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Car and Truck Tire Categories Made Simple

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by the Editors of MSN Autos April 2008

The enormous selection of new tires on the market can sometimes seem overwhelming. To help you better understand which tires best suit your needs, MSN Autos has organized car tires into four broad categories.

Car Tires by Category

  • All-Season: These tires are what you'll find on the majority of passenger and luxury cars, minivans and even some compact pickup trucks. They are available in a very wide range of sizes, and have been engineered to appeal to the widest possible range of tire buyers. While they carry the designation "M+S," which means they meet the definition of "traction tires" for mud and snow, they are not well-suited for deep snow or soupy muck. Their manufacturers mainly tout All-Season tires' long tread life and comfortable ride.
  • Touring: Most commonly found on sporty sedans and coupes, Touring tires tilt the balance further in the direction of handling and dry grip than is the case with All-Season tires, though ride and inclement weather performance are not completely de-emphasized.
  • Performance: Standard equipment on sports cars, these are represented by Goodyear's Eagle, Bridgestone's Potenza, and BF Goodrich's T/A lines, among others. Dry traction, steering response and a sporty appearance take precedence over tread life and ride comfort.
  • Snow Tires: As the name implies, these tires are designed specifically for use in deep snow. They feature a tread design with "lugs" to dig into snow and wide grooves into which the snow is compacted and removed as the wheels rotate. While many snow tires offer the option of adding metal studs for traction on ice, tire companies in recent years have developed new rubber compounds that significantly improve grip on icy surfaces . . . a definite advantage for drivers in areas where studded tires are not allowed.

Truck Tires by Category

As pickups and sport utilities have become more common, sales of light truck tires have increased as well. They fall into three broad categories:

  • Street/Sport Truck: You'll find this kind of tire on a Ford Ranger Splash or other similar sporty truck. Its primary appeal is a sporty look and enhanced handling characteristics.
  • Highway: Increased load capacity over passenger car tires is most noteworthy; you'll want this type of tire for a heavy-duty full-size pickup or van. The traditional straight-ribbed tread option has been supplemented in recent years by an all-season design similar to those found on all-season car tires.
  • Off-Road: Tires like Bridgestone's Dueler M/T feature an extremely aggressive tread design, with deep grooves that will carve through the worst terrain. However, this results in more noise and a rougher ride on paved roads than a highway tire. As a result, a popular alternative is the All-Terrain Off-Road tire, which sacrifices some off-road capability in the name of a smoother, quieter paved-road ride.

Uniform Tire Quality Grading System Markings

Tires also bear useful information communicated through the Uniform Tire Quality Grading System markings molded on their sidewalls.

  • Treadwear 160: Similar to fuel economy ratings; this number is not an absolute value, but a means of comparison. The baseline is 100; in this case, you could expect 60 percent more tread life than the baseline tire, assuming the tire is properly inflated and its load capacity is not exceeded. The Tire Industry Safety Council, an industry trade association, points out that this value is set by each manufacturer and only applies within a manufacturer's product line.
  • Traction A: This is a measurement of a tire's ability to stop on wet pavement. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notes that stopping is the only factor here; cornering ability is not tested. The scale runs from AA, the highest rating, to C, the lowest.
  • Temperature C: This reflects the tire's ability to resist the effects of heat. C is the minimum required by Federal regulations; B is better; A is better still.
This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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Car and Truck Tire Categories Made Simple - Autotrader