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How To Choose The Right Car Tires

Make sure your car’s tires match the activity…

By Casey Williams

I bet when you get ready to go for a run, you put on your slick-soled loafers, right? How about when you’re off to the club: do you bust out your best flip-flops? No, of course not, but we make virtually the same silly decisions when it comes to our cars. When our ride needs practical tread, too many of us go out and buy the cool low-profile tires and slap them on sexy 19-inch rims.

You may get away with that vanity in dry summer conditions, but just wait for the roads to become covered with snow and ice, and you’ll realize the error of your ways as you slip and slide. Likewise, put snow tires on your sports car for a run through the mountains to feel your car slop through corners. Let’s avoid all of that. I’ve been there. There was a tow truck involved. It wasn’t pretty.

Here’s the run-down on what types of tires you should select for your ride:

All-season tires
These are probably the best choice for most driving situations. They’re commonly found on mid-size sedans and compact cars, because they do not excel in any one area but handle most driving conditions reasonably well. These tires also tend to be lower rolling-resistance, which increases fuel economy and wear life.

Winter tires
Most of my test cars come with winter tires during the cold months – and with good reason. They’re differentiated with deeper grooves and sharper sides to gnaw through snow and ice. Rubber compounds are engineered to remain soft in cold temperatures, which unfortunately decreases their effectiveness in hot weather.

Off-road tires
These are the bigger and wider version of snow tires, sharing many of their properties. Installed mostly on trucks and SUVs, these tires have deep grooves, sharp edges and thick sidewalls to absorb off-road rough and dig into mud and rocks. Also like winter tires, they are not the best choice for on-pavement performance and handling.

Summer tires
Engineered for ultimate performance, these tires have grooves to shed water and avoid hydroplaning, but are shaped for maximum contact with pavement. Their softer rubber compounds maximize grip, but wear faster and harden in frigid temps. Lower profiles allow more road shock to work the suspension and reach the cabin.

If your daily drive is mostly on paved and plowed roads, all-season tires are the best for everyday use. They balance a comfortable ride with competent handling. Summer tires should be relegated to the warm months, while snow tires should be used only in winter. To optimize performance, keep two sets of tires and trade them seasonally.

Let me be a lesson. One winter, I was testing a new front-drive luxury sedan. Usually, front-drive cars will drive through a blizzard without putting a wheel wrong. Unfortunately, it came with summer tires, and when a little snow fell, I couldn’t get up a small incline to exit my driveway. Eventually, I enlisted a tow truck. How embarrassing! Consider carefully what slaps the pavement beneath your prized carriage.

CASEY WILLIAMS is a contributing writer for He contributes to the New York-based LGBT magazine Metrosource and the Chicago Tribune. He and his husband live in Indianapolis, where Williams contributes videos and reviews to, the area’s PBS/NPR station.

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