Make us your home page

Get a good grip on tire selection

As the weather becomes more variable, you might find yourself in need of a new set of tires. Don't know what all of those letters and numbers on the sides of tires mean? Here's a handy guide to decode the sidewall and find the best tire for your car.

Types of tires

All-season: Best for year-round traction, ride comfort and long tread life.

Performance all-season: Better handling than all-season, but a more comfortable ride than performance tires.

High-performance: Superior grip in wet or dry conditions, but usually has a shorter life span and harsher ride than other types. Not a good choice for snowy climes.

Winter: Great traction in snow and ice but less traction in other types of weather.

Light truck: A good choice for all-around use.

All-terrain: Best for venturing off-road.

Size matters

The tire size is expressed in a series of numbers and letters, such as P235/70R16.

P: Passenger car, but commonly seen on crossover utility vehicles and minivans. Other prefixes: "LT" for a light-truck tire and "T" for a temporary spare.

235: Width of the tire in millimeters.

70: Ratio of the sidewall height to the tire's width, which is 70 percent. Sportier tires have a lower ratio.

R: Radial construction. A "D" indicates bias-ply construction.

16: Wheel's diameter in inches. Sizes range from 8 inches to 28 inches.

Load index and speed rating

Located after the tire size is a code such as 104S, which can contain any number between 71 and 110.

The number specifies the weight that can be safely carried.

71: 761 pounds

80: 992 pounds

90: 1,323 pounds

100: 1,764 pounds

104: 1,984 pounds

110: 2,337 pounds

The letter denotes maximum sustainable speed:

M: 81 mph

N: 87 mph

Q: 99 mph

R: 106 mph

S: 112 mph

T: 118 mph

H: 130 mph

V: 149 mph

Z: more than 149 mph

In addition, Z-rated tires will also have a letter diameter size to specify the tire's top speed:

W: 168 mph

Y: 186 mph

How good are they?

Tires have ratings on them, but they are manufacturer-supplied, so you can only use them to compare tires within the same brand.

Tread-wear rating runs from 300 to 540, describing life of tire. The higher the number, the better.

Traction and temperature scores range from AA (best) to C (worst) and rate foul weather traction and temperature resistance, which can indicate a higher-quality tire.

Maximum pressure is listed for maximum safe pressure when hot, measured in pounds per square inch. This is not the recommended tire pressure. That is specified by the auto manufacturer and is located on a placard on the driver's-side door jamb.

Tire date

A tire marked 0412 was made in the fourth week of 2012. Make sure the tire you're buying is no more than 1 or 2 years old.

Get a good grip on tire selection 11/08/12 [Last modified: Thursday, November 8, 2012 3:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Tribune News Service.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tonight: Hear ideas for remaking downtown Tampa interchange


    TAMPA — New concepts for rebuilding the downtown interchange will be discussed at a Florida Department of Transportation community meeting Monday night.

    The Florida Department of Transportation renamed its controversial Tampa Bay Express plan, also known as TBX. The plan is now known as Tampa Bay Next, or TBN. [Florida Department of Transportation]
  2. Target raising minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020


    NEW YORK — Target Corp. is raising its minimum hourly wage for its workers to $11 starting next month and then to $15 by the end of 2020 in a move it says will help it better recruit and retain top-quality staff and provide a better shopping experience for its customers.

    Target Corp. is raising its minimum hourly wage for its workers to $11 starting next month and then to $15 by the end of 2020
[File photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]
  3. PolitiFact Florida: How would Florida fare in Graham-Cassidy health care bill?


    Following a sharp rebuke by late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., hit the airwaves to defend his bill that would undo much of the Affordable Care Act.

    Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La.
  4. Whatever happened to the Zika epidemic?


    Remember Zika?

    The last time Gov. Rick Scott warned Floridians about the potential threat of the mosquito-borne virus was in July, when he urged residents to still be vigilant against bug bites and standing water. At the time, doctors and researchers were bracing for what was supposed to be another active summer …

    Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are responsible for transmitting Zika. Cases of the virus are down dramatically in Florida.
  5. Pinellas licensing board needs cash. Will the county give it any?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– The grand jury that said Pinellas County should not take over the troubled construction licensing board also said the county should bail out the agency before it goes broke in 2018.

    Pinellas County Commission chair Janet Long isn't keen on the idea of the county loaning money to keep the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board afloat. The county has no say over the independent agency, which could run out of funding in 2018. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]