more quickly than other types of tires, due to the soft rubber used. This makes summer tires a relatively more expensive option than all-season tires.

An all-season tire is a great choice for all driving seasons other than winter, if you live in an area with harsh winters, during which you will want to use your winter tires. It sounds to me like your approach is the right one, so stick with it!