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Types of Tires: Which Should You Use?


While there are many types of vehicles to choose from, each type of vehicle excels in one way or another, but certain sacrifices are made. For example, a sedan might be a comfortable and thrifty commuter, but it would fail miserably on a mountain trail. Similarly, many types of tires are available, each one balancing a number of factors — traction, ride comfort, road noise, lifespan and fuel economy are just a few of these. For each tire, manufacturers use different combinations of rubber compounds, tread blocks and tire construction to deliver the required characteristics.

Summer Tires

These tires are meant to be driven in summer. They offer good traction in high temperatures. Grand touring summer tires offer a balance of wet and dry traction, exceptional ride comfort, and low road noise. Extreme performance summer tires excel on dry pavement, but the grippy tread design often sacrifices wet traction and ride comfort to get there. Summer tires’ hard rubber compounds become extremely hard in winter, offering near zero traction on anything but dry pavement. Sports cars and some sports trucks may benefit from using summer tires. If you live in area where the temperatures rarely approach freezing, a summer tire may be a fine choice.

Winter Tires

Softer rubber and special tread blocks improve winter traction.Snow and winter types of tires are, as the term suggests, meant to be driven in winter, even from late fall to early spring. The softer rubber compound remains pliable and delivers traction in the cold, even on ice. Tread blocks are spaced wider and deeper to cut through snow and slush to firmer surfaces below. Studless ice & snow tires offer better ice and snow traction, while performance snow tires offer better dry pavement traction. Winter tires’ softer rubber compounds become extremely soft in summer, improving traction but wearing out much faster. If snow is expected in your area, practically any vehicle can benefit from a set of snow tires, sedan, truck, sports car or SUV. To make things easier on yourself consider buying a second set of rims to mount your winter tires which can then be stored during the summer. Changing from summer tires to winter tires becomes only a matter of swapping wheels. And always use snow tires in sets of four, you cannot mix and match with other tire types.

All-Season Tires

All-season tires offer a good balance of summer wear resistance and winter traction on dry, wet or snowy surfaces. At the same time, though, they don’t particularly excel in any one area. Grand touring all-season tires offer the best comfort and all-around traction, while an ultra-high performance all-season tire might sacrifice ride comfort and lifespan. When you ask for tires, unless you specify otherwise, these are usually the tires suggested for your car. It’s a good option for both budget and safety on almost any vehicle. If you live in an area that rarely sees snow or extreme cold weather, a set of all-season tires will likely be just fine for you.

Run-Flat Tires (RFT)

These tires are usually fitted to vehicles with no spare tire, often on sports cars where ride comfort is less of a consideration. They are also found on vehicles where weight savings decisions necessitate forgoing a spare tire. The stiff sidewalls of a run-flat tire will help you get off the road or to a garage without ruining your car. If you have a flat tire, though, do not exceed 35 mph speed or 50 miles distance. Traction and handling will be reduced until you get your tire replaced, which will be necessary as once you drive on a run-flat tire without air it must be replaced.

Low Rolling-Resistance (LRR) Tires

Fitted to many hybrids, electric vehicles, and commuters, low-rolling-resistance tires are easier to roll than typical tires, so they reduce drag on the vehicle. For example the BMW i3 rolls on special tall and narrow LRR tires to help with vehicle range. The end result is a 5–15 percent improvement in fuel economy. Today’s LRR tires are nearly indistinguishable from non-LRR tires in terms of traction, road noise, ride comfort and lifespan, so they are a good option for any vehicle they can fit. Keep in mind though that this type of tire is still a niche use, so your local tire shop may have to special order them.

Mud Tires

If you have an off road rig, Jeep, or just like to play in the dirt you may consider stepping up to a dedicated off road tire. Mud tires have big chunky treads designed to claw at the ground for traction. The have an aggressive look that some truck and SUV owners prefer as well. Big open spaced between the tread lugs allow them to shed mud and muck as they spin. Advances in tread design technology helps some mud tires roll much quieter than their roaring predecessors.

Trailer Tires

Trailer tires are designed for much more abuse than your typical passenger car tire. They are also made for carrying heavy loads and straight-line travel. The sidewalls and tread areas are different than a passenger car tire to handle the added stresses. Depending on the trailer and the preferences of the driver the trailer tires may be radials or bias ply. Radial tires ride smooth, shed heat effectively, and have a good overall life span. Bias ply tires are good for heavy loads due to stiffer sidewalls and are usually priced lower. Whichever trailer tire you choose make sure to load rating is up to the job.

We haven’t covered all types of tires in the spectrum — these are just the basics — but this will give you enough information to get started. Make sure to refer to your owner’s manual to make sure any replacement tires are the correct size and type for your vehicle.

Check out all the steering & suspension parts available on NAPAOnline or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more on the types of tires and those recommended for your vehicle, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA Auto Parts store.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Benjamin Jerew View All

Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.

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