What are Tire Ratings?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Tire ratings are standardized ratings which are used to convey information to consumers about tire safety and the appropriate conditions for specific types of tires. Some ratings are printed right on the tire, while others can be found in databases maintained by government agencies which perform tire ratings. When purchasing tires, people should definitely research their ratings, as getting tires with the right rating can save time, make a car safer, and improve performance.

A woman filling her tires up with air.
A woman filling her tires up with air.

A great deal of information is printed on a tire, including the size and type. Additionally, a brief number/letter combination such as 90T is printed on the tire to provide information about its load index and speed index. These two tire ratings indicate how much weight the tire can bear, and the maximum speed at which it can safely be used. As a general rule, the higher the load/speed index, the better. Charts are available to convert load and speed indexes: in the example above, the tire can carry 1,323 pounds (600 kilograms), and travel at 118 miles per hour (kilometers per hour).

One important tire rating is the treadwear rating, which tells how long it takes for the tire to wear down.
One important tire rating is the treadwear rating, which tells how long it takes for the tire to wear down.

Other tire ratings include treadwear ratings, which show how long it will take for the tire to wear down, with higher ratings being more desirable, and traction ratings, demonstrating how well the tire performs in wet conditions. Finally, temperature ratings which are determined by testing the tire in high temperature conditions can also be very valuable. The higher rating, the better the tire quality.

Different applications call for different ratings. Someone who does a lot of freeway driving in the desert wants a car with a high speed index, high treadwear rating, and high temperature rating. Someone who hauls primarily heavy loads around town might be more concerned with the load index. Some auto manufacturers also provide recommendations about tire ratings in their manuals or on the door placards, so that drivers can choose the right tires.

A reputable tire shop should be able to provide information about tire ratings and help consumers select the best tires for their car if they aren't sure about what kind of tires to get. Consumers should remember that high quality tires can get expensive, but these tires often pay for themselves because they last longer, help cars run more efficiently, and contribute to overall safety. In addition to buying the right tires for a car, it is also important to remember to maintain them and keep them properly inflated.

Maintaining the appropriate air pressure in tires is important for both safety and fuel efficiency.
Maintaining the appropriate air pressure in tires is important for both safety and fuel efficiency.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


What I have to wonder about tire ratings is how vital they are to the vehicle someone is driving? Is selecting tires an exact science in itself? Do not the vehicles have recommendations on what kind of tires should be used? I have always thought that tire ratings were a little overrated considering that tires could be swapped very easily depending on what someone wants to do with their vehicle. I just wonder if mechanics take the tire ratings very serious or use other guides to figure out the appropriate tires for someone to put on their vehicle.


I remember the Firestone tire controversy in the early 2000's and how their tire ratings went way down.

I always thought that a problem like Firestone had with their tire ratings should not reflect their tire ratings as a whole. If the tires were defective and problems were found they would be taken off of the shelves and not be sold to people. However, probably because of the negative public perception and the media firestorm that ensued concerning the problems and accidents that cam with the line of tires produced this caused their tire rating to completely fall flat and cause their company to suffer and take years to recover.


@Izzy78 - I feel like your incident may have been extremely isolated and does not have a lot to do with what ratings were received on those tires.

The way the tire ratings system works is how they are designed and what their limits are. When an anomaly, such as defections in the rubber occur, this causes complete chaos and completely screws up the ratings of the tires.

The tire rating is not necessarily a review on the tires, it is an assessment in how they perform under what conditions and what their limits are. Although you had a bad experience with your tires it was something that does not happen very often and is something that is not at all ordinary with the brand of tires.


I have never trusted tire ratings ever since I had defective Bridgestone tires that were considered top of the line and they completely blew out on me.

I was driving down an overpass on an Interstate and a tire literally exploded on me and almost caused a spectacular wreck. The tire basically turned to powder and after I complained to the manufacturer they recalled that model of tires and completely changed the tire rating.

Although this may have just been an isolated incident, when I see a rating for something I expect them to come through on something they say is very positive. A tire is something that concerns safety and can cause a very bad wreck or accident and since tire ratings are an inexact science I tend not to trust them a whole lot.


How important are snow tire ratings when you are shopping for new car tires?

I haven't purchased snow tires before but I just moved into an area that gets pretty harsh winters. I am not sure if my current tires are going to do the job that well.

On that note, do you think that all-season Goodyear tire ratings and all-season Firestone tire ratings are good to go by?

If I don't get specifically winter tires I will definitely get the best all-season ones I can. It really depends on the price.


@Sara007 - It is good you are getting educated about tire ratings and what they mean. You don't have to worry too much though about choosing the best tires though. You can either just get the same tires you have now or look up some of the consumers reviews for tires.

If you want to get the same tires you have now you'll find the brand, design and size information printed right on your tires identifying what you need to get.

As for purchasing tires, I would go in with the tires you want written down to avoid being upsold. Though you will want your tires professionally installed as they use a special machine to change them.


I need to buy new tires for my car and I was wondering if anyone could recommend a tire ratings guide that would help me out. I really need something that looks at winter tire ratings because we get a lot of snow in our area and it can be pretty hazardous.

This year will be the first time I have had to replace my tires since I purchased my car, so I am not really sure what to expect with the whole process. Do you just go in and ask for a specific brand, or rating and they give it to you? Or should you just not bother and let the mechanic choose for you?

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