What’s The Best Tire for Your Car?
What’s the Best Tire for Your Car?
Little known fact: During my consulting days, I spent two years doing ride-and-drive programs for GoodYear tires. I visited two factories, their corporate headquarters and underwent extensive training on what makes a good tire. All the dealers used to say that the most frequently asked question was, “what’s the best tire for your car?”
My job was to train the tire dealers about the GoodYear tires so that they could speak intelligently to their customers about the advantages of using GoodYear tires.
After each training session (there were two per day), I’d get out on a road course and do some performance driving with a passenger car, a sports car and a light-duty pickup. each with dealers riding shotgun.
After years of selling tires, consuming tires, shredding tires and blowing out tires, I already considered myself to be somewhat knowledgeable about tires. Turns out, I learned a lot.
I already knew the difference between passenger tires and UHP (Ultra High Performance) tires. I knew about drag slicks, DOT radials, even funny car tires (from my experience servicing drag teams during my tenure at NGK Spark Plugs).
In my youth, my job at Super Shops gave me the opportunity to buy and test tires on the cheap and boy, did I abuse that privilege.
What I learned early on is that the tires that come on our cars from the factory are a compromise. They need to be quiet, they need to handle the road conditions (rain, sleet, snow, hot days, icy days) and provide decent tread life.
Since the1980’s, when bias-ply tires had gone extinct in favor of radial tires, car companies started to offer UHP tires for their sports car offerings. In the early 80s, Mustangs and Corvettes were among the growing number of cars offering this option.
I’ve driven the early Mustang SVO, the 1985 Corvette, and the 1985 Mustang GT at length. Each of them had GoodYear Eagle radials which were all the rage back then.
Through the years, as I rotated vehicles, I had the opportunity to try many of the top name brand tires – Michelin, Pirelli, Yokohama, BFGoodrich, Continental, Toyo, Falken, and Hankook, to name a few.
Today, my R35 GT-R sits on Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires (version 3). Largely because of three reasons: 1) the 285/35 and 335/30/20 sizes are ideal for my Volk TE 37s. 2) They’re a proven tire. This is a great street tire that handles well, lasts more than 12,000 with a conservative alignment and 3) They still work in the rain and although we rarely get rain in Southern California, I know I won’t die from hydroplaning should I be caught out.
My previous Toyo R888 (not the newer R888R) tires were too noisy for daily driving. That’s one of the compromises you have to make when you go with sticky rubber.
Another is short tread life. My R888s were good for maybe 8,000 miles on the street. Since I’m not canyon carving on weekends, I just don’t need that kind of grip.
The original tires were Dunlop RunFlats. With a super stiff sidewall, mediocre grip, and a short life of about 8,000 miles, I moved on to the Michelin tires because of the reasons stated above.
For track days, I have a set of Toyo R888 mounted to extra wheels. For street duty, I’ve stuck with the MPSS and I’m on my second set since I bought the car (factoring in the original Dunlop Run Flats, this is the third set of tires I’ve had on this car.)
Different forms of motorsports demand different types of tires. Drifting, for example, is dominated by companies like Falken and a handful of others. Falken has been doing it for decades and has a proven recipe. There are other competent tire companies in this space so my advice is to experiment.
Understanding Tire Sidewall Ratings
On the tire at right, “215” is the cross-section width in millimeters; 60 is the ratio of sidewall height to its width (60 percent); R indicates radial-ply construction; and 16 is the wheel rim’s diameter in inches.
‘Shorthand for the weight each tire can carry safely. The 94 here means 1,477 pounds per tire—pretty typical for a midsized car tire. That’s the maximum tire load at the maximum pressure.
A letter denoting the tire’s maximum speed when carrying the load defined by the load index—and not how fast you should drive! Standard all-seasons are usually rated S (112 mph) or T (118 mph). Climbing up the scale are the letters H (130 mph), V (149 mph), ZR (149+ mph), W (168 mph), and Y (186 mph). Winter tires may carry the letter Q (99 mph) or higher.
|E||43||70||Z||over 149||over 240|
|G||56||90||over 168||over 270|
|K||68||110||(Y)||over 186||over 300|
By looking at this tire speed rating chart, you can determine that the speed capabilities of an “H” rated tire is limited to 130 mph. This means that you should not under any circumstances push this tire beyond that speed or risk tire failure. Beyond that speed the tire is incapable of handling the strain put on it by centrifugal forces as well as the heat that is generated by the constant flex on the structure of the tire. Whether the tire fails due to the forces tearing it apart or the rubber delaminating due to the high heat is irrelevant. The tire will fail if pushed beyond that speed. So now that you are armed with this information I’m sure you are asking yourself the following questions:
1. So is it really just about how fast you can drive on the tires?
2. Why do vehicle manufacturers put higher performance tires on vehicles that can’t even go that fast?
3. Why should I be worried about installing the proper speed rating on my vehicle?
Let’s go ahead and tackle these questions one by one.
1.) As stated before, it is partially correct that the speed rating does have to do with just how fast you can drive on them. Staying under the speed that the tires are rated for is crucial for your safety as well as the safety of everyone else on the road. This leads into the next question of the vehicle manufacturer’s selection of tires that exceed the speed capabilities of the vehicle.
2.) So why do manufacturers put high-performance tires on vehicles? One good example of this is a Scion tC. This vehicle comes from the factory with tires that are “W” rated. Now I think that we can all agree that the Scion tC will most likely never even get close to 168 mph even downhill with a tailwind (No offense intended to the Scion tuner crowd). What would make them select such a robust tire for this vehicle? Well, the engineers at Scion had to take a number of things into account when selecting the OEM tires. They had to make sure the tires could handle the load put on them from the vehicle. They had to make sure that the tires had good traction and ride quality. They also had to consider the top speed of the vehicle. In this particular case, the vehicle is actually limited to a top speed of 127 mph by electronic means. So why the selection of a “W” rated tire instead of an “H” or “V”? The Scion tC is marketed to a high-performance segment. One of the side effects of speed rating is that the construction necessary to meet a higher speed rating affects the overall performance of the tire. A tire that is built with more cap plies and stiffer sidewalls to handle high speeds will generally handle much better and offer better traction and stopping ability.
3.) So why should you care about tire speed ratings? If you ever get the chance to drive 3 of the same cars with the only change being the tire speed rating, you will quickly see the difference. A vehicle with an “S” speed rating will generally be quieter but will handle poorly when cornering and have a fairly long braking distance. A tire with a “V” rating will be slightly louder than an “S” because the stiffer construction will transmit road noise much more effectively. The “V” will also have a significantly better cornering response and stopping ability. Moving on to a “W” speed-rated tire will have the same effect as moving from the “S” to the “V”. Slightly louder, better handling and generally speaking a shorter braking distance. Vehicle engineers are aware of this and take into consideration the effect that this will have on the vehicle. Why does your Camry have a “V” rated tire? Well, it’s because the suspension installed in your vehicle will work much better with a higher speed-rated tire. It’s also because those good brakes on the vehicle will benefit from the tire’s construction. So why should you be worried about installing the proper speed rating? Because if you would like your vehicle to handle the same, brake at about the same distance and be about as quiet as it was when you bought it, the speed rating will play a significant role in assuring this. You can always go up in speed rating and expect the normal changes in handling, noise, and braking but you should never go down in speed rating. When it comes to emergency maneuvering, wouldn’t you want to have at least the minimum response from your vehicle that it was designed for?
In summary, the speed rating is there for one reason, max speed, but it plays a role in many other factors of the tire’s performance. Not only does it govern how fast you can drive but it also indirectly affects the comfort and response that you will get out of the tire. It is always advisable to maintain, at a minimum, the original speed rating that came on your vehicle. If you are looking for a better performance out of your car without changing the brakes or suspension, one of the easiest ways to do this is to simply upgrade the speed rating of the tire you are installing. Just be aware that the ride may get a little rougher and a little louder.
A government-required number that indicates a tire’s expected wear. A grade of 300 denotes a tire that will wear three times as well as a tire graded 100. But the numbers are assigned by tire manufacturers, not an independent third party.
Traction and temperature scores
Those scores denote a tire’s wet-stopping ability and temperature resistance. For traction, AA is best, C is worst. For temperature resistance, scores range from A (best) to C.
So What’s the best tire for your car?
Short answer: it depends. Think about how you will truly use your car. If you live in Southern California and you’re all about grip for those spirited canyon drives, a sticky (low treadwear, typically under 160) UHP tire will probably give you what you want.
It’s almost always useful to get into Facebook groups that focus on your car and your preferred motorsport activity. If you own an Evo 8 and you do track days, you should belong to Facebook groups that focus on both of these. Ask others with similar mods to your car. Chances are they’ve done all the testing for you. Look at what the fast guys & girls are using and follow their cues.
For my beloved tuner car friends. I recommend any number of offerings from Falken, Toyo, and Michelin. If you live somewhere where water falls from the sky frequently (I think that’s called “rain,”) you may want to find a hybrid tire – one that provides decent grip but still has the tread depth to channel water in the event of a downpour.
There are plenty of tire retailers online. It makes sense to buy from those that are selling tons of tires because those prices will be the lowest.
Here in California, I use Performance Plus Tire in Long Beach. It’s family-owned for 40+ years and they have everything under the sun.