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How to choose the right tires

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When choosing the right tires, you need to keep in mind your expected driving needs, so you can accurately convey your requirements to the salespeople. You should find trustworthy auto experts who understand the importance of tread life, driving conditions, speed rating, rise quality and so on.

Replacement tires
When you replace your tires, you should maintain the same size, load carrying capacity and speed rating as the original tires fitted for your vehicle from the factory, experts recommend.

Kurt Berger, manager at Bridgestone Americas explained that the wrong size replacement tires can result in "speedometer error, problems with electronic engine management systems, interference with suspension components and other potential issues."

Insufficient load carrying capacity can cause excessive heat, which can compromise safety. Lower-than-suggested speed ratings can diminish performance handling. You can find these recommended features on the door placard, fuel filler door, glove box or in the owner's manual of the vehicle.

Tread life
Tread life will partially determine how long your tires will last. Aside from the tire's warranty of so many miles, you should look at its Uniform Tire Quality Grading (UTQG).

Edmunds.com contributor Miles Cook said, "The U.S. Department of Transportation requires each manufacturer to grade its tires under the UTQG labeling system and establish ratings for tread wear, traction and temperature resistance."

Each manufacturer conducts these tests independently, following government guidelines. For this reason, tread wear ratings are most accurate when comparing tires of the same brand.

Speed rating
The speed rating represents the safe top speed for a tire under ideal conditions. Here are some common ratings:

  • Q= 99 mph
  • S= 112 mph
  • T= 118 mph
  • U= 124 mph
  • H= 130 mph
  • V= 149 mph
  • W= 168 mph
  • Y= 186 mph

Most drivers won't need to drive more than 150 miles per hour, so any tire with a speed rating that high is most likely superfluous for your needs. Tires with higher speed ratings are typically made with softer rubber compound, resulting in a lower UTQG. So you will need to balance these considerations.

Ride quality
Low ride quality signifies greater vulnerability; the tire is prone to damage more easily.

"A low-profile tire such as a 50 or a 40-series looks great," Cook said, "but can be harsh over bumps or potholes when compared to a 55 or 60." Low-profile tires also have stiffer sidewalls, resulting in increased harshness but improved handling.

Noise
The specifics of a tire's tread design can result in increased or decreased noise. If you plan to drive primarily or exclusively on city streets at low speeds, noise will not be a large factor. However, if you plan to drive on highways at high speeds, you should talk to your salesperson about the optimal tire to reduce noise.

Inclement weather resistance
If you live in a region that experiences lots of rain or snow, you will need to look for tires that have been designed to best deal with such conditions. Berger says a performance tire will have enhanced dry/wet handling characteristics and sharper steering response.