Tires do a lot of things for you and your car and do them well. They support the weight of the vehicle, keep it glued to the road, and allow you to accelerate, turn, and brake safely. They also provide a smooth ride, absorb road imperfections, wick away snow and rain, and keep fuel use reasonable.
And they can add a performance boost using differing treads and compounds so more of the engine’s power gets down to the road. If your tires are showing signs of wear, and have seen quite a few miles, time to consider a replacement. But which ones do you buy? With so many variables at play, different tire types, and hundreds of brands, choosing what’s right can be a daunting task. Let’s start with the basics.
Winter vs Summer vs All-Season Tyres
The names of the different tire types seem self-explanatory at first. But, they’re different in a lot of ways. And some like winter tires are a legal requirement in Canada, so you’ll have them slapped on your wheels from December 1st to March 15th if you don’t want a fine. Besides performing differently, winter or snow tyres have a more aggressive tread pattern that’s meant to dig into snow, rain, and ice and still provide enough grip. The tread is a few millimetres deeper than in summer variants to get rid of snow and water and the tire compound is softer and more flexible at lower temperatures to better stick to the road. A major difference is that they also wear out sooner.
Summer tires are made of harder compounds that resist wear at higher temperatures, have simpler tread designs with fewer grooves, and are better at removing water (or aquaplaning) to maximize contact with the road. This helps control the car, especially at higher speeds but also means that the car brakes sooner and safer. Using summer tires in warmer weather, then, allows for a more comfortable and safer ride. But when temperatures drop below 7 degrees, time to put on the winter set.
All-season variants are probably what came with the car if you got it new. They are a hybrid between a summer and winter tire. The grooves are deeper than summer variants, treads are similar to winter types but more symmetrical and they have an intermediate compound that works best at temperatures just above freezing. They can deal with some snow but lack the performance of real summer tyres in dry, warm conditions.
Putting the ‘Performance’ in a Performance Tire
By now you’ve come to the conclusion that a summer tire is better in spirited driving. It’s faster, has more grip, allows the car to corner and brake better, and handles rain (but not thicker snow) better than the other two. All good, but there are a lot of differences even among different summer tires.
Performance tires use tech and know-how from years of track racing and bring this to the wider public. They offer improved responsiveness, increased maneuverability and control, and better resistance to heat. This also means they are built differently. Compounds are a little softer than the typical standard summer tire. They have smoother, less pronounced tread for better grip, lower reinforced side walls for cornering stability, multiple rubber and steel ply layers for higher speeds, and stiffer edge walls (or apex) gripping the wheels. There’s also more attention to quality materials and how they hold their ground against different road surfaces and weather conditions.
Moreover, a performance tire will have superb braking in both dry and wet conditions, have very high straight and cornering grip at high speeds on wet and drenched roads, show very low wear and are extremely quiet regardless of how fast you’re driving. Other factors are lower weight, low rolling resistance, and a tire that can lower fuel costs.
Sizes, Lettering, and Numbers – What They Mean
When you’re replacing your tire set think of which tire size fits your wheels, where and how you’ll be driving, and the vehicle they’ll be fitted to. A performance tire for a hatchback will be completely different from a performance tire for an SUV.
Every tire has all the info you need listed on the sidewall. For instance, a typical 225 65 R17 tire (the most common size in Canada) means it has an overall width of 225 mm and a profile height of 65mm, and is a (newer) radial design as opposed to older bias ply variants. This fits a 17-inch wheel. The following number describes how much weight each tire is rated for (or the load rating) and is expressed in numbers between 0 and 150. For example, a tire with a 102 load rating can carry a max of 850 kilos. You’ll also see a speed rating in letters from A to Z. A 225 65 R17 102 H tire can maintain a speed of 210 km/h. Sports and exotic cars have a Y (240km/h), W (270km/h) or Y (300+km/h) speed rating.
Choosing the Right Tyre for Your Car
A new set of tires should last around 50 thousand kilometres in normal everyday driving. If you’re harder on the car this drops significantly and you’ll be running through a set before the end of the season. Extremely expensive track tires fare even worse, lasting just a few track days, or a little less than 500 kilometres.
For cars and trucks used on the street, tires fall into three price brackets – budget, midrange and high-end. Prices usually, but not always, correspond with performance, with the high-end market occupied by the bigger brand names. As with everything, you can find many subpar or mediocre tires from the major high-end brands, and a lot of stellar (but less-known) tire brands that sell for much less. If you know exactly what you’re looking for, you can buy tyres online and save some cash in the process as well.