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Buying Tires

Buying tires suited to a driver's preferences can make a great difference in how a car performs.

Professionals can offer invaluable advice when buying tires.
Professionals can offer invaluable advice when buying tires.

Buying Tires

Buying tires for an automobile is one of the most important decisions an owner will make during the lifetime of the car. Without reliable, safe tires, any automobile is unsafe at any speed.

In order to make an informed choice about buying tires, a potential buyer must first know what kind of tires are appropriate for the vehicle. The DIY Network says that the proper tire size for the vehicle is listed in the owner's manual and may also be printed on a decal attached to the vehicle, usually on the door edge or in the trunk. A local dealership or the Internet can also be a ready source of this information.

The next choice to make is what style of tire most closely corresponds to one's driving preferences. Engineers design tires to be best adapted for such criteria as a comfortable ride, long-term durability, traction in rain or snow, or sporty handling. In the real world, quick, agile handling and an easy comfortable ride cannot often be engineered into the same tire. Choosing a primary style of tire often means compromising on some other characteristic.

One must select a tire based on its reliability. The more reliable and longer lasting a tire is, the more it is likely to cost. The reliability of a new tire can often be judged by referencing the Uniform Tire Quality Grading System (UTQG) rating for a tire as established by the U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Agency.

What Do the Numbers on a Tire Mean?

All American tires have a number molded into the sidewall of each tire that indicates the make and size of the tire. These numbers have a standardized meaning. A typical example would be P245/75 R16 109S. Goodyear Tires, an industry leader, explains the system for consumers on its U.S. website.

In this number the letter P stands for the tire type, which means that it is for a passenger car. If the tire has an LT in this position, the tire is for a light truck.

The 245 in this example stands for the tire width, which is measured in millimeters. This sample tire is 245 millimeters wide.

The 75 indicates the aspect ratio, which is the ratio of the height of the tires cross-section to its sidewall. In the example, this tires height is 75 percent of its width.

The R stands for how the layers of the tire were put together. This R means that the layers of this tire run radially across the tire. If this letter had been a B, the layers of this tire would have been run diagonally.

The 16 on this tire stands for wheel diameter. The diameter of this wheel is 16 inches across.

The 109 stands for load index which is the load that the tire can carry in pounds if it is properly inflated.

The S in the foregoing example stands for the speed rating of this tire. This S means the maximum speed the tire can safely reach is 112 mph. This speed rating applies to maximum speed capability for this tire and is not a recommended speed for everyday driving.

Selecting a Tire Style

All drivers have different driving habits and preferences. Some drivers prefer a sports car feel when they're behind the wheel while others prefer the cushy, comfortable ride of a luxury sedan. The prospective buyer must also decide whether to select a tire that performs well in a wide variety of weather and terrain conditions or one that is specifically designed to perform well in the rain or snow or off-road.

Consumer Search recommends all-season tires as a good choice for the driver who lives in a moderate climate and who enjoys a comfortable ride without much noise.

Touring tires offer a comfortable, quiet ride with better handling than all season tires, but they are usually more expensive.

High-performance tires provide better traction in all conditions and superior handling. On the other hand, they are more expensive and have a noisier, less comfortable ride.

Drivers who live in cities and states where winter precipitation is in the form of snow and ice must also consider whether or not to put snow tires on during the winter months. Even cars with traction control or an ABS braking system do not have substantial traction on ice nor will they function reliably in the deep snow. In wintery climates, snow tires are always a good option.

What is the Uniform Quality Grading System (UTQG)?

The UTQG rates tires on three performance factors: traction, tread wear and temperature resistance, according to Tire Rack.com.

Tread wear in this system has a baseline rating of 100. If the rating is less than 100, a tire is of poorer tread quality. If this rating is more than 100, the tire's tread quality is better. A tire with a tread wear rating of 200 would last two-times as long as one that has a 100 rating, and a tire with a 50 rating would last half as long as the baseline tire. Consumer Reports notes that grades for tread wear should be used only for comparisons within a product line for a single manufacturer.

The traction grade represents the tire's ability to come to a complete stop on wet pavement, as measured on surfaces of concrete and asphalt. This grade is modeled upon straight-ahead braking tests and does not measure cornering ability. A traction grade of A is awarded the best tires, B for those with intermediate braking characteristics and C for those tires which receive only an acceptable rating.

The temperature resistance rating represents a tires reliability when subjected to the heat generated by the tire on an indoor laboratory wheel used for testing. High temperatures can degrade the materials in a tire, and sustained, excessive heat can cause the tire to fail. The UTGC grades for temperature resistance are: A for best quality, B for intermediate quality and C for acceptable resistance to high temperatures.

Buying tires can be a complicated process, but with a little preparation at home, it can become quite manageable. The prospective buyer must choose tires that are the right size for the vehicle, that are appropriate for the drivers driving habits and personal preferences, and that keep the family car safely on the road for years to come.

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