Friday, December 1, 2023

Breaking Down Performance Metrics: What Tire Ratings Mean


Have you ever been utterly confused by the ratings and numbers plastered all over tires at the store? Between treadwear, traction, and temperature grades, it can seem like some kind of code you need to crack. Not to worry, we’re here to give you the inside scoop on tire ratings so you can make sense of it all.

When you understand what the numbers mean, you’ll be able to find tires specifically tailored to your needs and driving style. You’ll have the confidence to walk into any tire shop armed with knowledge and able to make the best choice for your vehicle and budget. Stick with us and by the end you’ll be reading tire specs like a pro!

Introduction to Tire Ratings

Tire ratings help you choose tires based on performance factors like handling, braking, and wear. The three main ratings to know are speed rating, treadwear rating, and temperature rating.

Speed Rating

The speed rating indicates the maximum speed a tire can safely sustain for 10 minutes. Speed ratings range from Q (99 mph) to Y (186 mph). If your vehicle has a high top speed, choose a speed rating at or above its capabilities. Most passenger vehicles use H, T, or V rated tires which can handle 130 to 149 mph.

Treadwear Rating

The treadwear rating measures how long a tire should last. It’s based on a 100-point scale where higher numbers indicate better tread life. For example, a tire rated 600 should last twice as long as one rated 300. Treadwear depends on the type of vehicle and how/where you drive. High-performance tires typically have lower treadwear while grand-touring tires aim for a smoother, quieter ride and higher treadwear.

Temperature Rating

The temperature rating signifies a tire’s resistance to heat buildup at high speeds. Tires rated A have the highest heat resistance, while B and C offer less resistance. Most passenger vehicles use A or B-rated tires. Driving in hot weather or at high speeds requires A or B-rated tires to avoid overheating which can damage the tire.

Understanding tire ratings helps ensure you choose tires suited to your driving needs and style. Check your vehicle’s recommended tire ratings in the owner’s manual or on the tire placard located in the driver’s side door jamb or fuel door. Choose tires with equal or better ratings for safe, dependable performance.

Have you ever been utterly confused by the ratings and numbers plastered all over tires at the store? Piston Wheel is here to give you the inside scoop on tire ratings so you can make sense of it all.

Speed Rating: How Fast Can Your Tires Go?

The speed rating on your tires tells you the maximum speed they can handle for normal driving conditions. Most passenger tires today have a rating of T, H, V, or Z:

  • T-speed-rated tires can handle speeds up to 118 mph. This is sufficient for most vehicles and normal driving.
  • H-speed-rated tires are rated for 130 mph. Performance sedans and coupes often come with H-rated tires.
  • V-speed-rated tires can handle up to 149 mph. High-performance vehicles like sports cars usually require V-rated or higher tires.
  • Z speed-rated tires are rated for speeds of 149+ mph. Exotic sports cars require Z-rated tires or sometimes even higher W or Y-speed-rated tires.

While the speed rating indicates the maximum speed, it’s not recommended to constantly drive at those maximum speeds. Tires can overheat and lose performance. It’s best to choose a speed rating for the realistic top speed you will drive at, plus a safety margin of 10 or 15 mph.

The speed rating also impacts other performance factors like handling, cornering, and braking. Higher speed-rated tires typically perform better in these areas for high-performance driving. However, the trade-off is often a firmer, less comfortable ride and more road noise.

For most drivers, T, H, or V speed-rated tires offer a good balance of performance and comfort for everyday driving at normal highway speeds. But if high performance is a priority or you have a sports car, you’ll want to step up to a V, Z or even higher speed-rated tire. The faster you want to go, the more tire you’ll need.

Traction Rating: Grip and Control in Different Conditions

The traction rating indicates how well your tires can grip the road in wet, snowy, or icy conditions. It’s scored from AA (the best) to C (the worst). The higher the rating, the more control and braking power your tires will have on slick roads.

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AA – Excellent

Tires with an AA rating provide the best traction for driving on wintry roads. They can quickly gain control and stop on icy or snow-covered pavement. If driving in areas with frequent snow or rain, AA tires are a must for safe handling and braking.

A – Very Good

A-rated tires still perform well on wet and snowy roads, allowing for stable accelerating and braking with minimal skidding. While not quite as grippy as AA tires, A-rated tires strike a good balance of year-round performance and value for many drivers.

B – Good

B-rated tires will get you by on most wet or snowy roads but may feel slippery when braking or turning hard. They can be suitable for occasional winter driving, but for the best control and safety, you’ll want to consider upgrading to A-rated or AA-rated tires if you frequently drive in snow or rain.

C – Fair

C-rated tires provide only basic wet and snow traction. They can feel unstable on icy, slushy, or unplowed roads. For safety, C-rated tires are not recommended for winter driving or use in areas that frequently see severe weather conditions.

The traction rating is just one measure of a tire’s performance abilities. You’ll also want to consider the treadwear rating, temperature rating, and tread design. By evaluating all these factors together, you can choose tires with the perfect balance of grip, handling, tread life, and value for your needs. Staying safe on the road means having the right tires for the conditions – your life could depend on it!

Temperature Rating: Heat Resistance and Durability

The temperature rating indicates how well a tire can withstand and perform in hot temperatures. As tires heat up from driving, the materials and compounds used in their construction begin to soften, affecting handling, braking, and tread life. A higher temperature rating means the tire can operate at higher sustained temperatures without significant loss of performance.

Temperature grades

Tires receive a grade from A to C, with A being the highest, based on laboratory tests. An A-grade tire can withstand higher speeds and heavier loads in warm weather versus a C-grade tire. For most passenger vehicles, an A or B rating should suit your needs.

Why it matters

Driving in hot weather, especially over long distances at highway speeds, can really heat up your tires. If the temperature exceeds a tire’s rating, its materials may start to break down, compromising performance and safety. The tread and internal components become more pliable, causing the tire to feel loose or squishy. Braking distances increase, and handling suffers. In severe cases, the tread can actually start to peel away from the belts below.

For the best hot weather performance, choose a tire with a high-temperature rating, especially if you frequently drive at high speeds or over long distances in warm climates. An A-rated tire will generally outlast a C-rated tire by up to 50% in hot conditions. The higher-grade rubber and stabilizer compounds are more resistant to heat degradation.

Some additional factors that influence a tire’s temperature resistance and durability include:

  • Tread compound: More advanced compounds with polymer blends and stabilizers can better withstand heat without breaking down.
  • Tread design: Wider grooves and channels help dissipate heat, while solid center ribs can retain more heat.
  • Belt construction: Stronger belt materials and more plies typically lead to greater heat resistance and tread durability.
  • Brand and model: Premium tires from reputable brands are generally built to higher standards with more advanced materials, earning them higher temperature grades.

Knowing a tire’s temperature rating and how it impacts performance can help you choose the right tires for your driving needs and climate conditions. When temperatures rise, a higher rating means greater peace of mind behind the wheel.

Discover the in-depth review of the Phantom C Sport tire on Piston Wheel, diving into its performance, durability, and suitability for various driving conditions. This comprehensive review offers valuable insights to help you make an informed decision when selecting the right tires for your vehicle.

Load Index: Weight Limits and Load Capacity

The load index refers to how much weight your tires can safely support. It’s important to choose tires with an appropriate load index for your vehicle to ensure maximum safety and performance.

Load Range

The load range indicates the maximum load-carrying capacity of a tire. Most passenger vehicles use load range B, C, or D tires. Light trucks typically require a load range of E or higher. The higher the letter, the higher the weight the tires can support.

Max Load

The maximum load is the maximum weight in pounds that can be carried by four tires of the specified size at the maximum pressure. For example, a load index of 91 equals 1,356 lbs for a P-metric or Euro-metric tire. The total load capacity for four tires would be 5,424 lbs (1,356 x 4). Compare the max load to your vehicle’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) to make sure the tires can handle the weight.

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Dual Tires

For trucks requiring extra heavy-duty tires, dual tires – two tires on each side of an axle – are often necessary to provide sufficient load-carrying capacity. The load capacity of dual tires is typically double that of a single tire. So dual tires with a max load of 3,000 lbs each would have a total capacity of 12,000 lbs (3,000 x 2 x 2).

Calculating Load Capacity

To calculate the total load capacity of your tires in pounds, multiply the load index by four (for four tires), then multiply by the max psi shown on the sidewall of one tire. For example, four new tires have a load index of 91 and a max psi of 35.

91 x 4 tires = 364 lbs per tire

364 x 35 psi = 12,740 lbs total load capacity

Be sure to stay well within the recommended load capacity for safe driving, braking, and handling. Overloading your tires can lead to excessive wear, damage, and even blowouts. Choose tires with an appropriate load index and keep loads balanced for the best performance from your tires.

Treadwear Rating: Estimated Tire Longevity

The treadwear rating indicates how long a tire’s tread is expected to last before it needs replacement. It’s represented by a number, like 400, 600 or 800. The higher the number, the longer the tread life. This rating is estimated by the manufacturer based on controlled road tests, so real-world results can vary depending on your driving conditions and habits.

For most drivers, a treadwear rating of 600 or higher should provide dependable performance for several years of normal driving. If you frequently drive on highways or mountain roads, prioritize handling and braking over maximum tread life. In that case, a rating of 400 to 600 may suit your needs better.

Some factors that affect a tire’s actual tread life include:

-Your driving style – Aggressive driving with hard braking and cornering reduces tread life. Moderate, controlled driving helps tires last longer.

-Road conditions – Driving on rough or unpaved roads accelerates tread wear. Smooth, well-maintained roads are more tread-friendly.

-Tire inflation – Under-inflated tires wear out faster. Maintain the recommended pressure listed in your owner’s manual or on the tire placard for best tread life.

-Vehicle load – Overloading your vehicle places extra stress on the tires, decreasing their lifespan. Don’t exceed the maximum load rating listed on the sidewall of your tires.

-Alignment – Improper wheel alignment causes uneven tread wear. Have your alignment checked if you notice your vehicle pulling to one side or vibrating at highway speeds.

-Rotation – Rotating your tires means moving them to different positions on the axles. This helps them wear more evenly so you can get the most miles out of them before replacement is needed. Follow the rotation pattern in your owner’s manual.

By understanding how these factors influence tread life and taking measures to optimize them, you can maximize the longevity of your tires. While the treadwear rating provides a useful estimate, diligent maintenance and driving habits are the keys to getting the most value from your tire investment.

Uniform Tire Quality Grading: UTQG Ratings Explained

The Uniform Tire Quality Grading or UTQG system was created to provide consumers with information about three key performance aspects of tires: treadwear, traction, and temperature resistance. The ratings help you compare different tires and determine the best ones for your driving needs and conditions.

Treadwear Grade

The treadwear grade is a rating of how long a tire’s tread will last before it needs to be replaced. It’s measured by actually testing the tire under controlled conditions on a specific government test course. For example, a tire with a 500 treadwear rating is expected to last twice as long as a tire with a 250 rating. Tires with higher treadwear grades are usually more durable and long-lasting.

Traction Grade

The traction grade gives you an indication of a tire’s ability to stop on wet roads. It’s measured by controlling how well a tire can stop on a specific government test surface, with higher grades indicating better performance. Tires with an AA grade typically offer the best grip for driving on wet, slushy or snowy roads. Tires with a C grade will usually have adequate performance for most normal driving conditions.

Temperature Grade

The temperature grade refers to a tire’s resistance to heat buildup at higher speeds. As tires heat up from driving, their materials start to soften and break down, which impacts handling and performance. Tires with an A rating are typically the most heat-resistant and suited for high-speed driving or heavy loads. Tires with a C rating may overheat more easily at sustained high speeds.

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By understanding the UTQG ratings, you can choose replacement tires suited to your particular needs, driving style, and typical road conditions. The grades provide an objective measure to compare different tires and help ensure optimal safety, handling, and tread life from your investment.

Specialty Tire Ratings: Mud, Snow, All-Season, Etc.

When it comes to specialty tire ratings, there are a few types to be aware of based on your driving needs and location. The most common types are all-season, mud, snow, and all-terrain tires.

All-Season Tires

All-season tires are designed to handle moderate weather conditions like rain or light snow. They strike a balance between handling, noise, tread life and performance in most temperatures. All-season tires work well for drivers in areas with little seasonal weather changes or for those looking for a jack-of-all-trades tire.

Mud Tires

Mud tires, also known as off-road tires, are ideal if you frequently drive on unpaved, muddy roads or surfaces. They have an aggressive tread pattern with large, chunky blocks that grip into loose, uneven terrain. The deep grooves also channel away mud and water. Mud tires tend to be noisy on paved roads and have a shorter tread life, so they’re best for off-road and recreational vehicles.

Snow Tires

Snow tires maximize grip on snow and ice in cold weather. They’re made of a softer rubber compound that remains flexible in freezing temperatures and often have a tread pattern with lots of tiny sipes, or slits, that bite into icy and snowy roads. For the best performance, install snow tires in sets of four. They tend to wear out quickly in warm weather, so they’re best for cars in areas that get very snowy winters.

All-Terrain Tires

All-terrain tires strike a balance between on-road and off-road performance. They have an aggressive tread pattern to handle dirt, gravel, and snow, but are less noisy and longer-lasting than dedicated mud tires on paved roads. All-terrain tires work well for SUVs, trucks, and recreational vehicles that spend time both on and off the road. They handle moderately in most conditions but may not excel in very rugged or snowy terrain where more specialized tires would be better.

In the end, consider how and where you drive to determine if specialty tires might benefit you. For many drivers, a quality set of all-season tires will work just fine. But if you frequently drive in more extreme conditions, the right specialty tires can make a world of difference in safety, handling, and performance.

Choosing the Right Tire Ratings for Your Needs: A Buyer’s Guide

When buying new tires, the various ratings and metrics can be confusing. Here’s a guide to help determine which ratings are most important for your needs.

Load Index

The load index indicates the maximum weight a tire can support. Choose a load index that matches or exceeds the recommended rating for your vehicle’s axle. If you frequently haul heavy loads or tow trailers, opt for a higher load index to handle the extra weight. For normal driving, the factory recommendation is typically fine.

Speed rating

The speed rating signifies the maximum speed at which a tire can safely operate. Most passenger vehicles use H, T, or S-rated tires, which can handle speeds of 130, 118, or 112 mph respectively. If you have a high-performance vehicle, consider V, W, Y or ZR-rated tires for their higher speed capabilities. However, for typical city and highway driving, H, T, or S ratings will suit most needs.


Traction ratings grade a tire’s ability to stop on wet roads. Ratings range from AA, the highest, to C, the lowest. Tires with higher traction ratings, like A or AA, provide the best grip for safe braking, especially on slick surfaces. If driving in rainy or snowy conditions, rate traction as a higher priority. For dry, sunny weather, C or B-rated tires will work adequately for most motorists.


Treadwear ratings estimate a tire’s longevity based on government tests. The higher the number, the longer the tread is expected to last. Tires with a treadwear rating of 600 or more are well-suited for high-mileage vehicles or long road trips. Ratings of 200 to 400 represent the average tread life for typical city and highway driving. If you drive infrequently or don’t plan to keep your vehicle long, a lower treadwear rating may be sufficient.

Choosing the right tires for your needs depends on how and where you drive. Evaluate which factors are most significant to your situation and you’ll find tires with the ideal blend of capabilities for dependable performance and value.


So there you have it, the basics on tire ratings and performance metrics to keep in mind next time you’re shopping for new tires. While the numbers and ratings can seem complicated, knowing how to interpret them will help ensure you get tires tailored to your specific driving needs and conditions.

The most important thing to remember is to consider the categories that matter most for your area – like snow and ice rating if you live somewhere with harsh winters. Don’t get too caught up in one rating over others. And of course, talk to the experts at your local tire shop to get their input and recommendations for your vehicle and driving habits. Armed with the right knowledge and advice, you’ll be cruising down the road with confidence knowing you’ve got the perfect set of tires for your needs.

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