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.
Types of Tires For Passenger Vehicles
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.
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.
- Lower noise and better handling
- 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.
Touring tires, also called Grand touring tires are designed to deliver a comfortable ride and reliable all-season traction, with the addition of more responsive handling. They generally have a higher speed rating than all-season touring tires, and often feature an asymmetrical tread pattern.
Performance sport and sedan vehicles generally require enhanced handling capabilities from their tires. They often want reasonable traction in a variety of conditions, but the focus leans more towards performance than comfort. Some touring sedan owners modify their vehicles, and want a tire with greater performance capabilities. There are luxury options available in both the all-season performance and the summer performance segments.
A common challenge when buying tires is understanding the different types of tires, and which one will work best for you. The easiest way to group tires is to start with the type of your vehicle. After determining which tire types are possibilities for your vehicle, you can determine which type is best for you based on your driving needs.
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 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.
Summer tires are geared for performance in wet and dry conditions. They are not designed for all-season traction. They are optimized for warm weather and deliver grip and responsive handling in wet or dry conditions.
Summer tires generally feature solid contact patches, adequate circumferential grooves for hydroplaning resistance, and little to no sipping. They are ideal for performance vehicles in warmer climates.
5. 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 with 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 looks 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.
6. Track and Competition
Track and competition tires are similar to street performance tires in that they are designed to deliver the pinnacle of performance. Track and competition tires are rarely used for daily driving. They are engineered to provide constant road contact in dry conditions.
They differ from summer tires in their construction, which often features a high-tech body and sidewall reinforcements such as Kevlar or aramid. While these tires may be D.O.T. approved, they are designed for extreme performance and are generally used for amateur track days or professional competitions.
If you are in a competition series, whether a Corvette club or a MINI series, your competition tire specifications are determined by your series’ mandate. To ensure that your competition tires align with your series, it is best to check series bylaws.
Types of Tires for Truck and SUV
Truck and SUV tires are divided up by the different uses of the vehicle. You may need a more aggressive tire that can handle things where the pavement ends, or you may see a lot of highway driving, which would benefit from a smoother, longer-lasting tread. There are truck and SUV tire types that can meet your needs wherever you drive.
Highway tires have all-season tread patterns and are designed to handle the heavier loads of a truck or SUV. They are engineered to be very comfortable on the pavement. Most highway tires have durable compounds and tread patterns that resist uneven wear to deliver long-lasting tread life. They generally feature sipping for enhanced all-season traction.
All-terrain, or A/T tires generally have a more aggressive tread pattern than highway or trail tires. They have larger tread blocks and more voids, which provide traction in off-road driving conditions. A/T tires often feature the Severe Weather Service symbol.
They are designed to handle gravel, sand, and light mud. Most all-terrain tires achieve this off-road traction with little to no on-road discomfort. They provide highway stability and comfort, in addition to the off-road thrills.
Many people enjoy all-terrain tires because they have a more aggressive look with little or minimal sacrifice in noise, comfort, or longevity.
Mud-terrain, or M/T tires feature extremely aggressive tread patterns with very large tread blocks and more voids. This allows the tires to get more traction in soft terrains, such as deep mud and sand. They often have aggressive sidewall features that enhance traction in soft terrain while giving the tire an even more rugged appearance.
Often, the sidewalls will be reinforced to resist punctures, abrasions, and tears that commonly occur when driving off-road. Mud-terrain tires are generally less comfortable on roads, and tend to be noisier than the less aggressive tire options. They are best for vehicles that see regular off-road driving, off-road enthusiasts, or those looking for an off-road appearance.
4. All-Purpose Or Trail
All-Purpose (A/P) or trail tires are only a little more rugged than a standard highway tire. A/P tires generally feature fewer sipes than a highway truck tire. An A/P tread pattern will often include overlapping blocks to provide moderate off-road grip in loose road conditions. A/P tires are commonly referred to as very mild all-terrain tires.
Ribbed tires are designed for the ultimate in highway handling and long-lasting mileage. They generally have a solid rib tread design for enhanced stability, even under a heavy load. This also enhances wet weather traction. Ribbed tires are great for commercial vehicles that see a lot of highway mileage.
6. Sport Truck
Performance truck tires are very similar to highway tires. They feature all-season tread patterns that are optimized for a variety of weather conditions. They generally have sipes for enhanced traction, although not as many sipes as seen on a highway tire. Performance truck tires also feature higher speed ratings than highway tires. Some performance truck tires will feature an asymmetrical tread pattern.