(Updated on April 12, 2021)
Tires are the only point of contact between your vehicle and the road. Tire quality is the biggest factor that determines how fast you can stop, how much speed you can carry through a corner, what terrain you can traverse, and how much standing water your vehicle can handle without hydroplaning.
If you do end up in a scary situation where you start to lose grip, a high quality tire will also be forgiving at the limit and give up its traction gradually. This will increase your odds of maintaining control over the vehicle, even in a slide.
Having good tires is critical; they are the last component on your vehicle you should skimp on. Below are some of the best tire brands in the world that are available on the market today in several different tire classes.
Best All-Season Tire Brands
As the name implies, all-season tires are designed to work well in both summer and light winter conditions. The compound they are made of works well in wet and dry weather.
Continental is a well-known brand of tire that makes quality tires at reasonable prices. The Continental TrueContact Tour series are probably one of the best set-it-and-forget-it all-season tires and are perfect for sedans, coupes, minivans, wagons, and small SUVs and crossovers.
These tires are trusted to have excellent handling ability and a low stopping distance combined with excellent treadwear.
If you’d like to spend a bit more money to have increased comfort and better fuel economy, the Michelin Defender is a great all-season tire. No matter if the roads are dry, wet, or have light snow on them, Michelin all-season tires are a great option.
Goodyear Assurance Fuel Max is another good fuel-saving tire. This mid-tier all-season tire is one of the best values around and offers excellent wet traction, long tread life, and low rolling resistance to get more miles per gallon.
For better performance all year, even extending into some snowy weather, consider BFGoodrich, Cooper, Falken, and Toyo tire brands. You can expect to pay more for these more premium sets.
Best All-Terrain Tire Brands
All-terrain tires need to be good on many surfaces, such as mud and ice, since they are used off-road and usually also on-road while driving to the off-road area.
Since mainly trucks and SUVs go on such adventures, all-terrain tires tend to reflect this with greater offerings in larger sizes. Aggressive tread, specialized compounds, and tough sidewalls are crucial for this use case.
Read also: Best Tires for SUVs
BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires are notoriously good for maintaining grip in muddy conditions and handling rocky terrain. The All-Terrain T/A KO2 is a popular On/Off-Road tire for drivers of Jeeps, pickup trucks, and SUVs who want go-anywhere traction and durability with decent on-road handling and noise.
The Goodyear Wrangler Trailrunner AT set is part of a line that has been made famous for excellent handling and durability off-road. Its aggressive tread design will provide good traction on almost any surface. When on-road, you’ll be surprised by the quiet ride.
With any all-terrain tires, you can expect a bumpier ride on the highway due to the aggressive tread necessary for the wilderness driving, though these two lines tend to have a relatively comfortable on-road driving experience.
Best Winter/Snow Tire Brands
The first decision to make is whether to buy studded or studless winter tires. Quality studless winter tires behave just as well in almost all winter driving conditions.
Have you ever noticed deep ruts in the road full of standing water? Studded tires can rapidly cause this type of damage. Not only are studless winter tires easier on road surfaces than their metal spiky counterparts, they also have the added benefit of being far quieter.
Some states no longer allow studded tires, so if you decide to go this route make sure it’s legal first.
The best winter tires have a specially-designed rubber compound that doesn’t stiffen up in the cold and has deep tread to shoot the snow and ice out and away from the tire as you drive.
Bridgestone Blizzaks, such as the WS80, are famous for their ability to maintain grip and stopping distance in wet, snowy, and icy conditions. Perfect for sedans, coupes, compacts, minivans, and sports cars, Blizzak tires will give you confidence to tackle the worst winter driving conditions.
Michelin X-Ice is another top competitor in this category that runs neck and neck with the Bridgestone Blizzak. Usually one will have marginally better performance in one category, where the other will be slightly cheaper.
Best Summer Performance Tire Brands
In warmer environments, summer performance tires are the best due to their superior grip. The firm compound increases stability at high speeds, steering responsiveness, and considerably reduces stopping distance. Quality brands with deep tread also fare well in wet weather.
Most summer performance tires perform very poorly in cold temperatures. Around 40-45° F (4-7° C), the rubber compound starts to get hard and brittle. This will increase your stopping distance, lower your cornering speeds, and could cause damage to the tires.
The Michelin Pilot Sport series is currently the favorite in summer performance tires. The lifespan is long and the grip is excellent even in wet weather. These tires aren’t cheap and some models tend to cater to larger high-end vehicles. When you want the very best in performance, check out Michelin Pilot Sport tires.
The Bridgestone Potenza RE-71R are classified as an “extreme performance summer tire” and is made for drivers of sports cars, high performance sedans, or auto enthusiasts who require ultimate grip in mainly dry or damp conditions. This tire is one of the best autocross tires you can run in a stock class with a 200 treadwear minimum.
Related: How to Get Started in Autocross
Pirelli manufactures some of the best performance tires on the market and has even made tires for Formula 1 racing. Their P Zero tires can be found on many powerful sports cars and sedans from the factory including the Audi R8, Lamborghini Murcielago, Aston Martin DB9, and Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT. If it’s good enough for those supercars, it’s likely good enough for your ride.
Hankook tires often strike a nice balance between performance, durability, and price. The Ventus R-S4 is well loved for its relatively long track duty life. The popular Ventus V12 Evo 2 has an excellent combination of traction, handling, comfort, and long lifespan.
Continental CrossContact and ExtremeContact Sport are less expensive options that are great for cornering and gripping the road nicely in wet and dry at higher temperatures. Continental tires are highly underrated and their performance often matches or exceeds tires that cost twice as much.
What to Look For
The best tire for you will largely depend on how you use your car. Once you’ve identified your specific use case, you can narrow your options down considerably.
Every tire makes some sort of compromise. All-terrain tires have aggressive tread for off road use but tend to be much louder than an all-season tire. If you take your car to the race track, you will likely want a tire with the best cornering grip and stopping distance and will care much less about road noise and longevity.
The weather you drive in should absolutely affect your tire choice. Drivers in climates with distinct summers and winters should probably have a couple sets of wheels and tires, one for winter and one for summer, in order to have the best handling and grip. If you live in an area with mild winters, you may be just fine on all-seasons year round.
Of course, swapping tires each season is more expensive up-front, but the combined sets will last longer than one set on the vehicle all year, so you won’t need to replace tires as often. It’s easier to buy a second set of wheels to mount the second set of tires on once so that at each change of the season you just need to swap the wheel/tire combo on the vehicle.
Some manufacturers make run flat tires, which are designed to get the vehicle to a shop if the tire is punctured. The sidewall is quite stiff which enables the tire to limp along until you can get to a safe place to make repairs, so the ride is less comfortable.
If you decide to change from run flats to more conventional tires, just make sure to travel with a spare tire and/or a tire repair kit in case of emergency.
Treadwear ratings are required by law for most vehicles, though inconsistency makes the ratings less useful for consumers choosing their tires. Generally, a tire with a lower treadwear rating has more grip but will wear out faster, compared to a tire with a high treadwear rating.
Tires are sized with three numbers which are stamped on the sidewall of each tire. First, the 3-digit number indicates the section width, or cross-section width, in millimeters. Sometimes this number is preceded by a letter explaining the type of tire it is.
The next number after the slash “/” identifies the tire aspect ratio, also known as series or profile. This is the height of the sidewall from rim to tread and is a percentage of the section width.
Next you’ll see a letter which signifies the internal construction of the tire. After the letter is the rim diameter in inches, so you can match the right size rim to tire.
It is possible to change the size of wheels and tires on the vehicle, provided that you maintain the same overall diameter. This prevents the vehicle’s speedometer and odometer from reading inaccurately.
If you decrease the aspect ratio by 10, you should increase the wheel diameter by 1” to maintain the same overall diameter.