A Step-By-Step Guide to Choosing Car Tires

close up of tire on red car

Car tires all come in the same shape, but that’s about where the identical details stop. Tires are available in a wide array of sizes and types, and the sheer number of options can make finding the right tires for your car seem daunting. With a little basic knowledge, however, you can easily choose the right car tires. Here’s a step-by-step guide to take you through the process.

Step 1: Determine Possible Tire Sizes

All tires follow a uniform sizing system that’s expressed in a string of letters and numbers. For example, your car’s tires might be “P 205 / 55 R15.” The latter three items are what you’re primarily interested in, as you’ll almost certainly get a passenger (P) tire and the backslash is simply a placeholder. Also, most car tires are radial (R).

If you’re interested, the three numbers correspond to different measurements:

  • The first number (205 in the example) is how many millimeters wide the tire measures
  • The second number (55 in the example) is the aspect ratio, which expresses the tire’s height as a percentage of its width
  • The final number (16 in the example) is the diameter of the rim that the tire gets mounted on

You don’t need to know all of this in order to choose the right size tires, though. Instead, you can simply find your car’s tire size and look at tires that have an identical size in all three measurements.

There are a few places you can find your car’s tire size. It’ll be printed:

  • On the sidewall of each tire currently on your car
  • In your the owner’s manual for your car
  • On the driver’s side door jam

If you check the owner’s manual, you might see the factory-installed size with some alternative sizes that are also compatible. These alternative sizes will work fine with your car, but they won’t fit your current rims unless you have custom rims already. If you opt for an alternative size (see next section), expect to also purchase rims for that size.

Step 2: Consider an Alternative Tire Size

In most cases, drivers get tires that are the same size as they currently have specifically so that they don’t need to purchase rims as well. There are a couple of times when it makes sense to change tire sizes and also purchase rims, however.

First, some drivers purchase larger rims and tires because they like the style better. If appearances matter to you, this might be an upgrade you’re interested in. Second, some drivers in snowy climates get narrower tires so they cut through slush more easily. Unless you expect to do a lot of winter driving in cold climates, this normally isn’t necessary.

Assuming neither of these apply to your situation, stick with the same size as the tires that are on your car right now.

Step 3: Choose the Right Type of Tire

Once you’re set on a tire size, the next step is to choose the right type. There are many types of tires, such as winter, all-season, summer, and performance.

Many people drive on all-season tires, and these are what come with most new cars. They offer a good balance of quietness, smoothness, fuel efficiency, and traction. Other types, such as performance, summer, and winter tires, all emphasize one aspect or another (e.g. fuel efficiency or traction), and are typically only appropriate in certain situations.

Unless you have particular needs, an all-season tire will likely offer solid all-around performance. If you do have a particular need, select the tire that’s most appropriate for your situation. The category names are generally descriptive of a tire’s purpose.

At this point, you should be ready to select a tire that’s the right size and type for your vehicle. All that remains is to order the number of tires that you need. If you need new tires, search the inventory of tires that we have at Driver’s Edge.