Best Tires: A Buyer's Guide for 2021

Tires are incredibly important, and they’re a significant investment. Your safety depends on them, so we’re serious about our tire recommendations. We took it a step further and have launched our Golden Wrench Awards for excellence in the tires space. Our Golden Wrench methodology is based on over 30 data points. Car Talk researchers took an in-depth look into the tire industry.

Our Methodology:

  • Consumer Satisfaction: Consumers provided data about what their experience was using tire models within each of these brands.

  • Industry Professionals: Car Talk researchers performed a nation-wide survey of over 800 mechanics and industry professionals for their opinions..

  • Government Reporting: Statistics reported for safety and durability.

  • Tire Quality and Engineering: A tire brand’s overall quality and engineering or innovation influenced a consumer’s decision to purchase.

  • Performance: Car Talk looked at how tires from these particular brands performed in a variety of weather conditions.

Take a look at our Golden Wrench winners for Best Tires in 2021.

Golden Wrench Michelin Awards

Golden Wrench Award Winners for 2021

Golden Wrench Winner for Best Overall Brand - Michelin

Michelin is the world's top tire manufacturer and leads the industry in innovation and trust. As our top Golden Wrench winner for Best Brand overall, Michelin has a trusted track record for quality and longevity.

  • Superior quality ranking
  • Superior consumer ranking
  • Focus on environmental responsibility

Golden Wrench Winner for Best All Season Tire - Michelin CrossClimate2

Michelin's CrossClimate2 is our Golden Wrench winner and top pick for Best All Season Tire due to its innovative design and Michelin's thermal adaptive all-season tread compound. The unique design offers superior dry, wet and wintertime performance.

  • Superior industry ranking
  • Superior innovation
  • Available sizes: 16" - 20"

Golden Wrench Winner for Best Performance Tire - Michelin Pilot Sport 4S

Michelin's Pilot Sport 4S is our Golden Wrench winner and top pick for Best Performance Tire on the market today. This superior tire scored the highest marks for flexibility, grip and traction. The Pilot Sport 4S is a precision tool that offers spectacular performance.

  • Excellent durability
  • Superior performance
  • Available sizes: 17" - 23"

Golden Wrench Winners - Best Overall Brand - Full List

4.9 of 5

Michelin is the world's top tire manufacturer and leads the industry in innovation and trust. As our top Golden Wrench winner for Best Tire Brand, Michelin has a trusted track record for quality and longevity.

4.6 of 5

Continental produces a wide range of tires from bicycles and motorcycles to commercial trucks and industrial equipment. Their core business is in passenger tires. Our second top-rated Golden Wrench goes to this company, as they have achieved a great deal of success in the automotive world.

4.4 of 5

Cooper Tires has the winning combination of pricing, brand reputation, and popularity among automotive manufacturers. They sell tires that match nearly every market need, from fuel efficient low rolling resistance tires to extreme off-road treads.

4.4 of 5

This Japanese company now produces top-flight passenger, performance, and truck tires at excellent facilities in Virginia and Mississippi. The brand is popular in racing circles, as well as passenger, SUV, light truck and all-season tire types.

4.3 of 5

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber is an American company founded in 1898 and has grown to become one of the world’s largest tire companies. Known for a vast array of tires, this company is known for durability and quality.

4.3 of 5

Bridgestone is currently the largest tire manufacturer in the world. This company offers over 100 different tire models and boasts something for every type of driver. Bridgestone is credited with reinventing the industry approach to winter tires in the 1990s with the Blizzak line.

4.3 of 5

BFGoodrich has been in business since 1870, and is one of the oldest tire manufacturers in existence. The company maintains a good reputation for all-terrain and mud-terrain tires and is widely available for consumers.

4.2 of 5

Pirelli is one of the oldest and most respected tire brands on the market. The company is now the fifth largest tire manufacturer in the world. While well known in racing circles, Pirelli has a wide variety of tire models and sizes to offer to the regular consumer.

4.2 of 5

Firestone tires are one of the most popular and widely available brands on the market today. These tires are consistently rated as being quiet, comfortable and affordable.

4.2 of 5

General Tires has been in business since 1915. General is known to deliver quality, performance, and value. The company offers a wide variety of tires for many driving applications.

4.2 of 5

Hankook is relatively new to the game, compared to many of the larger companies in the automotive space, however they have a huge selection and maintain very good consumer reviews.

4.1 of 5

Dunlop has been in the business for over a hundred years, specializing in racing and motorsports. The company is known for its history of innovation and development.

4.1 of 5

This company is known in tire circles for quality of manufacturing and good consumer reviews. The company provides passenger car, SUV, crossover, light truck and bicycle tires.

2.7 of 5

Budget tires. Sometimes you get what you pay for. Milestar was not highly rated in our research and a common complaint from buyers was shorter than expected tread life

2.4 of 5

Chaoyang is a Chinese rubber manufacturer offering mostly bicycle tires and more recently, passenger, SUV, light truck, and motorcycle tires. This brand is not widely known in the industry. We recommend doing your due diligence and proceed with caution.

See all tire brands »

Golden Wrench Winners - Best All Season Tire - Full List

4.9 of 5

The CrossClimate2 is our Golden Wrench winner and top pick for Best All Season Tire due to its innovative design and Michelin's thermal adaptive all-season tread compound. The unique design offers superior dry, wet and wintertime performance.

4.8 of 5

The PureContact LS is our second Golden Wrench winner due to its industry reviews, responsive handling and solid grip in dry, wet and winter weather.

4.5 of 5

The AVID Ascend GT is known for its tight grip in dry, wet and wintry conditions, including light snow.

4.5 of 5

The Cinturato P7 All Season Plus II is designed for solid handling, fuel economy and enhanced traction in wet conditions.

4.4 of 5

The Bridgestone Turanza QuietTrack provides a serene driving experience combined with long tread life and good wet, dry traction.

4.2 of 5

The Assurance WeatherReady offers excellent control in a number of weather conditions, including light snow and ice.

4.0 of 5

The Firestone WeatherGrip is a solid choice for value, tread life and traction in most weather conditions, including light snow.

2.7 of 5

This lesser known brand might fit a tight budget, but we recommend doing your due diligence and proceeding with caution. Not as many sizes available and customers have reported treadwear issues.

See more all season tires »

Golden Wrench Winners - Best Performance Tire - Full List

4.9 of 5

The Michelin Pilot Sport 4S is our Golden Wrench winner and top pick for Best Performance Tire on the market today. This superior tire scored the highest marks for flexibility, grip and traction. The Pilot Sport 4S is a precision tool that offers spectacular performance.

4.7 of 5

The ExtremeContact DWS06 offers an advanced all-season tread compound and is great for a variety of weather conditions.

4.5 of 5

The Eagle Exhilarate was developed for high performance, handling and traction in wet and dry conditions.

4.5 of 5

The G-Max AS 05 offers an aggressive, large tread pattern that provides excellent grip and handling.

4.4 of 5

The P Zero All Season Plus features excellent traction in wet and light snow. The asymmetric, varied tread sizes on this tire make for solid handling.

4.2 of 5

The HTR A/S PO3 features excellent handling and high performance traction in a variety of weather conditions.

4.0 of 5

The G Force Comp 2 AS Plus offers excellent wet and dry traction while maintaining a solid reputation for tread life and handling.

See more performance tires »

Choosing a Tire Brand

If our Golden Wrench recommendations don't fit within your needs or budget, there are many reputable brands to choose from. If we can offer one piece of advice, it’s to choose a tire brand you’ve heard of. If somebody’s trying to talk you into a set of Riptide Ditchfinders from the gas station for a third what the same size Yokohama tire would cost, do yourself a favor and save your money.

There really aren’t that many tire brands that might ring a bell when somebody mentions them to you, so it really narrows down the wide field of brands you should be thinking about. In general, we always look to the following brands when we need to replace your tires:

There are also a couple of specialty brands that specialize in tires that are top-shelf in that narrow field:

Choosing a Quality Tire Brand

Why bother spending more money with a known brand when you could save tons of money buying tires from some random hoops from the Dollar Store? Tires are all the same, right? Round, black and smelly.

Not so fast. There is an incredible amount of research that goes into just the rubber compound of specific tires, long before any design considerations are made on how the tread works, how the belts overlap or how heavy duty the sidewall is.

Depending on your usage, you could destroy a cheap set of tires in a day. Literally. If your mission is to take your vehicle off-road, for example, and you’ve chosen a sub-standard brand of tires, a sharp rock could easily puncture a hole in the sidewall and your day is over. Those are exactly the hazards that the brand name tire manufacturers are hoping to protect you from when they invest the money in research and development, rather than just fulfilling the round-black-smelly opening ante. Consider one tire, for example, BF Goodrich’s All-Terrain T/A K02. It’s one of the most popular all-terrain tires in the business and BF Goodrich has spent a ton of money marketing it since it was introduced in 2014, which is why you might think you could choose a lesser brand. Why pay more for a tire just because the company that makes it spent more on marketing?

But the money BF Goodrich spent went to prove that the K02 is the best tire in its class. When the tire was introduced, the company supplied these off-the-shelf tires for the Baja Challenge class in the Baja 1000 desert race. Every single vehicle that competed in that class wore the same tires that you could have delivered to your house today, and the point was to prove that tire’s durability during one of the world’s most punishing off-road races.

You’re just not going to get that kind of testing out of some tire manufacturer that is also known for making shirts.

Tires for Different Purposes

Most tire manufacturers have a number of different tire models aimed at a different kind of consumer. Some folks are just looking for a decent, safe, replacement tire for their Honda Fit, and most tire brands would be happy to provide them with one. Other tire consumers are looking for something more specific: a V-rated performance tire for their late model muscle car. A light truck tire for long hauls on the highway without a lot of road noise. A gnarly off-road tire for their sports SUV.

Most manufacturers are going to have a tire that meets the needs of that consumer, but if you’re wedded to a specific tire brand, it may not have all the attributes you’re looking for in its tire range.

We’ll break down our tire brand recommendations into each of the general vehicle types: Passenger Car/Minivan, Performance Car, Pickup Truck, SUV. We’re also building out recommendations for popular vehicle models. You can find links to those articles that go in much more depth in the section below.

See more information on tires for different purposes. Winter Tires, All-Terrain Tires, All-Season Tires, Truck Tires, SUV Tires

What Tires Should I Choose for My Passenger Car or Minivan?

In a way, choosing a tire brand that suits an everyday passenger car or minivan is the toughest choice you’re likely to face because just about every manufacturer offers a tire to fit those types of vehicles. Tires that fit in the passenger car class are generally constructed to reach several goals:

  • Treadlife - Many of the tires in this class are going to have tread life ratings that are in the 500 range, meaning that in testing, they lasted 5 times longer than the 100-rated control tire they were tested against. The tires we chose all beat the 500 rating

  • Traction - Most of these tires are going to be in the A range, which is good, but not the highest of AA, meaning they’ll perform well in wet and snowy conditions.

  • Temperature - These tires almost all have a B heat resistance rating, which is middle-of-the-road. They aren’t high-speed rated tires, so high-temperature ratings weren’t part of the original design brief.

All of these tires were rated higher than 3.5 stars out of 5 by consumers:

  • Budget: Yokohama Avid Ascend GT - With a 740 tread life rating, these tires are going to be in your car for a good long time. They’re around the same price as you’d find for the original equipment tires that came on your car when it was new. They feature an A traction rating and an A temperature rating.

  • Moderately Priced: Michelin Premier A/S - These 640 tread life rated tires should get you through the next three or four years without issue, and for a Michelin tire, they’re quite reasonably priced. It receives an A traction and an A temperature rating as well.

  • Price No Object: Michelin CrossClimate2 - These award-winning all-season grand touring tires offer exceptional handling and performance no matter the time of year. The CrossClimate2 innovative design features a unique tread compound which can handle dry, wet, and winter weather with rubber that stays flexible in low temperatures.

Read more about Car Talk's Best All Season Tire for 2021.

See our top tire picks for these popular models. Honda Civic, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, Toyota Corolla, Honda Accord, Honda Odyssey, Ford Fusion, Ford Edge, Toyota Prius

What Tires Should I Choose for My Performance Car?

You’ll notice right away that tread life isn’t exactly a performance tire strong suit. Most of these tires are rated in the 450 range, and some can be as low as 200. That means that some of them are going to wear out in half as much time as a conventional passenger car or touring tire.

The advantage, though, is their road-holding capability. These tires constructed with a much stickier rubber compound, and in some cases, a much more track-oriented tread pattern, often with diagonal tread on just the outer portion of the contact patch, while the inner section is grooved almost like an F1 rain tire.

These tires are also unidirectional, meaning that when it’s time to rotate them, they can only be relocated to the front from the rear, not in a cross pattern.

Performance tires on modern cars are usually in the 19- or 20-inch range, but you can buy a high-performance tire in 17-inch sizes for your passenger car, too.

All of these tires have received greater than a 3.5 out of 5 star rating by consumers:

  • Budget: Kumho Ecsta PS91 - You don’t necessarily need to spend a fortune for a decent performance tire. Kumho makes an excellent tire for half the price of the brands you usually associate with performance tires. The Ecsta offers excellent wet performance and is generally highly regarded among shoppers who’ve owned them.

  • Moderately Priced: Continental Extremecontact Sport - Continental Extremecontact Sports are highly rated by consumers who’ve owned them. They not only offer outstanding wet traction, but their tread life rating is significantly higher than the competition.

  • Cost-No-Object: Michelin Pilot Sport 4S - A superior performance tire that’s original equipment on some of the world’s highest performance vehicles, Pilot Sport 4S is at the top of its class in performance.

Read more about Car Talk's Best Performance Tires for 2021.

See our top tire picks for these popular models. Ford Mustang

What Tires Should I Choose for My Pickup Truck?

Pickups have a lot of purposes. Some pickup owners are interested in their towing and load-hauling abilities. Some are more interested in using their trucks for fun. Instead of breaking our tire recommendations into price categories, we’re going to provide recommendations on tires for three of the most common ways people use their trucks.

We’ll look at tires for work, for commuting, and for play:

  • For Work: Hankook DynaPro HT - The DynaPro HT is a highly rated tire with an E load range, meaning that they have 10 plies of radial cords inside, and can be inflated up to 80 psi for heavy loads. They’re also less expensive than some of the comparable brands.

  • For Commuting: Sumitomo Encounter HT - The Encounter HT is a highway-oriented truck tire that should provide years of service. In every category, this tire shines against the competition.

  • For Play: BF Goodrich Mud Terrain KM3 - For bashing around off-road, there aren’t many tires that are better than the KM3. With a blocky tread design, outstanding sidewall strength, and surprisingly low noise on the road, these are the tires that will get you there and back.

See our top tire picks for these popular models. Chevy Silverado, Ford F-150, Ford Ranger, GMC Sierra, Nissan Titan, Ram 1500, Toyota Tacoma, Toyota Tundra

What Tire Should I Choose for My SUV?

SUVs used to be just pickup trucks with an enclosed bed and a few seats thrown in the back. Today, SUVs are the most competitive category in the entire automotive landscape. You run the gamut from commuter cars like the Nissan Rogue to high-performance SUVs like the Porsche Cayman to off-road beasts like the Jeep Wrangler.

Like our pickup category, we’ll break our recommendations into how these vehicles are used, as opposed to the price of the tires:

  • Compact Crossover Commuter: Falken Ziex ZE001 A/S - You might not know Falken as well as you do some of the other brands, but they build an excellent tire. The Ziex ZE001 is an all-season tire built specifically for the needs of a compact crossover driver. These were original equipment on some Rogue models and they’re an excellent replacement for other models.

  • High-Performance SUV: Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric - These are the ultimate in sport SUV tires, and are a great replacement for vehicles like the Range Rover Sport. Available in the huge 22-inch size that these ultra-performance SUVs require, the Eagle F1 Asymmetric is more focused on nimble handling in wet and dry conditions than it is in off-road performance.

  • Off-Road: General Grabber X3 - The Grabber X3 is a maximum traction off-road tire with the guts to get you anywhere you want to go. Huge evacuation channels get the mud out, while the aggressive stone bumpers at the edge of the tread protect the tough sidewalls from punctures.

See our top tire picks for these popular models. Chevy Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV-4, Toyota Highlander, Toyota 4Runner, Subaru Forester, Subaru Outback, Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Compass, Ford Explorer, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Renegade, Audi Q5, Subaru Crosstrek, Lexus RX350, Chevy Tahoe, Honda Pilot

How to Read a Tire

Don't know what all those numbers on the side of your tires mean? We have put together this infographic to help you understand what your tire is trying to tell you.

You can download this infographic here. If you reference the image please provide a link back to this page.

How to read a tire

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FAQ

Which tire brands are the best?

The short answer is: a brand you’ve heard of. There are differences between the major brands of tires (Goodyear, BF Goodrich, Pirelli, Michelin, etc.) and you should understand what those pros and cons are. But there’s a major difference between those tire brands and some no-name, fly-by-night brand that’s sold out of a van along with home stereo speakers. For more on this, take a look at Car Talk's top picks for Best Tire Brands for 2021.

What are the top 10 tire brands?

Michelin, Goodyear, Pirelli, General, Bridgestone, Cooper, BFGoodrich, Continental, Yokohama, Hankook. You can read more about these top brands in Best Tire Brands for 2021.

Which brand of tires last the longest?

That’s often up to you. The way you drive has a lot to do with how your tires wear. Regular alignments are also part of the equation. And “longevity” probably shouldn’t be in your top 5 considerations when buying a tire. Dry and wet weather performance should. A tire is no good to you if it lasts 75,000 miles but has all the grip of an 8-ball.

Where is the best place to buy tires?

We’ve provided an article on tire buying with some great recommendations. The answer really depends on your individual case. If you can find a shop close by that’s an affiliated installer, sometimes online retailers are your best bet. But don’t discount the brick-and-mortar stores. There are many times when they can beat an online retailer’s price and provide a more complete service, from mount and balance to tire disposal.

How often should I rotate my tires?

Rotating tires is more about the tire than it is about the car. A typical rotation interval is somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 miles, though specific cars and tires may change those numbers a bit. Depending on how you drive, and what kind of driveline your vehicle has, tires at different ends of the vehicle may be worn more quickly than the rears. It’s important to keep this in mind and to not ignore the need to rotate your tires.

How do I change a tire?

With a quick google search you can see how to do it yourself. In general, your vehicle either has a spare tire and changing tools, or a tire inflation kit with an aerosol spray tire sealer, and a compressor. If you don't feel comfortable doing it yourself, or if you need a new tire installed, see our article on choosing a mobile tire repair service so you can locate someone to do this cost effectively and quickly.

How do I know what size tire is on my car now?

All of that information is contained in the information on the sidewall of your tire. The Tire Industry Association provides an excellent guide to finding the tire size, the UTQG rating and the date code of your current tires at its website.

Are age and mileage the only reasons to replace a tire?

Absolutely not. There are many other reasons to replace your tires, mostly due to road hazards. Any punctures, cuts or abrasions -- especially in the sidewall -- should be the reason to consider at least replacing one tire. If there are any bulges or other visible deformities in your tire, that’s when it’s time to place a call to replace them.

Do I have to replace all four at once?

It’s always a good idea to, but it’s not 100 percent necessary. If you’ve got one tire that’s had a puncture and the other three are in good shape, there’s no reason to replace all four. Tire rotation will become that much more important, though, to allow the tread on all four tires to wear more evenly.

Can I mix and match tire brands?

That’s not such a great idea. If you’re going to replace two tires, it’s a good idea to find tires of the same brand. If you absolutely have to mix and match brands, replace two at a time on the same axle.

Editor's note and disclaimer: Car Talk is supported by our fans, readers and listeners. When you click on some of the links on our website, we may receive referral compensation. However, you should know that the recommendations we make are based on our independent editorial review and analyses.