Most non-gearheads’ nonchalant approach to our cars’ tires can be summed up in this lyric from an old Phish song: “The tires are the things on your car that make contact with the road”. (Yes, the Vermont jam band actually wrote a song about tires.) That’s unfortunate, because having the right set of tires on your vehicle saves gas, cuts down on interior noise, makes for a smoother ride, and even decreases the risk of a blowout. Here’s some tips on picking the best tire for your car.
Pop quiz: do you know how to find out what size your car’s tires are? It’s right on the sidewall, along with a bunch of other numbers:
The tire size in this case is 215 65 R15. (Knowing the rest of that info is helpful as well.) You may want to consider changing the size of your car’s tires. On smaller cars, going a size down can improve your car’s overall ride – increasing the tire’s width and lowering the sidewall makes smaller cars handle better and increases general stability. (The trick is to do so without increasing the overall diameter of the tire; many manufactures make “plus sized” tires which do just that.) For pickup trucks and SUV’s, larger tires may be in order. Increasing tire size on a truck or SUV can improve traction and carrying capacity.
Consider your driving conditions.
Let’s face it: you’re probably going to use your SUV to haul your kids to their next Little League game, not for an off-road adventure through the Baja desert. So why put those big knobby all-terrain tires on it? Manufacturers are now offering a wide variety of tires for all sorts of driving conditions; for SUV drivers, so-called Sport Truck tires offer a great-looking (and functional) alternative to traditional off-road tires. If you live in parts of the country that get a fair share of rain and snow, and drive a regular car or minivan, consider all-season tires that display the M&S symbol on the sidewall – those tires will perform well during the winter months.
Consider how your car performs.
If you own a sports sedan or coupe, you’ll want tires that optimize your car’s abilities. In fact, spending a bit more for high performance tires might be a safer choice. That’s because high performance tires are built to withstand the stress of hard cornering, quick stops, and acceleration – notably, the rubber compound is softer than that of a standard tire, making it “stickier” on the roads. But the truth is that most of us are just fine with all-purpose Touring tires, designed to perform well on highways as well as surface streets.
Remember that along with picking the best type of tire for your car, you’ll want to make sure that you know how to maintain those tires, and replace them when it’s time to do so.