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Performance Tires

How to Choose the Proper Tire

Choosing the correct tires for your car, truck, or SUV can be a challenging process with the massive selection available on the market these days. If you choose the wrong tire for your application, you will reduce the performance capabilities of your vehicle and potentially put you in danger in bad weather. When you are looking for a new set of tires, you want to start with determining the intended application for your vehicle.​

There are three main categories of tires: summer, winter, and all-season. The average consumer will purchase an all-season tire to keep costs down so they don’t have to pay for a summer tire set and a winter tire set. While this approach can provide you a decent, well-rounded performance all year long, there are substantial differences in the needs of a performance tire on the hot pavement vs the icy roads.

Summer performance tires will deliver substantial improvements in handling and dry/wet braking, but they have terrible traction on the snow and ice. Most racecars run on tires that have little to no threads, they have soft flat rubber that will hug the pavement around corners and give you the traction you need when you punch the accelerator. Contrast that to the wet, slippery roads of winter. Imagine trying to drive down a wet or icy road on a set of racing slicks.

Winter tires, by contrast, provide you outstanding snow traction but have poor performance when braking or taking hard turns on clear roads. Winter tires tend to have more aggressive treads which are great for handling rain, snow, and ice, but perform poorly in performance applications. The greater the contact surface with the road, the better the tires will grip the road. Aggressive treads reduce the contact surface of the tire to the pavement which is beneficial in winter, but determinantal in summer.

Reading Tire Size

The first step in looking for new tires is determining the size of your existing tires so you know where to start in the shopping process. Reading your tires size can be a bit cryptic at first glance, but it’s actually fairly straight forward once you have the key to what all the numbers mean. Here is a brief guide to walk you through the process.

Wheel Diameter

The wheel diameter measurement signifies the size of wheel the tire will fit on. The size of the wheel is measured across from one end to the other. A size P215/65 R15 tire would fit a 15” diameter wheel. Standard tire sizes, which are measured by width in inches are: 8, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 26, and 28.

Tire Construction

The construction of a tire is designated by the letter which follows the two-digit aspect ratio. The tire construction designates how the tire is built. Almost every tire sold in the US today is a radial tire which is designated by an R. A radial tire is constructed by the internal body plies of the tire radiating outward from the center. A D represents a bias ply construction which means the internal body plies crisscross in a diagonal pattern in the tire. A B stands for belted tires which refers to internal plies which crisscross similar to a bias ply tire but also include an additional extra layer of reinforced belts in the tread area.

Tire Type

Tire Type is designated by a letter at the beginning of the tire size reading stamped on the side of your tire. There are several letter possibilities designating different tire sizes. Here is an explanation of each letter possibility:

  • P = P-Metric which are the most common type of passenger tire. The P stands for a passenger vehicle which means your tires were manufactured to be used on passenger cars, minivans, light-duty trucks, and SUVs. (Example: P215/65R17 98T)
  • LT = Light Truck which are typically found on vehicles that tow which are used to carry heavy loads and tow trailers. LT tires are typically found on SUVs, vans, and medium and heavy duty trucks with a ¾ to to 1-ton capacity. (Example: LT235/75R15 104/101S/C)
  • T = Temporary Spare which designates the tire is a temporary spare. These tires are also referred to as mini spares and are designed for short-term use only to get you to a repair shop in the case your tire gets a flat. (Example: T145/70R17 106M)
  • C = Commercial which are tires designated for commercial applications such as vans and delivery trucks capable of carrying heavy loads. Commercial tires are also branded with a load range and service description rating such as B, C, or D. (Example: 31×10.50R15/ C109R)
  • Blank = Metric / Euro Metric. When there is no letter in front of the tire size stamp, it designates the tires was made in Europe. Euro-Metric tire sizes are equivalent to P-Metrix sizes however, they have subtle differences in their capabilities and load ratings.

Tire Width

The tire width measurement is the tire width from sidewall to sidewall. The first three digits in the number refers to the width of your tires. For example, if your tire reads P215/65 R15, the width of your tire would be 215 millimeters.

Tire Aspect Ratio

The tire aspect ratio is the ratio of the height of the tire’s cross-section to its width. The aspect ratio is a two-digit number which is after the slash mark of the tire’s size. For example, a P215/65 R15 tire, the 65 designates that the height of the tire is 65% of the width of the tire. The larger the aspect ratio, the larger the sidewall of the tire will be.

Tire Speed Rating

The speed rating in the tire measurement designates the top speed at which the tire is rated at. A tire with an H-speed rating for example, has a speed rating of 130 mph. Performance tires typically have a rating of Z which designates a speed rating of 149+ miles per hour.

What Style of Tire Do I Need?

When deciding what kind of tire to purchase, tire manufacturers have made it relatively easy by categorizing tires by their intended use. Once you know what size tire you need for your application, the next step is to determine the style of tire you’ll need for your intended application. Below is a list of the different tire categories to help you understand the benefits of that each offers.​

  • All Season Tires: Intended for use year-round, all-season tire attempt to incorporate the benefits of summer tires with winter tires. The typically come with S or T speed ratings and are good for all-weather grip. They are manufacture red to last a long time and are available for almost any mainstream car, truck or SUV. An all-season tire won’t provide you high performance in winter or summer applications and is typically not recommended for the true automotive enthusiast.​

  • Performance All-Season Tires: There is a relatively newer style of tire available on the market that is available on newer sporty vehicles as an upgrade package. These tires are similar to their regular all-season counterparts however, they come with higher H and V speed ratings and tend to have improved cornering grip that S and T speed rated tires. Performance all-season tires tend to wear faster than their non-performance counterpart due to the softer compounds used for improved performance.
  • Ultra-High Performance All-Season and Summer Tires: Ultra-High performance tires typically come with Z, W, and Y speed ratings and are intended for performance sedans and sports cars. Differentiating between a summer tire and an all-season tire can be challenging and may require researching more details about the tire details. Summer tires typically do not have mud and snow designations on the sidewall.
  • All-Terrain Truck Tires: All-Terrain tires typically are available in large sizes and are developed for towing and hauling duties. These tires are generally found on light-duty pickups and SUVs and come with more aggress tread patterns for off-road traction. All-Terrain tires general have “All-Terrain” or “A/T” stamped on the sidewall.
  • Snow & Winter Tires: Snow tires are manufactured to provide improved traction when encountering snowy and icy roads. Snow tires are identified by a snowflake and mountain symbol stamped on the sidewall of the tire. The tread is generally more aggressive than all-season tires with lots of sipes or slits on the tires. Any time you are installing snow tires on your vehicle, you should always do so in a set of 4 to optimize your braking and handling.