Abbreviated Tire Buying Guide

What should drivers consider when buying new tires?

Safety and dependability are paramount when purchasing a new set of tires, and to ensure your new tires are both, you’ll need to find a set that makes sense for your vehicle. What is appropriate for a minivan, for example, probably won’t be ideal for a work truck. Some drivers also prioritize performance or comfort, so even though tires seem like a simple piece of transportation technology, they are anything but.

What do the letters and numbers mean on the tire sidewall?

If you’re buying tires from a shop or can view them online before purchase, a lot of valuable information is built right into the tire. On each tire sidewall (that’s the ring that faces out to each side), there’s a set of letters and numbers that describe the tire’s important attributes. Starting with the three-digit number, on the left side of the slash mark, this is what they mean:

1. The tire’s size

The three numbers listed before the slash indicate the tire’s size. Specifically, it lists the tire’s size in millimeters at its widest point, assuming it is mounted on an appropriately sized wheel.

2. The tire’s aspect ratio

On the other side of the slash mark is a two-digit number that lists the tire’s aspect ratio. Also termed profile, the aspect ratio indicates the sidewall’s height relative to the tire’s width. For example, if there is a 35 listed after the slash, that means the tire’s sidewall height is 35 percent of its overall height.

3. The tire’s construction

In the majority of cases, you’ll see an R after the aspect ratio. This refers to the tire’s construction, which in this instance means radial construction. Almost all tires you’ll see on the road are radial tires, though there may be a D or B here instead. That means bias-ply or belted construction.

4. The size of the wheel the tire fits

After the R, D or B, there will be a two-digit number. This number refers to the wheel size that the tire is designed to fit on. For example, if there is a 16 here, that means the tire is designed to fit a 16-inch wheel.

5. The tire’s load and speed ratings

There will be a small space after the wheel size, then a two- or three-digit number and a letter. The number refers to the tire’s load rating, which details how much weight it’s designed to carry. You’ll need to check a load index chart to reference what the number means, so for example, if you see a 95, that means the tire can handle 1,521 pounds of vehicle. As the load rating number increases or decreases, so does the tire’s capacity for bearing weight.

The single letter details the tire’s speed rating. It goes from L (the lowest speed value) to Y (the highest). A tire with an L speed rating is designed for speeds up to 75 mph, while a tire with a Y rating can handle 186 mph or more.

6. The tire’s treadwear rating

The treadwear rating is represented by a three-digit number, and the higher the number, the longer the tire is expected to last. This number ranges from 200 (or less, in some cases) to 600 (or more). The higher the number, the better, though the tests that tire makers use aren’t precisely standardized, so the treadwear rating is more of a general indicator.

7. Other relevant marks

There are other letters and numbers, too, though most of these aren’t relevant to a tire buyer. However, if you see a M + S mark, that means the tire can handle some mud and snow, due to its design. Further, if you see a three-peak mountain somewhere on the tire, that means it can be used as a snow tire.

What tires are the best option for my vehicle?

Now that you know the language of tires, you’ll need to know what category of tire to target. This depends on what vehicle you’re driving, where you’re driving and how you drive. Just as there is a variety of vehicles and drivers, there’s a variety of tires available as well. Some of them include:

All-season tires

All-season tires are available for passenger cars, trucks and SUVs. These tires are designed for most typical driving conditions, last a long time and deliver a comfortable ride. They are a solid choice for most vehicles.

Performance all-season tires

Performance all-season tires are also capable in most conditions, though they provide better braking and handling than standard all-season tires.

Ultra-high performance tires

Ultra-high performance tires offer even more performance and handling, which makes them a common choice for sporty vehicles. In most cases, though, these tires won’t ride as comfortably or last as long as standard all-season tires.

Summer tires

Summer tires are ideal for warmer climates and are usually installed on cars or minivans. They are made from softer rubber that brings additional traction on wet and dry roads, as long as the weather is warm.

All-terrain tires

All-terrain tires can be used on paved surfaces and in some light off-road conditions. They are ideal for work trucks and come with a rougher tread that grips dirt and snow better than other tires.

Winter tires

Winter tires, also known as snow tires, are available for most types of vehicles and are designed to grip snow and ice. They are safer to use in winter conditions, but they tend to wear out quicker.

What tire brands are trusted by drivers?

In addition to the tire’s specifications and intended use, there is the brand to consider. There are plenty to choose from and they range in price quite a bit. Some brands are known for their high-performance tires while others are respected for their safe, comfortable passenger tires. No matter what you are looking for, one of the following brands will provide the right fit.


Michelin offers nearly 40 tire models, and as one of the oldest tire makers around, Michelin is a familiar, trustworthy name.


Pirelli is largely focused on producing quality high-performance tires, so if you have a sporty vehicle or powerful SUV, then this brand may be of interest.


Nexen is known for its combination of quality and price, making it one of the better value options available. Nexen isn’t a budget brand, necessarily, but it offers most of what other brands do, at a fraction of the price.


Continental is the oldest tire brand available and has long been a respected name in the industry. Continental offers good tires in most categories, but its all-terrain tires are often considered its best.


From all-season to all-terrain, Goodyear has been a trusted name in tires for over a century.


Originally designed for enthusiasts needing odd tire sizes, Nitto is now a trusted name in passenger tires as well.

Cooper Tires

Cooper Tires aren’t priced quite as competitively as Michelin, Nexen or Continental tires, but the brand does make well-reviewed off-road tires, which may be of interest for truck and SUV drivers.


Yokohama tires are a little pricier, but its all-season tires are a popular option, and the company uses low environmental impact materials during manufacturing.


Hankook also costs a little more, but they feature enhanced tread-mile warranties, so you get more for paying a bit extra.

With so much riding on your tires, literally, you’ll want a set that works well with your vehicle. Comparison shopping tires is simple once you know what you’re looking for and what a particular tire offers. For more information on the best tires for your needs, reach out to Performance Mobile Tire today.