Choosing the correct tyres can be tough.
What do all the numbers on the side mean? What tyres does my car need? How do I make sure I buy the right size tyres? They're all common questions for UK drivers during this process.
But what are the answers?
If you know you need new tyres but don't know which ones you need, you're in the right place. This guide will help you find what tyres your car needs and help you choose the right ones by answering the following 6 questions:
- When should I change my tyres?
- What size are my tyres?
- What do the numbers on the side of the tyres mean?
- What sort of budget do I need to choose the right tyres?
- What tyre tread pattern do my tyres have?
- What type of tyres does my car need?
Read on to find out how to choose the right tyres for your car, no matter what you need.
When Should I Change My Tyres?
Most drivers will only need to change their tyres every 4-6 years. Most are designed to last this long, especially if you pay a little extra for premium tyres (more on them later).
However, you might need to change your tyres for other reasons. These include:
Low Tyre Tread. The legal limit for tyre tread is 1.6mm and your car will fail its MOT if they're any lower than that. We recommend monitoring your tyre tread regularly and changing them when the tread level drops below 3mm. This will ensure you have a good amount of grip and are as safe as possible on the roads.
Damage. Symptoms of damaged tyres include fraying rubber, cracks and gouges. While tyres are pretty durable, you shouldn't ignore any surface damage as it may lead to a more serious problem. More importantly, damaged tyres will also fail your car's MOT.
A Puncture. Obviously, your car won't go very far if the tyre is completely flat. Whether it's a result of neglect or external damage, you should pull over and change the affected tyre as soon as it's safe to do so. If you don't feel comfortable fitting a spare, call your recovery provider to do it for you. You should then buy a new tyre and get it fitted as soon as possible.
Old Age. Tyres can last longer than 6 years. However, we strongly recommend changing any tyres that are very old. Rubber degrades over time and becomes weaker. This means that old tyres are more susceptible to damage and can 'blowout' (explode violently) more easily. This is very dangerous, for obvious reasons.
Now, no matter the reason why you need new tyres, the process to find the right ones is always the same. The first question to ask is what size your tyres are.
Here's how to find that information if you're unsure.
What Size Are My Tyres?
The most popular UK tyre size is a 16-inch rim.
Now, some tyres might be slightly bigger or smaller depending on the car. For example, the Renault Clio needs tyres that fit a 17-inch rim. The bigger the car, the larger your tyres are likely to be. This means that if you drive an SUV or 4x4, your rims are likely to be much larger than the average size.
You might be thinking "if only there was a simple way to display this information!" Wouldn't that make life so much easier?
Fortunately, such a system exists! Here's how to read your tyres to find the right ones for your car.
What Do the Numbers on the Side of My Tyres Mean?
All the information you need to choose the right tyres for your car is on the sidewall itself.
Look at a tyre currently fitted to your car and you'll see something that looks like this:
Here's what each of the numbers mean and what they tell you (working from left to right).
205 - Width
The three-digit number on the far left refers to the width of the tyre in millimetres. This measures across the tread from one sidewall to the other.
55 - Profile Height
This two-digit number shows the profile height of the tyre as a percentage of the width. So, the pictured tyre is 55% as high as it is wide.
R - Radial
This refers to how the tyre is made. It indicates a radial tyre (the most common type of tyre made these days). These have the cord plies positioned at 90 degrees to the direction of travel to reinforce the tyre and make it stronger.
16 - Rim Size
This also shows the wheel diameter from bead to bead. So a tyre marked with '16' fits on a 16-inch rim.
91 - Load Index
This tells you how much weight the tyre can safely bear (650kg for a 91).
You can choose tyres with a higher load index than your car needs, but you shouldn't buy tyres with a lower load index. This would be unsafe and put too much weight on the tyres - so they could explode while you're driving along.
V - Speed Rating
This tells you the safest top speed you can reach on the tyre (149mph for a V speed rating).
Again, you can fit tyres with a higher Speed Rating, but you can't fit tyres with a lower Speed Rating than your car needs.
You can find full information about the minimum requirements for your tyres in your vehicle handbook. You should choose tyres that show the same numbers to make sure your car is safe and efficient.
There are a few other numbers on a tyre which can help you determine which ones are right for your car. We recommend paying attention to the following as well when buying tyres:
Date of Manufacture
This is a four-digit number. The first two refer to the week the tyres were made and the last two the year.
For example, 1315 means the 13th week of 2015.
Some vehicles need reinforced or extra load tyres (more on this later). This is marked in one of the following ways:
Extra Load = XL, EXL
Reinforced = RF, REINF, RFD
If these tyres are currently fitted to your vehicle, you should buy matching ones to replace them.
What Sort of Budget Do I Need to Choose the Right Tyres?
Unfortunately, tyres aren't that cheap. We recommend always buying tyres in pairs, so the cost can soon add up - especially if your car currently has a premium brand fitted!
As a rule of thumb, you should buy the most expensive tyres you can afford. This brings several key benefits, including:
Increased Fuel Economy. Tyres account for between 20 and 30% of your car's total fuel consumption. The more efficient they are, the less fuel you'll use when driving along. The best way to improve your fuel economy is to look for a tyre that has a Rolling Resistance of A/B (the worst ones can be rated E!).
With fuel prices rising all the time, spending a little bit more on higher-quality tyres can help you save more on fuel in the long run.
Longer Lifespan. Premium tyres undergo more research and development and have been designed to last around 20,000 miles on average. This increased durability means you don't have to fork out for new tyres as often, repaying some of the extra cost.
Less Road Noise. Premium tyres are designed to be quieter which makes for a better driving experience. This also helps you stay safe on the roads as you can hear traffic and pedestrians better.
Of course, it's fine if you can only afford to buy the cheapest tyres for your car. You just might need to change them more often. This can make your car maintenance more expensive in the long run.
Why Do I Need to Buy Tyres in Pairs?
If you're buying tyres on a budget, you might wonder why you need to buy two tyres if only one has a problem.
Simply put, changing tyres in pairs is better for their long-term health and durability.
You want your tyres to wear evenly and be of a similar age for the best driving experience. If you have a brand-new tyre and a 3-year-old tyre on the same axle, you could see some problems in the long run.
Also, if you've noticed a problem with one tyre on the axle, the chances are that the other one will reach the same state pretty soon. This makes it much safer to change your tyres in pairs.
If you still have questions about the quality of your tyres, we suggest speaking to a local garage for a professional second opinion. You should also book an inspection where necessary.
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Should I Stick With the Same Brand or Change?
Generally, sticking with the same brand and type of tyre brings the most benefits. In some cases, these tyres are specifically designed for your car, so you get the best fuel economy and driving performance when using them. In others, they may be a premium brand that offers several benefits when compared to budget tyres.
However, you might not be able to afford premium tyres if they're currently fitted to your car. In this case, it's fine to fit budget tyres. Even though doing so isn't recommended, you can mix tyre brands across axles - the problems start when you fit different brands to the same axle.
Before you change tyre brands, you should consider the tread pattern. This might sound a bit weird, but fitting a different tread pattern can create an uncomfortable driving experience.
What Tyre Tread Pattern Do My Tyres Have?
Fitting tyres with a different tread pattern can make your car noisy and uncomfortable to drive. Different treads grip the road differently, so mixing the patterns can cause stability and control issues.
What's more, it's actually illegal to mix tread patterns across the same axle. While mixing them across separate axles is fine, most tyre experts recommend fitting the same tyre across all your car's wheels for the safest driving experience.
So, make sure you check the pattern on your current tyres and match it to the new ones.
What Type of Tyres Does My Car Need?
Most drivers manage fine with standard tyres all year long. However, depending on where you normally drive, you may need to think about tyre type when choosing new ones.
If you often drive on snowy roads, you should consider fitting winter or all-season tyres to counteract the lack of grip. Winter tyres have deep tread grooves to help you cut through the snow and stay in control of your car in treacherous conditions.
If you often drive off-road or bear more weight, you may need to buy XL or heavy-duty tyres for your vehicle. These are generally fitted to pickup trucks, work vans and motorhomes over passenger cars, so many drivers won't need to worry. However, you should consider whether you need them when choosing the right tyres for other vehicle types.
If you don't drive in irregular weather conditions, standard tyres should do the job fine. Even so, we would always recommend that you consider your options before buying any tyres. Consult your vehicle handbook for guidance and speak to a local garage if you need further help.
Finding out what tyres your car needs and choosing the right ones shouldn't be hard work. If you ask yourself these questions and follow the steps laid out in this guide, it should become an easy process.
On top of that, if you drive safely and sensibly, your tyres should last between 4 and 6 years, making buying new ones an infrequent problem. If you notice excess tyre wear or that you have to buy new tyres more frequently, your car could have an underlying issue. You should look to get this sorted as soon as possible. Book an appointment with a local garage if you suspect there's an issue with your tyres or suspension.