Your vehicle’s tires play an important role in the safety of both you and your passengers. To paint a picture, your vehicle’s only point of contact with the road is four points, not much larger than a note pad. The greater the load, the larger the contact patch. The more air in the tire, the smaller the contact patch. Even the most advanced safety features can be rendered ineffective, if your tires don’t have adequate grip on the road.
A tire’s purpose is to support the load of your vehicle, allow motion, stop the vehicle, and cushion the vehicle from road hazards. Therefore, a good set of tires improves overall vehicle safety. While, at first glance, it looks rather simplistic, a tire’s construction is actually fairly complex – due to the various functions it must perform under different driving conditions.
Within each tire is an inner tube, which holds air (or nitrogen in some cases) and gives the tire its shape. The inner tube is then wrapped with fabric belts. The bead is attached to the bottom of the fabric belts and adheres the tire to the wheel.
The fabric belts are then covered with steel belts. The purpose of the steel belts is to provide stability and provide a flatter tire pattern, which in turn enables better contact with the road. The tire tread is on top of the belts and will vary on different types of tires.
On the sidewall of the tire is an alphanumeric code that represents the dimensions of the tire. In most cases, the code will start with a “P”; however, some may start with an “LT”, which indicates a light truck. You’ll also want to watch for a “Max Load” indication, as it’s important to ensure that the tire’s load rating is at least equivalent to the tire you’re replacing.
Choosing the correct tire size is critical. Below is a sample code to illustrate what each character in the code stands for.
P195/60R16 63H M+S
P – Type of tire
195 – Width of the tire across the tread in millimeters
60 – Aspect ratio of the sidewall compared to the width
R – Radial construction
16 – Diameter of the rim in inches
63 – Tire’s load rating
H – Tire’s speed rating
M+S – Tire is suitable for all-season driving
If the code begins with “LT”, rather than a ”P”, it indicates that it’s a light truck tire. This means higher load carrying capabilities, which are best suited for pickups and SUVs. In many cases, the vehicle specifications for pickups and SUVs call for passenger car tires. It’s important to be familiar with your driving needs in order to make the right choice, as passenger car and light truck tires are very different. While passenger car tires are lower priced and offer a smoother ride, they’re impractical for vehicles that are loaded with cargo or pulling a heavy trailer. If you’re using your pickup or SUV for higher loads, you’ll want to consider upgrading to a light truck tire, as it’s designed to handle that load.
Similarly, load rating is also an important consideration when choosing tires and works in conjunction with the tire type. The load capacity code will indicate the load carrying ability of that single tire. It’s critical that the load capacity be at least equivalent, if not higher than the original tires. Specifications for your vehicle’s required tire size, tire pressure, and load rating should be located on the inside of your driver’s door.
Important things to consider when choosing tires:
- All-Season or Winter?
- Tire size?
- What tires do you currently have?
- What are your likes and dislikes about your current tires?
- Do you drive mostly on highway, city, gravel, or off-road?
- What’s most important to you? i.e. Ride comfort/noise, long lasting tire or traction.
- Do you tow or haul anything?
By answering these questions, you can better determine which type of tire will best suit your driving needs, based on the characteristics that best match those needs.
Types of Tires
- Passenger – Provide all season traction and good tire life. Generally more economically priced and meets the needs of most drivers.
- Touring – Have a softer sidewall than performance tires but firmer than passenger, which offers a combination of performance handling and ride comfort. Braking distances are also improved, due to firmer tread compounds and larger contact patch. They have a higher speed rating, as well as faster response and improved cornering over passenger tires.
- Performance – Features excellent dry traction and road grip. Also offers superior braking distances, due to soft tread compounds and a large contact patch. Provides excellent heat dissipation. Also allows for quicker acceleration and superior handling. Their downfall is that they have a shorter life, because of the tire’s softness; however, they’re a great tire for the driving enthusiast. Generally, they are not a good choice for winter driving.
- Light Truck – This tire features improved integrity and tire construction for heavier loads. Many light truck tires offer aggressive tread designs for mud and snow driving.
Better traction = Improved Safety. Your tire’s traction will determine how well it holds the road. For our climate, there are multiple variables to consider: hot, dry, wet, cold, snow and ice. While some people choose an all-season tire to cover all these conditions, it’s important to note that winter tires are specifically designed for our winters and actually perform much better in temperatures of 10 degrees Celsius and lower. Click here for more information on winter tires.