Tire Performance Ratings

Dear Tracy,
I have heard that when shopping for tires it is important to consider the tire performance rating. Can you tell me what tire performance rating an average driver needs? I am also wondering what the rating is based upon and who does the rating?
-Anne B.

Dear Anne,
Thanks for your question! Let me begin by explaining a little bit about what tire performance ratings are, and then give you some details about what those ratings mean to you as a driver and tire buyer.

It is true that tire performance ratings are an important factor to look at when choosing the right tires for your vehicle. Tire performance ratings, also called speed ratings, indicate the maximum speed range in which a particular tire can safely and effectively perform. The U.S. Department of Transportation has designated a rating system which includes a letter rating with a corresponding test speed, to assure a reliable standard for all tires. Tire manufacturers do their own laboratory testing to determine which rating their individual models should receive. The most commonly encountered speed ratings include:

• M — Up to 81 mph
• N — Up to 87 mph
• P — Up to 93 mph
• Q — Up to 99 mph
• R — Up to 106 mph
• S — Up to 112 mph
• T — Up to 118 mph
• H — Up to 130 mph
• V — Up to 149 mph
• W — Up to 168 mph
• Y — Up to 186 mph

Obviously most of these are test speeds, not speeds that the average driver traveling on U.S. roadways will be reaching. In order to determine what tire performance/speed rating is best for your vehicle’s handling, you should go with the recommendation of your vehicle manufacturer. While it is okay to choose a higher than recommended performance rating, you should definitely not make a selection that is lower. It is also best to be sure that all four of your tires carry the same speed rating. If you are unsure about what tire performance rating you need, your qualified tire dealer can help.