Best tires 2019: top rubber for your car

Best tires Goodyear
(Image credit: Goodyear)

We spent 40 hours comparing prices, available performance options and tread-life warranties for tires fitting mid-size sedans, SUVs and trucks, and Goodyear emerged as the best tire brand overall because of its exceptional options, good prices and minimal risk. 

Why trust us?

Top Ten Reviews has reviewed the best tire brands for six years, and we understand the stress and pitfalls of buying new tires. (We also learned the valuable lesson of making sure our car's alignment was good, something some service stations don't check. A poor alignment can wear out new tires in months.)

Tires are a complex product to review because every car requires a very specific tire size. None of the tires we've researched fit all sizes. So, just because you have your eye on some cool run-flat Pirelli tires, that doesn't mean they'll fit your car. Some tire brands may only have one or two options to fit a specific tire size. 

In addition, it often takes months of driving on a set of tires to determine whether they live up to your performance expectations. So, to navigate these complications, we've reviewed the tire brands as a whole, focusing on the major value points: price per tire, tread-life warranties, performance options.

Best overall

Goodyear

Goodyear

Goodyear makes buying tires online easy

Reasons to Buy
Many options for each tire size.
Above-average tread-life warranties.
Free shipping to your local service station.
Reasons to Avoid
More expensive than most tire brands.
Most winter tires don't have tread-life warranties.
Mosty average tread-life warranties.

Goodyear makes buying tires online easy while minimizing the risk by skipping the retailer altogether, providing free shipping to your local service station.

While the average price per tire are a bit on the expensive side, you save a considerable amount by skipping shipping fees. And the 30-day road test means you can return the tires if they don't meet your expectations. With above-average tread-life warranties, Goodyear is designed to last.

To evaluate tire brands, I compared common tire sizes for mid-size cars, SUVs and trucks. In each size, Goodyear offered the most variety of tires at varying prices and performance specifications. For example, for a mid-size tire (size 205/65R16), Goodyear had nine tire options, covering all-season, winter, all-terrain, summer, performance, fuel efficiency and sport performance. By comparison, most competitors had between four and six options, and a few only had one option fitting this common sedan tire. This disparity was the same with SUVs and was even greater with trucks. It averaged 15 options for trucks. To put it simply, Goodyear tires fit more tire sizes, and this provides a greater chance of finding the right tire to fit your car and your performance needs.

As with every tire brand, the tread life warranty varies according to the tire. With Goodyear, the highest tread life warranties available for each type of tire is above average. Even the average tread life warranties per tire are above average. They aren't the highest, but every warranty is above average and nearly every tire has a tread life warranty. Some winter tires don't have warranties.

Read our full Goodyear review

Best value

Cooper Tires

Cooper

Cooper Tires has the most affordable average prices for every size and type of tire

Reasons to Buy
Very affordable.
Many performance options per tire size.
Good tread-life warranties.
Reasons to Avoid
The road test period varies.
Many sedan tires don't have tread-life warranties.
Not easy to purchase online.

Cooper Tires has the most affordable average prices for every size and type of tire. When you consider the low cost with the above-average tread-life warranties and the number of performance options fitting common tire sizes, the value of a Cooper Tire stands out from the rest.

In my research of common tire sizes, Cooper Tires featured the best average prices per tire. For example, the average mid-size sedan's tire is about $73 per tire while the average market price for the same size tire is about $101. Multiply this by four and you're looking at close to $90 of savings over other brands. (It's worth noting this doesn't include shipping costs imposed by the online retailer or installation fees charged by the service station. That said, you can expect the same fees with other tire brands, save for Goodyear because they provide free shipping.)

The number of performance options per tire size is excellent, receiving A- grades for sedans and SUVs and an A+ for trucks. The number of options are important because it allows you to find the right tire for your performance needs. Most tires I evaluated had six options, but the truck tires often had 15 options. These options cover all-season, all-terrain, fuel efficiency, summer, winter and sport performance tires. By comparison, most tire brands have only two or three performance options fitting most tire sizes, and a few only have one tire fitting common sizes.

The tread-life warranties of Cooper Tires are mostly above-average, though just barely. The SUV and truck tires average 57,000 and 54,000 miles per tire respectively, but some tires have warranties as high as 75,000 miles. The sedan's tread-life warranties are mostly determined by the retailer, but some feature manufacturer warranties as high as 70,000. That said, as with most tire brands, the winter tires often don't come with tread-life warranties.

Read our full Cooper review

Best tread-life warranties

Hankook

Hankook

Hankook offers industry-leading tread-life warranties

Reasons to Buy
Highest available tread-life warranty mileage.
Very affordably priced.
Good performance options for each size rim.
Reasons to Avoid
Fewer original equipment tires than other brands.
Winter tires aren't covered by tread-life warranty.
Can't purchase tires directly.

The biggest concern for drivers, aside from price, is how long the tires last. With Hankook, this concern is quelled with industry-leading tread-life warranties.

While tread-life warranties have stingy stipulations, the mileage stated in the warranty is a good indication of the tire's durability and expected life. Hankook's warranty covers 21 tires, with the best warranty featuring an industry leading 100,000 miles. The rest of the tire brands I reviewed averaged about 83,500 miles with their best tread-life mileage.

The average tread-life warranty Hankook offers is about 59,000 miles. By comparison, most tire brands average around 56,500 miles. Of course, it's worth noting every tread-life warranty, regardless of brand, requires diligent tracking of mileage and maintenance records and other stipulations to make use of the warranty.

While Hankook feature excellent tread-mile warranties, you don't pay a premium for it. On the whole, the average price per tire is very affordable, second only to Cooper tires for value. For example, the average price per sedan-sized tire is $82. The market average for the same size tire is $102 per tire. The same value differential is found in the SUV and truck sized tires. So, not only are the tread-life warranties excellent with Hankook, but the prices are very competitive.

Hankook averaged five performance options for 15-inch rims, seven options for 16-inch rims and five options for 17-inch rims. In addition, it averaged five truck options for each rim size between 16 and 18-inches. While the options aren't elite, each rim size had above-average options to fit it.

Read our full Hankook review

Longest road test period

Continental

Continental

With Continental, you have 60 days to drive on your tires before fully committing to the purchase

Reasons to Buy
65-day road test.
Reasons to Avoid
Very few performance options per tire size.

Most tire brands have a road test period for most of their tires, allowing you to drive on the tires for weeks to evaluate the performance on your vehicle. If you're not happy with the performance or you simply regret paying so much for your tires, you can return them for a full refund. For most brands, the road test period is 30 days. A select few extend this to 45-days. With Continental, you have 60 days to drive on your tires before fully committing to the purchase.

In addition, Continental has a tread-life warranty covering 26 of its tire series, averaging 62,000 miles with the highest tread-life warranty reaching 90,000 miles. When you consider the excellent tread-life mileage and the longest road test period, Continental does its best to minimize the risk of a regretful purchase.

Read our full Continental review

Best winter tires

Michelin

Michelin

When it comes to winter tires, Michelin is the best tire brand

Reasons to Buy
Winter tires have tread-life warranties.
Reasons to Avoid
High price, on average.

Michelin is the most expensive tire brand on the market, averaging $132 per tire for a sedan-sized rims, $214 per tire for SUV rims and $259 per tire for truck rims. In addition, as a tire brand with one of the widest ranges of tire series, most of the series are very limited to the size tire, which means you don't have as many performance options per tire size as with most brands. That said, when it comes to winter tires, Michelin is the best tire brand.

Michelin's tread-life warranty covers 54 tires. This is twice the industry average and 23 more than the next best coverage. A big reason for this is the winter tires – Michelin has tread-life warranties for 10 winter tires, ranging between 25,000 and 40,000 miles. Winter tires are rarely covered by tread-life warranties with other brands, in part because most tread-life warranties are limited to original equipment tires.

Read our full Michelin review

What's in a tire?

In a nutshell, a tire is a rubber container filled with compressed air, but there's more than that going on beneath the surface. There is a lot more than just air inside your tires, which is part of the reason they don’t explode or deflate totally and immediately when punctured.

Starting at the outside, you see the obvious rubber treads. Underneath, there are steel belts, which hold the tire's shape and keep as much tread on the ground as possible. These belts make the tire stable and functional. Underneath that lies fabric belts. But wait! There's more! At the very inside of every tire is an inner liner, which holds the air, and along with the steel belts, gives the tire its shape. It’s important to be knowledgeable when shopping for tires, and knowing what they’re made of is the first step to take.

How much do tires cost?

Tire prices vary according to size and performance. Based on a comparison of common tire sizes, high-quality tires start around $102 for sedans, $167 for SUVs and $204 for trucks, but it is possible to find tires priced below $50 per tire. Just don't expect them to last very long. It's worth noting that installation isn't included and typically costs between $10 and $50 per tire. This also doesn't account for shipping costs, which can run as high as $100 for four tires. However, many online retailers provide free shipping. If you're not getting free shipping to a local service station, then you shouldn't buy tires from that retailer.

Wheel alignment 

Alignment is an important part of how your tires perform, and consequently, how your car performs. According to Bridgestone, tire alignment is the result of your car's suspension system, which connects the wheels to the car. In short, your car is at its best when the suspension, vehicle and tires work together cohesively. One way to see if your tires are aligned is to check the tread; uneven wear means you should have it adjusted. This is particularly bad because if your tires wear unevenly for too long, they won't perform optimally in terms of control, safety and tread life. That means you'll have a harder time getting traction on slick roads. You should also get your tires aligned if your car pulls to the left or right or if you feel the car vibrating slightly when you drive.

When getting your tires aligned, your mechanic might use some unfamiliar terminology. A tire's camber is its inward or outward angle. Toe alignment refers to how much your tires tilt inward or outward from the center of your vehicle. Another word you might hear at the auto shop is "caster," which is the placement of the center of your tire when you look at it from the side of the car. It's a little complicated, but basically, it impacts your car's steering and cornering. All of these things factor into how your tires wear and eventually how often you need to replace them. Consult your mechanic and let them know how often you drive and in what conditions so they can install your tires in a way that best suits your needs.

Time for new tires?

(Image credit: Goodyear)

If you’ve had your car’s tires for a while and you’re not sure whether it’s time for new ones, there is an easy way to find out. Simply get a penny and slide it into one of the numerous grooves on your tire. Make sure the top of Abraham Lincoln’s head is pointed toward the tire as you slide it into the groove. If you can see the top of his Lincoln’s head you need new tires. Being able to see the top of Lincoln’s head means you have less than 1/32 of an inch of tread depth on your tire and the integrity of the tire could be compromised. If the rubber ridges cover the top of his head, you're most likely fine to wait a while longer.

For best results, repeat the penny test on several spots along the tire because they can wear unevenly. If you have excessive wear in the center of your tire but not along the edge, this means you've been driving on overinflated tires. Conversely, if your tires are worn thin around the edges but not in the center, you've been driving on underinflated tires.

Once you’ve decided to purchase new tires, think about the driving conditions you’re in. Consumers who live in hot, dry climates need different tires than those who live in cold, wintry climates. The type of driving you do should also factor in your decision. If you do mostly city driving, you may want different tires than someone who spends many hours a week on the interstate.

Scalloped tires

If your tire isn't wearing on one side more than the other and instead develops a scalloped pattern of wear, you could need more than just new tires. Talk to your mechanic about the possibility of bent or broken suspension parts. If there's something wrong with your suspension or shocks, your tires move more than necessary, causing the scalloped pattern of wear.

One, two, three...or four?

When you realize it's time for new tires you might think you only need to replace the ones that appear to be worn the most. This is incorrect. Even if you think several of your tires have more life left in them, Goodyear recommends replacing all four at the same time. This is particularly important if you buy all-wheel drive tires or those meant for winter driving. If you can't afford all four at the same time, the next best option is to buy two at a time. Try to avoid replacing one tire at a time if at all possible. If one or two of your tires is substantially more worn than the others, this means you've most likely got an alignment problem. Tell your mechanic what you see and ask them to find out what’s wrong with your car.

How we found the best car tires

To compare tire brands, I collected a list of the most common tire sizes for the most popular sedans, SUVs and trucks. Focusing on common tire sizes provides a better cross-section view of the brand's offerings and prices.

Pricing: New tires are a significant purchase, so considering the price is important. Of course, price varies according to size and performance specs, but to simplify our general comparison we looked at average prices across several sizes and styles. For example, Goodyear's average sedan tire is about $108, but this doesn't mean you won't find cheaper options. With as many as six tire options for a sedan, some cost as low as $91 and some as high as $115.

I considered the MSRP when it was listed on the manufacturer's website. However, most tire brands don't sell tires directly from their website and usually don't list the MSRP. In these instances, I considered the lowest price listed by any of the retailers selling the same tire. In most cases, Tire Rack had the best prices, but sometimes Amazon's or Walmart's prices were the lowest.

Tread-Life Warranty: Before I started my research, I asked several people, all from middle-income homes, what influenced their tire purchases the most, aside from price. Brenden Farrell, owner of a midsize sedan and hybrid SUV, echoed the most common sentiment: "I am a fan of tire stores having a replacement policy for when they die prematurely." What Brenden is referring to is the tread-life warranty, and it's often what separates similarly priced tires.

A tread-life warranty is the mileage guaranteed for a specific tire. For example, if a tire has a 90,000-mile tread-life warranty, the manufacturer promises to replace the tires if they "die prematurely," as Farrell calls it, before reaching the 90,000 miles. It's an excellent indication of a tire's toughness and lifespan, and represents great value if you combine a good price with a long tread-life warranty.

Of course, making a claim on a tread-life warranty is not as easy as returning the worn-out tires and expecting new ones. Every warranty from the brands I researched has strict limitations and requirements. The most notable of these are the maintenance requirements and the records. For the warranty to be valid, you have to perform regular rotations and alignment checks, and you must keep a record of each maintenance session.

Since the mileage on a tread-life warranty varies according to the tire, I considered the longest tread-life warranty each brand offers for all tire sizes as well as the average tread-life warranty for all tire options fitting a specific size. Some tires, like most winter tires, don't have tread-life warranties. And some tire brands leave the tread-life warranty stipulations to the retailer. In these cases, I didn't consider the warranty, as they vary considerably from one retailer to another.

Performance Options: Every car tire is designed and engineered to a specific performance standard. There are tires designed for all-season, winter, summer, all-terrain, fuel efficiency, sport performance and more. I considered all of the options each tire brand makes for a given tire size. The best brands have tires for each type of performance, but many only have one or two tire options. Every tire size has at least one all-season tire option and most have a winter tire.

Understanding Tire Sizes

Before you add a set of tires to an online cart, it's critical to make sure the tires will fit your car. Most online retailers ask you to enter the tire size first, but this isn't always the case. Either way, you need to record the size on the sidewall of your current tires.

If it starts with a letter, such as a P, this reflects the type of tire, whether it's a passenger tire or light truck. This is followed by the first number, the tire width. For most vehicles, this is a three-digit number and represents the tire's width in millimeters. Next is a slash separating the tire width from the aspect ratio, a measurement of the tire's height in relation to its width. Following the aspect ratio is an R (Radial) and the wheel's diameter. This last number designates the size of rim the tire fits on.

For example, if a Toyota Camry has P205/65R16 molded into the sidewall of the tire, you need a radial passenger tire with a width of 205 millimeters and a height to width ratio of 65 percent fitting a 16-inch-diameter rim. 

Shipping & Installation Costs

Buying tires online is a great way to avoid aggressive up-selling in a brick-and-mortar service station. However, the savings you find on an online site is often offset by the shipping. Some retailers, like Tire Rack, provide free shipping to the installer of your choosing. If you find a particularly cheap price, make sure to look at the shipping. If you shop around, you should find a tire with free shipping.  

Fitting the tires to the rims is an expense you can't avoid, unless you have special tire-fitting tools in your garage at home. Most service stations charge around $20 per tire for the installation, but it varies. It's important to shop around your local area for the best installation prices. You should ask whether they check the alignment. Some service stations (like Discount Tire) don't check the alignment. A bad alignment could cause your tires to wear out quickly and void the tread-life warranty.

Nearly every retailer I researched allows you to ship the tires to a service station of your choosing. Some retailers, like Walmart, ship the tires to their service station. This doesn't mean you must use their service station to install the tires. However, the installation costs are often cheaper if the installer and retailer are partnered. Either way, researching installation fees in your area can help save some money. Just remember that service stations always list the installation price per tire. So if they say the installation is $20, you need to account for $40 to $80, depending on whether you're replacing two tires or all four.

Installing your tires

While you may be a tire expert, some retailers require you to pay for installation during checkout. This means some companies won’t simply send you the tire and let you install it yourself. Make sure to read the fine print while you’re ordering so you aren’t stuck paying for installation if you don’t need to.

Road test period

Most tire brands have road test periods for all their tires. This is a period between 30 and 90 days where you can drive around on tires to see if you're happy with the performance. If the tires don't suit your preferences, you can return them.

Fuel-efficient tires: are they worth it?

Some tire brands have performance tires optimized for fuel efficiency. These tires theoretically save fuel because they require less power to move. This can be an appealing option, especially when gas prices are so high. But is it worth it?

In 2016, Gene Peterson, a tire expert for Consumer Reports, partnered with the University of Michigan to analyze the rolling resistance of fuel-efficient tires. In the study, he found a 1.9 miles per gallon improvement on the fuel-efficient tires they tested. This may not seem significant, but it can add up to a savings of about $78 per year (based on 2016 gas prices). In essence, a fuel-efficient tire isn't going to turn your 25 mpg car into a 50 mpg car, but they do help.

Replacement vs OE Tires

When shopping for tires online, some tires are labeled as "replacement" and some as "OE." The OE stands for "Original Equipment" and represents the tire the manufacturer chose for the car as it rolled out of the factory. If the tire shows up as "replacement," it simply means it wasn't the original tire. This doesn't mean the tire won't perform any better or worse, but there is a greater risk it won't complement the car's intended performance.

According to TireBuyer.com, "OE tires are often purpose-built to make the most of your vehicle’s performance." For example, a manufacturer might choose a "plush, quiet" tire for a luxury vehicle, an "eco-friendly low rolling resistance tire" for a hybrid, and a tire to "highlight tight cornering or straight-line acceleration" for a sports car.   

If you're concerned with tire performance, an OE tire represents little risk because the manufacturers chose those tires based on how they perform with your specific vehicle. However, you should consider a replacement tire if you want a very specific type of performance, such as all-season or winter performance.  

Tire load & speed ratings

Every tire has a speed rating and a load rating. The speed rating gives the max speed the tire is built for while the load rating represents the max weight of the automobile. In most cases, even the most basic tires have a speed rating around 118 miles per hour and a load rating that suits most vehicles. These ratings are mostly important for sport performance tires and trucks carrying heavy loads.

Winter tires: what's the difference?

Winter tires maintain better traction on icy, snowy or otherwise compromised roads. According to Bridgestone, this is because the rubber used to make these tires is softer, allowing it to grip the road better. The treads on these tires are also often deeper than usual and specialized to funnel slush and snow toward the outside edge of the tire and away from the car. If you live in an area with particularly cold and icy winter weather, you can also opt for studded winter tires.

These tires have little metal studs embedded in the rubber that dig into ice, giving you a lot more traction. They should only be used in extreme weather conditions and shouldn't be used on dry pavement, as they can damage the road. Because of this, some states have laws restricting or totally limiting studded tire use. For example, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Iowa and Kansas only allow studded tires during winter months. Michigan and Florida only permit them with rubber stubs affixed over the metal, and Hawaii doesn't allow them at all. But then again, you're probably not going to need them there. A full list is available from AAA.

Bridgestone doesn't recommend you use these specialized tires all year because they wear faster on hot, dry pavement. This can lead to decreased performance. If you don't want to switch out your tires when the weather changes, you'll want to opt for all-season tires. These usually come on the car when it leaves the factory and work in most conditions. If you're only going to experience a little snow here and there, all-season tires will work just fine.

Nitrogen vs Oxygen

The regular air that goes into your tires is comprised of mostly nitrogen with some oxygen, CO2, water vapor and small concentrations of noble gases. However, you can use pure nitrogen. This option is appealing because nitrogen gas is less likely to seep through the rubber, so your tires stay inflated longer. Tires filled with pure nitrogen are also less prone to deflation when the temperature changes, which can be particularly useful for racing cars or driving in extreme climates. If your tire pressure remains constant, you're more likely to see better gas mileage, which can save you money.

That said, air is more readily available and generally less expensive. Most gas stations have air compressors you can use to keep your tires appropriately filled, and you can often use them for free. As such, if your tire starts losing air rapidly and you just need to get it down the block to a mechanic, you can keep filling up your tire with air to get it there instead of paying for a tow. Nitrogen is much harder to find and usually requires a visit to a mechanic, so you're out of luck if you break down on the side of the road. You can't add in regular air on top of the nitrogen. Also, some mechanics charge to fill up tires with nitrogen, which can add to the overall cost of maintaining your car.

How important is proper tire pressure?

Maintaining proper tire pressure is very important, as it plays a role in a car’s safety, performance and tire maintenance. According to AAA, when a vehicle's tire pressure is low, it affects braking distance and makes for less-responsive steering and poorer overall handling. And when the sidewalls of the tire flex excessively due to low air pressure, it generates heat in the tire, thus accelerating tire wear. The excessive heat can also cause the tires to lose tread or blow out. In addition, low air pressure causes the tires to have more surface area, thus lowering fuel efficiency.

Overinflated tires, on the other hand, aren’t quite as problematic, according to AAA. Overinflated tires don't lead to the same kinds of safety issues that can result from underinflated tires. When a tire is overinflated, however, the ride is not as comfortable, and the tread in the middle of the tire wears out faster.

A common mistake people make when checking the air pressure of their tires is to look at the load-rating air-pressure specification printed on the sidewall of the tire. This is not the proper air pressure for your vehicle. In fact, this sidewall specification indicates only the pressure the tire needs to meet its full rated load capacity, and it is often much higher than your car’s proper air pressure. Instead, consult your vehicle's owner's manual to find what the manufacturer has deemed the optimal tire pressure for your vehicle. If you can’t find it, look for a sticker on the driver's-side door or in the glove box.   

AAA recommends checking the air pressure with a quality pressure gauge, preferably a digital gauge, once a week. Keep in mind that tire pressure can fluctuate due to outdoor temperatures; tires lose 1 pound of pressure per square inch (psi) for every 10-degree-Fahrenheit drop in temperature, and tire pressure increases by 2 to 6 psi when the tires are hot.

ProductPriceOverall RatingPricingTread-Life WarrantyPerformance OptionsAverage Mid-Size Price (per tire)Average SUV & Minivan Price (per tire)Average Truck Price (per tire)Total Tire Series CoveredHighest Tread-Life MileageAverage Tread-Life MileageRoad Test PeriodAverage Passenger Options (15-inch Rims)Average Passenger Options (16-inch Rims)Average Passenger Options (17-inch Rims)Average Truck Options (16-18-inch Rims)
GoodyearView Deal4.5/54.453.9$108.00$178.00$205.003185,00059,00030-Days8161311
CooperView Deal4.5/54.24.25$73.00$118.00$179.002380,00056,50045-Days89612
HankookView Deal4/54.434.7$82.00$139.00$181.0023100,00059,00030-Days5755
ContinentalView Deal4/54.52.54.2$102.00$159.00$184.002690,00062,00060-Days1871
FirestoneView Deal4/542.44.4$87.00$169.00$189.003070,00050,00030-Days4314
General TireView Deal3.5/542.34.4$95.00$151.00$173.002175,00057,00045-Days2433
MichelinView Deal3.5/552.72.9$132.00$214.00$259.005490,00045,00030-Days2863
BridgestoneView Deal3.5/542.93.4$123.00$195.00$226.002280,00056,00030-Days3843
BFGoodrichView Deal3.5/53.52.23.9$102.00$169.00$237.001175,00059,0002333
PirelliView Deal3/54.222.9$111.00$178.001790,00063,00030-Days1550