Tires are the final point of contact in getting the engine power to the ground, so it’s a pretty important part of the car. Whether or not it’s the most important is debatable, as getting the car moving depends on a clutch, transmission, differential, axles and tires all working together. However a tire blowout at freeway speeds is something dangerous enough to severely injure yourself and others, so choosing the correct tire is paramount.
There are multiple different tire compounds for multiple conditions, because unfortunately what’s safest and best in hot weather isn’t necessarily going to be safest and best in cold or wet weather. For that reason, when buying tires you must take into account the climate you live in and choose accordingly.
Residents in certain parts of Alaska or Canada might want to invest in snow tires, whereas Silicon Valley residents could get away with summer tires. It just depends on what your car is up against, and that includes your driving style. It is of course possible to run whatever compound you want, but just make sure it’s safe.
While technically there are tires meant for year-round usage, namely all-weather tires, it’s extraordinarily circumstantial. All-season tires in theory should last through every kind of weather, even light snow, but while they handle every kind of weather well, they don’t handle any particular kind of weather exceptionally.
In areas of extreme temperatures, all-season or all-weather tires might not be the best option. However if you live in a place with moderate temperatures, then all-season or all-weather tires are a solid choice. There are also choices of high performance all-season tires, as well as ultra high performance all-season tires.
Geared more towards performance, summer tires offer better grip for cornering and braking thanks to their tread pattern and compound material. They tend to be a bit more expensive, and probably won’t last as long as all-season tires, but the point of them is mostly to aid a driver in high speed exploits. There are also max performance summer grade tires, and ultra performance summer tires, the differences of those from the normal summer tires being even better handling and grip.
These tires are not intended for snow or ice, but rather are ideal for wet or dry conditions. Grand touring tires offer good street performance including handling capabilities, ride noise and comfort. There’s all-season grand touring tires as well.
Sometimes, when you find you’re driving on ice the car might slide around uncontrollably. This is due to the fact that ice is interrupting your tire’s ability to effectively create friction against the road. A solution to this is to buy ice and snow tires with little metal studs protruding from the tread.
It’s up to the studs to break through the icy blanket covering the road and into the tarmac, thus creating grip. With this comes a few inconveniences though, including a noisy ride and road damage. To combat these idiosyncrasies, studless ice and snow tires were born.
Studded tires have become very limited in a legal sense, in terms of their usage. Some states have allowed them only in certain times of the year under certain conditions, while other states have simply outlawed them completely. Studless tires are the new frontier, and thanks to new rubber compound technology, studless tires accomplish what studded tires did, without the headaches that follow.
They use increased flexibility to dynamically interact with the changing road conditions, where a non-ice or snow tire would become rigid with the outside temperature. Snow tires in general have deeper treads, ad are therefore able to cut through snow down to the tarmac. There are also *studless tires for light trucks and SUVs, as well as performance versions of each.
Imagine all the performance and capability found in the studless winter tires and then enhance it. Performance winter and snow tires are exactly that. Winter conditions, including ice and snow are unpredictable, so you need a tire that is equally adaptable. Performance winter and snow tires are designed to chop through such conditions and maintain optimal handling performance.
Tires designed exclusively for speed contests are called slicks, and have no tread in order to maximize the surface area of the tire against the tarmac. Slicks heat up quicker than street tires, and don’t last as long but will deliver the best grip imaginable, which makes for quicker lap times around the track.
While this sounds perfect to some people, others want a tire that they can take from the street to the track, and vice versa. Such tires do exist, and they are quite expensive. Some of these tires must remain street legal, so they do have some amount of tread, but it’s very little when compared to an all-season or even a performance summer tire. However there are some tires with barely any tread that are still not street legal, so be sure to check with your state's tire laws.
There are some people who like to drive their trucks aggressively, and possibly race them on a track. For that there are summer tires designed for trucks. They are big, but are a zero-gravity moon step up from normal street tires when it comes to handling and braking. So if you’re looking for a tire that can help make your truck handle as close as possible to a Ferrari, sport truck performance tires might be the way to go.
These tires are mainly for larger cars like crossovers, SUV or pickup truck. Highway tires provide comfort and exceptional handling for all-season applications, including light snow.
If you take the street/sport truck summer tire and an all-season tire and smash them together, you get the Crossover/SUV Touring All-Season tire. While it is technically an all-season tire and therefore not so great in the snow, it combines the look of sport truck tires with the functionality of all-season tires for SUV and crossover applications. This is a comfortable tire for your crossover car in terms of ride quality.
These are strictly for recreational/off-road usage. The only kind of person who can maximize the use of these tires is a park ranger with an itch for bounding their Jeep Wrangler through pools of thick mud. They are not legal for street usage, however if off-roading is what you’re after then nothing is better for traction and getting out of tight spots than purpose-built off-road tires.
Choosing the correct tire for you depends on where you live as much as how you drive. If you’re an aggressive driver who lives in a snowy area, performance winter tires are your best bet. If you’re a happy-go-lucky commuter in Northern California, then all-season tires are probably a good choice. It’s all about how you evaluate yourself as a driver, and how you deal with your surroundings.
Avid Formula 1 fan and motorcyclist, I enjoy chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and long rides to the beach.