You probably don’t think about it much, but finding the best tires for your car is incredibly important when you consider how much they get used every day. Tires can be quiet or noisy, they can improve or hinder your car’s handling, and they can affect whether or not a car is fun to drive. Certain tires are even designed to tame everything from 150-degree asphalt to sub-freezing ice and snow as well as sand, mud, gravel and heavy rain. Tires are kind of like parenting — no one notices the good that’s done every day, but everyone notices when something goes wrong (thanks social media).
Knowing this, it probably comes as no surprise that there are specific tires suited to a variety of situations. And which tires are the best? We asked Woody Rogers, Product Information Specialist at Tire Rack, to give us his recommendations for the best tires in a variety of situations.
In order to make these determinations, it’s important to separate tires into specific categories. Rogers told us that "Tire Rack clusters 25 different sub-categories into four primary segments. With so many options, Tire Rack created the Tire Decision Guide, which guides customers to the right tire for their driving needs." If you’re not sure what kind of tires would be best for your car, the Tire Rack Decision Guide can point you toward the right set.
Here are some specific categories according to Tire Rack:
- Touring – These are tuned to deliver a smoother ride, reasonable dry and wet traction, higher winter traction, a pleasant drive and longer tread life. Nearly all touring tires are "all-season." This is the most popular and most common segment for original equipment by automakers, and it is widely chosen by consumers as well. A wide array of options is available for passenger cars, CUVs/SUVs and even light trucks. As the name implies, "all-season" tires can handle most forms of moderate weather, like rain, heat, light snow, etc. For extremes, you might need something more specific.
- Performance – These are associated with responsive handling, higher wet and dry traction, fair winter traction (all-season tires only), a sporty feel and a shorter tread life. There are all-season and "summer only" options here. Summer-only performance tires tend to deliver the highest level of dry and wet traction. However, the best all-season performance tires are improving and getting closer to specialized "summer tires" in terms of performance. If you love the way your car hugs the curves, these tires may deliver more smiles than miles. The tires might not be best for low-temperature situations, hence the name "summer."
- All-Terrain – These are built for adventure. They feature excellent off-road traction, a louder and firmer ride on paved roads, fair winter traction and reasonable wear life. From mild to wild, this category has the looks and capabilities to go as far off the paved roads as you choose to venture. And most will work equally well if you’re just mall-crawling with your urban off-road rig that never gets dirty.
- Winter – Today you can’t call these "snow" tires because they do so much more. Modern winter tires are snow-, slush- and ice-traction specialists that are optimized for driving in cold conditions. Simply put, these are the best when winter weather is at its worst. Nothing else can match the snow and especially ice traction of the best dedicated winter tires — even the slight misnomer of "all-weather" tires we mentioned earlier. It might go without saying, but winter tires aren’t designed to be driven all year long or in the relative warmth of spring, summer and fall.
There are many sub-categories as well. You can read more about tire categories on Tire Rack. There are also tires that are most ideal for racing wheels, trailer wheels and spares.
Here are Roger’s picks for the best tires for specific uses:
Dry Pavement Grip/Handling:
- Michelin Pilot Sport 4S
If you have a late-model performance car, odds are good that the Original Equipment tire is highly tuned to work well with the vehicle’s dynamics. More of the same is always a good option, and it’s the best way to keep your car driving like it did when it rolled off the showroom floor. But if you want to try something that is more broadly tuned, Michelin’s latest Max Performance Summer tires continue their long-standing position as the king of the hill.
- Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3+
If you want sporty tires that you can drive in the slush and light snow of winter (and you still want good dry and wet traction), tires from the Ultra High Performance All-Season category fit the bill. These have a little less wet and dry traction than their summer-only counterparts, but they gain a somewhat longer wear life and some snow and slush capability as a tradeoff. Michelin’s all-season performance tires lead the pack here.
- Bridgestone Blizzak WS990 – Sizes for cars, minivans and smaller CUVs
- Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V2 – Sizes for larger CUVs, SUVs and pickup trucks
When most people think of winter weather driving conditions, they usually think snow, but winter driving can bring a range of conditions — cold, near-freezing rain, slush, icy intersections, slippery inclining driveways, black ice on the highway, etc. When the average temperature is regularly falling below the low 40s, it’s worth considering a dedicated winter tire to handle whatever Mother Nature brings. The likelihood of encountering frozen precipitation goes up dramatically when temperatures average below the low 40s, and if your area tends to experience snowfall and you drive when it’s very cold, winter tires are the best option for maximizing safety and improving mobility.
If you haven’t driven on a modern winter tire in challenging winter conditions, you owe it to yourself to try it. Forget what you know about the rugged tires your dad put on the back of the family station wagon back in the 70s — today’s winter tires feature some of the most advanced rubber-compounding technology in the tire industry as well as the latest in molding methods to create the pattern that gives them exceptional grip in challenging winter conditions.
Bridgestone revolutionized the winter tire industry in the 1990s with the first Blizzak tire, which was developed to provide the ice traction of a studded tire without any metal studs. There are a number of great studless ice and snow tires, but Bridgestone continues to lead the field with their products. They split the product name and tread pattern into two distinct groups, but both deliver the same exceptional winter traction regardless of what vehicle you have.
All-Season Tires with a Winter Focus:
- Goodyear Assurance WeatherReady – Strong winter performance with reasonable wet traction
- Vredestein Quatrac 5 – Great winter driving with excellent wet traction; a great balance for most drivers
"All-Weather" tires, as some people are calling them, are year-round tires that meet a minimum snow traction standard and have the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake (3PMSF) symbol.
For some drivers, a second set of dedicated winter tires isn’t an option. True winter tires are still best for extreme conditions, but there’s also a kind of a "winter tire light." Here are a few all-season tires that lead the way for winter traction.
- Yokohama AVID Ascend GT
- Vredestein Quatrac Pro
Wet weather isn’t a season — it’s a condition. Places like the Pacific Northwest, the Gulf Coast and Florida see a lot of rain all year, and really, unless you’re in the Southwest, most areas of the country see enough regular rainfall to warrant tires that can deal with rainy conditions. Performance summer tires will deliver the best wet traction of any tire, but for many drivers, using tires that won’t work in winter weather isn’t an option.
Economy Car/Small SUV:
- General AltiMAX RT43
Most purchase decisions are based on a value equation: How much do I get for the price? For many buyers, the best tires are often the most affordable tires. A tire that really stands out in the value equation is the General AltiMAX RT43. As Rogers notes, "Literally, I put these tires on my mom’s car, and she loves them."
- Continental TrueContact Tour
Choosing a tire that is focused on long wear sometimes means giving up other qualities — usually traction in wet and winter conditions. The tire that gives up the least to do so is the Continental TrueContact Tour, which is a favorite among consumers. It has also performed well in Tire Rack testing.
- Bridgestone Turanza QuietTrack
There are plenty of smooth and quiet tires on the market, but Bridgestone’s latest hits the target squarely.
- BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2
- BFGoodrich Mud Terrain KM3
We also like the Continental TerrainContact A/T. It looks good and offers great performance both on and off the road, which is important because most drivers spend the majority of their time driving on paved roads. In addition, Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires are rugged work tires that have become a consumer favorite.
There are so many factors that can steer a driver’s choice that it’s challenging to pick one or two tires to cover them all. With that said, BFGoodrich is the best-known name in off-road tires. Factors to consider here include appearance, size availability (if installing up-sized tires and wheels), how far "off-road" you really intend to go and popularity.
What are the best tires for your used car? It tends to depend on a few factors: the kind of car you have, the type of driving you do most often and the weather or road conditions you most frequently see. Keep these points in mind, and you should find the right tires for your vehicle.