There are so many different types of tires and so many different tire categories that it can be a bit daunting. Which should you choose? Do you drive a sports car and need a set of tires that performs at higher speeds? Or do you drive a heavy-duty pickup truck and need tires that will provide superior traction in off-road conditions? Knowing the different types of tires that will best serve your driving style is the right place to start.
Tire types and why they matter
There’s a right type of tire for everyone, based on three simple criteria. To make sure that you’re choosing the right set for yourself, step back for a second and think about what type of driving you do on a daily basis. Think about the weather you drive in — is it pretty mild year round, or does the temperature regularly dip below 45°F/7.2°C? Think about the type of vehicle you drive and how you drive it — or how you want to drive it.
Check out the various tire types detailed below, and see if you can place yourself into one of the categories based on your vehicle, your weather and your everyday use.
If you drive a standard-size passenger vehicle, such as a car, an SUV or a minivan, in a climate that doesn’t typically drop below 45°F/7.2°C for the greater part of the year, then summer tires are a good bet for you. Summer tires perform well in both wet and dry conditions — but we’re talking “wet” as in some rain here or there, not heavy snow, sleet or otherwise monsoonal moisture. If you’re looking for a set of tires that provides superior all-season traction, then summer tires are definitely not for you.
Also, take a look at summer tires’ tread, and you’ll see orbital grooves and detailed patterns — these help provide the best dry road performance in summertime temperatures.
Winter tires, or snow tires
If you live in a climate where the temperature regularly drops below 45°F/7.2°C — or in an area where snow and ice linger for months on end — then a set of winter tires, also known as snow tires, is likely a wise choice to get you through the snowy season. Snow tires are specifically engineered to perform in wintery conditions, equipping you the traction, grip and control that summer tires simply aren’t built to provide. The special rubber compounds in winter tires stay softer and more pliable than summer or all-season tires in frigid conditions, giving you a better grip and superior braking ability.
Another key difference is in winter tires’ physical design — look closely, and you’ll notice that they feature hundreds of small cuts in the rubber, called sipes, which create tiny edges that provide increased traction by gripping and grabbing wet, icy and snowy roads. Couple those sipes with deep grooves and channels in the tread that are meant to dissipate water, slush and snow, and it’s clear to see why winter tires provide the utmost traction and peace of mind when frigid conditions arrive.
Don’t let the term “all-season tires” mislead you — the four seasons in Florida and Arizona are vastly different than the four seasons in North Dakota and Michigan. If you live in a region with relatively mild winters, then all-season tires will likely do the trick, as they are technically built to handle both wet and dry roads year round, including light snow. But if you’re looking for high traction and a good grip in serious snow and ice, you might want to look elsewhere. All-season tires are available in two standard classes: Touring tires and Passenger tires.
All-season touring tires — Lower noise and better handling
All-season passenger tires— Smoother ride and longer lasting
All-season tires have grooves and a tread that are good enough to perform in the occasional rain or light snow, but they’re not ideal if you frequently drive on wet roads or in heavier snow. Their multi-purpose tread is adequate but not as efficient at channeling water away or gripping the road as other weather-specific tire types. They are also made with a harder rubber compound that gets even firmer in freezing-cold conditions — so as temperatures drop, the overall traction between the icy road and your tires does too.
Here’s the good news: You don’t have to own a six-figure exotic sports car with falcon wing doors to own a set of performance tires. It doesn’t matter if you drive a modest sedan or a family minivan — performance tires provide the feel of something faster, plus increased handling and better cornering. The most common types of performance tires include basic performance, high performance, ultra-high performance and competition.
Performance tires are typically wider, with shallow treads, making for a lower-profile look and feel, greater traction and better contact with the road.
The type of truck tire you need depends on the type of truck you drive and the activities you do in it. Do you drive in off-road conditions, like snow and mud? Do you want your vehicle to look like you drive in snow and mud? Either way, there’s a set of truck tires out there for you.
Highway truck tires — Are built with durable, enhanced compounds and tread patterns to resist uneven wear and provide smoother rides in all seasons.
Performance truck tires — Are similar to highway truck tires but built to withstand higher speeds and provide superior braking and handling in all road conditions.
All-terrain truck tires — Have a larger tread with multiple patterns, designed to handle gravel, sand and light mud.
Off-road or mud terrain truck tires— Boast the largest, most aggressive tread pattern, designed to handle off-road conditions like deep snow, silt and heavy mud.
There is a tire type for virtually all driving styles and driving conditions. So when you’re in the market for a new set of tires, knowing which type of tire will best serve your particular vehicle and your needs is the first step; it’s always a good idea to follow your vehicle’s manufacturer recommended tire specifications when considering which tire to buy.