Buying new tires can be an expensive and annoying responsibility of car ownership, and it is easy to push these tasks to the back burner for as long as possible.
Buying new tires is not just a costly and stressful chore, either — it is an incredibly important decision. The tires you buy can actually make a significant difference on your car’s ride quality and safety.
The different types of tires, like snow tires and summer tires, are essential to use in different seasons and weather conditions, while other factors can even harshen your car’s ride quality, making it so you feel every bump and imperfection in the road.
That doesn’t mean you have to buy the most expensive tires you can find on the market, either, and depending on the vehicle you drive, that can mean spending well over $1000. But not all tires are created equal, and some brands deserve the recognition they’ve received for consistently providing high-quality tires that are worth their price. The trick to buying tires is to get the best quality that will last, while staying within your budget.
What does it mean for a brand to produce ‘good’ tires
While it seems like the more obvious choices are the big-name tire brands like Michelin and GoodYear, there is actually quite a bit of science and engineering behind what makes a quality tire. There are several things to take into consideration when looking at tire quality, and all of these factors are important. The testing conducted by major companies runs from generalized tests, such as the tire’s wear over time and mileage, and other tests are conducted on weather-specific tires, like how the tire affects breaking time on ice for snow tires.
Proper tire maintenance
Proper tire maintenance can also play a significant factor after you buy new tires and is something important that you should keep in mind. Keeping your tires at the correct tire pressure as indicated in your vehicle’s owner’s manual, typically on the inside of the driver’s door frame and occasionally on the tire itself, will help your tire perform to the best of its ability. Having tires that are over-inflated can cause just as many problems as having tires that are under-inflated and can cause unnecessary wear of your tires as well as diminish your vehicle’s fuel economy.
Ensuring your car has a proper alignment will also help your tire wear as it is supposed to over time. If the wheel’s camber is not correctly set, you can be wearing one edge of the tires more than the other, leading to uneven wear. If that happens on the inside of the tire, it may be difficult to visually inspect and may lead some drivers to continue driving on tires that are well past their tread life.
What makes a tire brand ‘the best’
In order to properly assess what brand makes the best of each specific tire, it would take a lot of in-depth attention to every fine detail of each specific type and size of the tires across all of the brands. In order to consider a brand one of the top options, it’s important to look at not only the brand’s quality but also its ability to produce this quality for as many consumers as possible.
For example, while Hoosier is known for having some of the best drag radials they aren’t going to be your first pick for your standard passenger car. To start, we look at the tire brands that aren't just widely known for their quality but also have the most accessible assortment of tires to meet consumer needs.
The second and more measurable factor when comparing tire quality is provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This grading system, the Uniform Tire Quality Grading (UTQG), directly compares the performance of tires on a universal scale and includes a scoring or grade for tread wear, traction, and temperature. You can look up the UTQG ratings of any specific brand, tire line, and size through the NHTSA secondary website, safercar.gov.
The treadwear is a tire’s expectant lifespan of the tire’s tread with a control score of 100. For scale, the average tire used for a passenger car will typically have a score between 300 and 500. Only 6% of measured tires receive a score over 500, and 2% of tires receive a rating of 600 or over.
This grade refers to the tire’s ability to perform and brake on wet pavement. Much like grade school, tires with a score of an AA or A are considered better tires and allow the driver to come to a complete stop on wet pavement in a shorter distance than required by tires with lower grades such as a B or C. The average tire rating is an A, with 77% of tires fitting into this grade.
Tire blowouts and tread separation can be caused by excessive and sustained exposure to high heat. Temperature grades may not seem as important in northern states that don’t experience intensely hot climates, but the grade is relevant nonetheless. The temperature grade of a tire refers to the resistance of the tires to higher temperatures, with most tires averaging an A rating.
Best Tire Brands
Michelin makes every list of best tires out there, and for a good reason. The household name has had a long-standing reputation as being reputable and reliable, not to mention we are all familiar with the lovable Michelin Man mascot. The popular brand offers one of the largest selections of tires, from performance tires to specialized tires; Michelin has developed and produced everything from car and motorcycle tires to bicycle and airplane tires.
The brand conducts rigorous testing of its own and holds up well to the NHTSA’s UTQG standards. On average, Michelin tires have received higher than standard treadwear scores and consistently prove to compete with top-tier marks for temperature and traction grades.
Continental is another tire brand most car owners are pretty familiar with, and as one of the largest tire manufacturers by volume around the world, their reputation is sure to proceed them. Like Michelin, Continental tires are a bit cost-prohibitive for buyers on a tighter budget, but if you are looking to spend a bit more on quality tires, you won’t find yourself disappointed.
They offer a wide variety of tire lines and sizes with a stronghold on the all-season tire market. The average Continental tests with above average treadwear scores, some ranging as high as the 800s, they consistently receive A grades for both traction and temperature ratings.
Toyo Tires isn’t an unpopular brand, but it is more popular among motorsports and off-road enthusiasts than your standard daily driver. Despite its reputation, Toyo Tires offers surprisingly affordable options in comparison to other brands of the same quality, but they do have limited options for standard sedans and passenger vehicles. Consumers that lean more towards environmentally-active companies might choose Toyo Tires because of their focus on sustainability, as shown by their eagerness to take part in the Sustainable Natural Rubber initiative.
Toyo Tires have a pretty average treadwear score, typically leaning between 300 and 600, which isn’t bad considering that those are the national averages, but it isn’t quite as impressive as options offered by Michelin and Continental. The brand also receives an average of A ratings for both traction and temperature grades.
It seems like you can’t go wrong with Goodyear, seeing as it is the official partner of NASCAR, but there are more reasons to value the brand than it’s performance in motorsports. Among a plentiful selection of tire lines and sizes, the Goodyear brand is known for offering great tires for daily driven cars, but they do tend to range on the pricier side.
What you get for that small bump in cost is reflected in the average rankings for the brand’s treadwear scores, where it isn’t unusual to see scores well above the average and continuously receiving ratings of 500 - 800 for their most popular lines. Goodyear tires also see a typical A rating for traction but dip down into the B level for many temperature grades.
Bridgestone is another big name in the tire market as one of the world’s largest manufacturers of tires. The brand offers a wide range of tires and is often highlighted for their above-average winter tires and run-flat tires, but they also run on the more expensive side of the price scale. Run-flat tires have become increasingly popular among not only car owners but manufacturers themselves.
Run-flats allow drivers to continue driving a short distance after the tire has gone flat — which can happen for a variety of reasons. Run-flats can mean the difference between changing a tire on the side of the highway or waiting for a tow truck or making it to a safe location or mechanic to have the tire replaced. The brand’s popular tires received average ratings for all of the UTQG categories.
Pirelli is the popular tire brand of choice for many sports car and luxury car enthusiasts. The company puts a lot of focus on environmentally friendly tires that promote the best fuel efficiency, and besides the high price, you would be hard-pressed to find genuinely negative reviews of the brand. If you have ever purchased vehicles from manufacturers like Audi, BMW, and Porsche new from the factory, you will likely find the wheels toting a set of Pirelli tires straight from the factory.
Pirelli offers a wide variety of tire types and sizes, including everything from cars, to SUVs, to motorcycles. On the UTQG scales, Pirelli tires often receive above-average tread wear scores, almost straight-As for traction, but drop down to consistent Bs for temperature.
The Yokohama tire brand might not be a household name, but it isn’t unfamiliar to sports car owners. Yokohama tires are known for being popular among motorsport enthusiasts, but they do offer tire lines that fit most daily vehicles, including sedans, trucks, and SUVs. Their performance and all-season tires are the highlights of the brand, and they are regarded as a more affordable alternative to many other name-brand tires.
Unlike other tire brands, the UTQG scores for Yokohama are all over the board, with their ultra-high performance tires dropping down below 200 on the treadwear score, but their standard passenger-car oriented tires sitting within average to slightly above-average scores. Traction score ratings vary between an average of As to above-average AAs, while the temperature scores bounce back and forth pretty evenly between As and Bs.
Cooper tires range towards the more affordable price range for most drivers without completely sacrificing quality. The company offers an extensive treadwear warranty on most of their tire lines, which does a lot to reassure customers that they are making a great purchase, but all of these highlights don’t come without compromise. Unlike other brands on this list, Cooper tires put a primary focus on passenger cars, trucks, and SUVs and have a rather limited variety of tires.
For a lower price point, drivers aren’t sacrificing quality, as the UTQG scores show most lines having slightly above-average treadwear scores and traction ratings while only dropping slightly into the Bs for temperature.
BF Goodrich is another modestly-priced brand of tires that offers a generous range in tire lines for standard passenger vehicles like sedans, trucks, and SUVs but doesn’t have as much to offer for performance lines. Overall these seem to be the best mid-range tires if you aren’t overly concerned with having performance-oriented tires and just want something of quality on your daily driven vehicle.
The average UTQG ratings for BF Goodrich tires is about what you would expect for the price. Tire lines from this brand typically range a treadwear score at or slightly above average while balancing responsible grades for traction and temperature.
General is one of the biggest tire manufacturers in the United States market, offering just about every tire line and size needed for standard streetcars, trucks, and SUVs. They also offer an impressive and good-quality line-up of off-road tire options as well, making them a great option for adventure and over-landing enthusiasts.
Across the board, General tires typically receive above-average treadwear ratings, so they are a great option for the price. They won’t leave you feeling overwhelmingly impressed with their traction or temperature ratings, but the scores aren’t concerning, either.
No-name tire brands
If you stop into Walmart or have taken to ordering your own tires off of Amazon Prime, chances are you’ve thought you hit the jackpot with affordable tires. While many of these no-name and smaller brand tire companies do offer cheaper tires, they are often far less effective and wear faster, meaning you’re likely to find yourself in need of new tires sooner rather than later. If you check out the UTQG ratings for these tires, they are typically on the lower end of the average score, or sometimes even below.
While it can sometimes be appealing to spend less money on tires, they serve an important purpose for your vehicle, and the purchase shouldn’t be taken lightly. The UTQG ratings might hint towards the longevity of each tire, but the traction and temperature scores are also important for driver and passenger safety. As the only point of contact between your car and the pavement, your tires can mean the difference between maintaining traction in dangerous weather conditions and quickly coming to a complete stop in an emergency or losing control of your vehicle.
Like cars, tires themselves also come with two types of warranties. While the conditions of each may change depending on the brand and line of tire, these warranties include a limited warranty and a mileage warranty. When looking at tire brands, the warranty can be the make-or-break point for the final purchasing decision, as most buyers want a product that the manufacturer is willing to stand behind. A tire’s limited warranty covers the basics, such as manufacturing defects or any problems caused by the workmanship of the tire. The top-rated brands often extend the limited warranty throughout the life of the tire.
The other warranty covered by many manufacturers is the mileage warranty. As the name suggests, the mileage warranty, or tread-life warranty, protects the buyer in the case that the tire wears faster than it is supposed to. There are many factors that play into a tire’s tread-life that are taken into consideration, making this warranty a tad harder to approve, but many manufacturers offer mileage warranties on their tires regardless. Mileage warranty is often tire-type specific rather than brand-specific, which is an important thing to keep in mind when purchasing.
For many people, buying tires can be stressful and expensive, and for the most part, we tend to avoid having to tackle the chore for as long as we can. It is always important to keep in mind what you want from your tires, which can vary depending on what kind of vehicle you drive and even how often you drive it. Balancing quality, longevity, and cost sometimes means having to make compromises, but when it comes to vehicle safety, buying from the best tire brands doesn’t hurt.
About THE AUTHOR
I am a female car enthusiast with an obsession for cars that need a little love. Unfortunately for me, that means I spend as much time under the hood of my cars as I do behind the wheel. I’ve tackled every aspect of car ownership and repair, from welding and fabrication to basic maintenance, and the inevitable (and dreadful) car purchasing grind.Read More About Gabrielle DeSantis