Choosing an All-Season Tire
For most drivers, all-season tires are the best choice because they perform well under a variety of conditions. You can spend less than $60 apiece for a good set of budget all-season tires or more than four times that amount for high-performance rubber. Although some experts recommend buying the same kind of tire that your vehicle had when new, many say that's not essential — especially if you can find a better-rated replacement by a different manufacturer for less money. Virtually every tire maker offers all season tires. That includes well-known names like Michelin, Bridgestone, Goodyear, BF Goodrich, Continental, and Pirelli, as well as lesser-known monikers like General, Cooper, Hankook, Yokohama, Atlas, Falken and Kumho. Our picks run the gamut of makers, and include a wide selection of more wallet-friendly tires that sacrifice little to nothing when it comes to handling, reliability, and durability.
If you drive an SUV, crossover, minivan, or light truck, some of the tires in this review will fit your vehicle, as well. However, a better choice may be a truck tire, especially if you have a full-sized or four-wheel-drive model or you haul heavy cargo on a regular basis. If you like to venture off the blacktop, you'll also find all-terrain and off-road tires in our truck tire report.
If you live in a cold-weather region and need a tire that can keep you safely on the road when winter is at its worst, see our separate review of snow tires.
Standard or Touring All-Season Tires
If most of your driving involves the daily commute, shuttling kids, and an occasional weekend road trip, experts say standard all-season tires are all your car needs. While prices sit at the lower end of the spectrum, they offer excellent safety and reliability under a variety of driving conditions. They do trade off maximum dry road grip, however, in exchange for better performance when the weather isn't ideal. Nowadays, many use long-wearing rubber compounds that provide excellent durability and have low rolling resistance — meaning they're designed to reduce friction where the rubber literally meets the road — for better gas mileage. These tires are found in T and H speed ratings, meaning that they'll provide plenty of oomph for typical (and some not-so-typical) highway driving. See below for more on speed ratings.
Performance All-Season Tires
If you've got a sporty coupe or drive aggressively, you'll want a performance all-season tire. These are designed to be driven faster, hug corners tighter, and stop quicker, while still handling well under most weather conditions — things do get a bit dicier on snow and ice, and drivers with performance tires are advised to tread more carefully on wintry roads. Performance tires generally carry higher price tags along with their higher speed ratings, up to Z, and they also have shorter lifespans than all-season tires; whereas treadlife warranties for standard tires to run as high as 100,000 miles, performance tires typically top out at 80,000 max.
If you're not sure if a standard or performance all season tire is right for you, another alternative is a grand touring tire. These tires have characteristics of both types of tires. You'll find higher speed ratings than on standard tires, but tread life that that is as long, or nearly so. Their overall handling splits the difference, more or less, under most driving conditions.
Run-Flat All-Season Tires
If you drive a newer car that lacks a spare (as some models do), a run-flat tire is pretty much a requirement. Run-flats are built in such a way that they don't deflate when punctured, and can be driven for limited distances — usually about 50 miles — until they can be repaired or replaced. Unfortunately, expert and owner feedback for run-flat tires falls below that of other types of tires, but if your car came fitted with run flats and you're searching for viable replacements we do recommend a Bridgestone tire that is among the better choices.
Ultra-High-Performance Tires/Summer Tires
Sports cars and some luxury vehicles need wide, low-profile tires that maximize grip and braking at high rates of speed. Ultra-high-performance (UHP) all-season tires, are designed to withstand the abuse that powerful engines can dish out while keeping drivers safe in wet or dry conditions, with at least minimal capabilities when facing the wintry mix. However, if you own a sports car or a high-end sedan and live in an area that never gets snow or ice — or you're prepared to change to snow tires religiously before winter hits — a three season, or summer tire, is another option. Since they don't have to make design compromises to factor in handling on snow and ice, tire manufacturers can craft these products to offer peak performance on dry and wet roads. But, again, these tires should never be driven in winter weather. Period. Not surprisingly, price tags tend to be higher on both ultra-high-performance tires and summer tires (although we were able to find some quality options that won't break the bank); also, both carry lower treadlife expectancies than the average all-season tire, typically as little as 40,000 miles.
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All-Season Tire Reviews: What We Considered
Tires look pretty much the same from the outside, regardless of brand, and it can be hard to tell one tire from another. Differences are hidden behind the rubber in the tires' construction and in the invisible compounds used to build them. Tread patterns and other external markers are unique to each model, as well, but most drivers would be hard-pressed to distinguish even these features. Marketing for nearly every all-season tire lays claim to the same performance qualities: tight grip on wet, dry, and light to moderately snowy surfaces; excellent water evacuation to resist hydroplaning; responsive and confident handling; and quiet riding comfort.
To get at the full story behind each brand's performance and zero in on the best cheap all-season tires, we first consulted expert assessments. Without question, the most comprehensive source of testing for all-season tires is Consumer Reports. While only subscribers have access to the detailed information behind the paywall, the site often publishes free articles that reveal the top finishers in recent testing. Another good source for hands-on quality assessments is Tire Rack, a reputable retail site that conducts rigorous, well-documented tire tests. The only significant downside is that their tests are limited to brands that they carry (although that still encompasses the majority of the brands sold in the United States). We also consulted tire reviews published by automotive industry experts, including Car and Driver, Motor Trend, Auto Guide, and others.
Driver feedback completes the picture when it comes to the performance of these tires over the long-term. Tire Rack has by far the most comprehensive database of user feedback and tallies ratings to identify which tires rank at the top in their categories based on these scores — which often represent impressions drawn after tens of thousands or more actual driving miles. We also turned to online consumer reviews at major retailers, like Amazon, Walmart, Simple Tire, Tire Buyer, Mavis Tire, and Tire Test, as well as on manufacturers' websites. Repeat purchases are a good marker of buyer satisfaction, and we read many all-season tire reviews for the models on our list from drivers who had replaced worn tires with the same model or an updated version. Many also report buying a set for every car in the family.
The starting prices generally reflect the smallest tire size for each line. Choosing the right tire means first and foremost making sure you get the proper fit. Fortunately, that's as simple as looking at the tires you have currently. All tires carry a size code on their sidewall that indicates the three primary factors by which they are rated. For example, if a tire is stamped 175/70R13,,the first number indicates the width in millimeters across the widest part of the tire. The second number represents the ratio of sidewall height to tire width, while R denotes radial construction (which rules the road these days). The final number is the wheel's diameter in inches. Optionally, some tires may carry prefix before the size, either P for tires intended for passenger car use, or LT, indicating that they are designed for light trucks. Manufacturers specify the recommended tire size for each vehicle on a printed decal located on the doorframe on the driver's side. You can also upsize tires (for better looks or performance) or downsize them (for cost savings), but only within strict limits. ThoughtCo.com has more information, including the important considerations to ensure that upsized or downsized tires work properly with your vehicle.
Load Index and Speed Rating
In addition to size, all tire sidewalls carry a second rating immediately after the sizing code comprised of a number and a letter. For instance, a tire might be marked 82T, and the number stands for the load index and the letter represents the speed rating. Load indexes for most passenger cars and light trucks range from 70 to 126, indicating a maximum passenger and cargo weight of from 739 to 3,748 pounds. Tires are rated for speed according to a letter system. For example, L signifies a maximum speed of 75 mph — most applicable to light trucks and off-road vehicles — and as the alphabet goes on, the maximum speed threshold increases. T-rated tires, which are designed for most family cars and vans, have a maximum sustained speed of 118 mph and Y-rated tires, indicating a tolerance for 186 mph, are a fit for high performance cars. (Oddly, the maximum speed for H-rated tires, 130 mph, places that letter between U and V). A higher speed rating generally suggests better handling, but high-performance tires (rated V, W, Y, or Z) typically manage those higher speeds at the cost of less effective performance in wintry conditions and, as noted above, shorter tread life.
How well a tire grips the road is largely a function of its tread design and materials. Elevation and climate affect a tire's life expectancy, as do the speed rating, individual driving style (do you corner aggressively or take it slow and steady?), and maintenance (are those tires properly inflated and rotated/aligned on schedule?). Regardless, drivers rightly expect tires to last for thousands and thousands of trouble-free miles. Manufacturers provide a limited treadwear warranty for each of their tires, which is a rough estimate of how many miles a tire can roll under optimal conditions before the tread wears down. It's worth paying attention to the tire's estimated tread life, because a slightly pricier model could yield savings by lasting longer than the cheaper alternative. Keep in mind also that while replacements may be offered (on a pro-rated basis) for tires that don't meet the thresholds specified, collecting on these warranties is often a tricky business: Most manufacturers specify that the tread must have worn down to 2/32 of an inch prior to reaching the warrantied mileage, and the driver must prove the tires have been maintained according to manufacturer guidelines.
Handling, Traction, and Braking
To evaluate car and truck tires, professional automobile reviewers put vehicles through rigorous maneuvers on test tracks specifically designed to mimic real-world driving conditions in dry, wet, and wintry weather on a variety of surfaces, ranging from pristine four-lane asphalt highways to bumpy single gravel lanes. Experts assess how responsive a car is in emergency situations, such as avoiding obstacles that suddenly appear in the driver's path, emergency braking from 50 to 60 mph, and how well tires resist hydroplaning — or losing contact with the pavement — when you hit a patch of water on the road. They also test how well the vehicle clings to the pavement when taking turns at high rates of speed. All of the tires we recommend earn top marks from pros for handling under typical driving conditions.
Particularly concerned consumers might also look to the UTQG grades embossed on a tire's sidewall for an "official" assessment of its abilities. The Uniform Tire Quality Grading System (UTQG), established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is a system that comprises three measures of tire quality: treadwear, with a baseline of 100; traction, with a scale of AA, A, B, or C; and temperature resistance, with a scale of A, B, or C. The grades, are determined by the manufacturer based on specific test criteria. Critics of the system argue it lacks precision and fails to provide consumers with truly meaningful information. Still, UTQG ratings can be helpful when comparing the relative strengths and weaknesses of different all-season tires from the same manufacturer. For example, the useful life of a tire with a treadwear rating of 400 theoretically should be twice as long as a tire with a rating of 200.
A tire's rolling resistance influences gas mileage. All tires create friction where the tire tread meets the road surface, largely based on how large the contact area is, the tread design, and the tire materials. As a result, a vehicle must expend a certain amount of energy to overcome this friction as the car travels, affecting fuel economy. Many hybrids and some sedans come equipped with special low rolling resistance tires, and manufacturers are now making a point of designing tires to increase mileage per gallon. Some testers assess tires' fuel efficiency by measuring fuel usage over a test period using the same vehicle outfitted with different tires on identical test courses. Others, such as Consumer Reports, measure it using test equipment, such as a dynamometer.
Road Noise and Ride Comfort
No matter how well insulated your vehicle is, the tires will transmit some noise from the pavement to the passenger compartment. How much you'll hear depends not only on the materials used in the construction of the tire but the road itself and whether it's made of concrete or asphalt. Likewise, some tires are better than others at absorbing the vibration and bumps from uneven road surfaces. The better they are, the smoother your ride will be. Both of these factors are highly subjective.