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Tyre buying guide: How to compare car tyres

We'll walk you through the steps to choose the best tyres for your vehicle.

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Close up of a car tyre

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Car tyres retail award

Best Rated Car Tyre Brand: Continental Tyres

Australian car owners have chosen Continental as the best brand for tyres. Continental uses German engineering and comprehensive testing to create tyres that 100% of surveyed users recommend. The company received not only the highest overall score but also the highest score across all brands for performance and additional high ratings for build quality and durability.

Quick facts about tyres

  • Car tyres are crucial to your vehicle's safety and performance on the road.
  • It's essential to replace old and worn tyres regularly.
  • There are many different tyre sizes, types and brands to choose from, with prices ranging from $70 to over $500.

When do I need new tyres?

The right tyres ensure that your car accelerates, turns and stops safely, is cheaper to run and offers a smooth ride. But when should you change your car tyres? Some experts recommend changing tyres that have been fitted for more than five years, but the best indicator is the tread of the tyre.

The legal minimum tyre tread depth in Australia is 1.5mm. New tyres come with around 8mm of tread depth, and some manufacturers recommend getting new tyres when the depth reaches 3mm.

Take a close look at the tread on your tyres. There should be tread wear indicators moulded into the tread – when the tyres are worn down so far that these bars are flush with the adjacent tread, it's time to get new tyres. Make sure you check the entire surface of the tyre so you don't miss any uneven wear.

Worn tyre tread can make a sizable difference to stopping distance and mean the difference between life and death, so don't put off shopping for new tyres if yours are starting to look worn. If in doubt, don't hesitate to ask a professional for advice. Visit a reputable tyre shop and let their expert eyes give your car's rubber a closer inspection.

For more tips and advice on how to keep your car in tip-top condition, check out our guides to car servicing and car maintenance.

Types of tyres

The main way to distinguish between tyres is based on their size. However, to understand what size a tyre is, you'll first need to decipher the code printed on the side of your tyre, which may look something like this: P205/65R15 92H.

In this code:

  • P stands for passenger tyre.
  • 205 is the section width (measured in mm) of the tyre when properly inflated. The section width is the distance between the exterior sidewalls.
  • 65 is a percentage that denotes the tyre's aspect ratio, which is the comparison between the section height and section width.
  • R is for radial, the most common tyre construction method.
  • 15 is the diameter (in inches) of the rim the tyre must be fitted to.
  • 92 is the load rating index, which is used to denote how much weight one tyre is rated to carry. In this case, an index of 92 means the tyre can carry up to 630kg.
  • H is an index that specifies the maximum speed at which a tyre can travel. In this case, H is 210 km/h.

Check your car's owner's manual or tyre placard for the manufacturer's recommended tyre size, speed and load. When carmakers launch a new model, they work closely with big-name tyre companies to find the best handling, braking, comfort, efficiency and wear rate, so the tyres your carmaker nominates are typically the best choice.

How to compare tyres

While it can be tempting to save money and fit budget tyres, spending a little extra for quality tyres usually means improved performance and safety. Pricier tyres will also generally last longer than their cheaper counterparts, which can help to offset some of the additional cost. Car tyre prices start at around $70, with most sitting somewhere in the $100-$350 price bracket.

Once you know what size and type of tyre your car manufacturer recommends, you can start weighing up the pros and cons of the available options. Make sure you consider the following factors when comparing tyres:

Brand

A good rule of thumb is to stick to well-known, mainstream tyre companies. These brands may carry a price premium but they usually offer higher quality and back-up support if something goes wrong with their product. If someone's trying to sell you a brand you've never heard of with no history or customer support network behind it, consider other options.

Performance

Choosing tyres often involves making compromises between things like grip, durability, road noise and performance. For example, soft tyres provide increased grip but wear quicker than hard tyres. Grooved tyres provide more grip on wet roads but may also have increased road noise. No one tyre will be the best at everything, so it's up to you to decide which criteria you prioritise above all else.

Year of manufacture

Tyres are also stamped with a four-digit code to denote their year of manufacture. The first two digits indicate the week in the year the tyre was manufactured and the last two digits indicate the year – so a tyre marked 0416 was manufactured in April 2016. If any of your tyres have a three-digit code instead, this means they were manufactured in the 20th century and are long overdue for replacement.

Directional vs asymmetric

Directional tyres must be fitted to a car with their tread pattern facing a particular way. The correct rolling direction is usually indicated by an arrow on the sidewall, and fitting a tyre the wrong way can result in reduced handling performance and a shorter lifespan. Asymmetric tyres must be fitted to your car with a particular side (the one marked "outside" on the rim) facing outwards.

Reviews

From wet and dry handling performance to the quietness of the ride, there are many things it's impossible to know about a tyre simply by looking at it. This is why it's a good idea to check out some independent reviews from other users to find out how a particular tyre performs in the real world.

Rolling resistance

Tyre manufacturers sometimes make claims about the better fuel economy delivered by the low rolling resistance of their tyres. However, as there's no uniform testing method used across all manufacturers to measure rolling resistance, you shouldn't accept these claims as gospel.

How many tyres should I buy?

It's recommended that you replace all tyres at the same time to ensure that there's no interference with your car's handling and performance. If you're replacing less than the full complement, take note that tyres on both sides of an axle must have the same tread pattern and tread depth.

US ratings

When a tyre is sold in the US, it must have a tread wear rating printed on the sidewall. If it's also sold in Australia, you can use this rating to work out how long a tyre will last. The Uniform Tyre Quality Grading system (UTQG) measures tread wear around an 11,520km test course, with all tyres graded against a "standard" tyre rated at 100. So if a tyre has a rating of 300, it should last three times longer than a standard tyre.

There are also two other ratings printed next to the tread wear rating:

  • A traction rating. This rates the tyre's ability to stop in the wet (AA, A, B or C).
  • A temperature rating. This grades a tyre's ability to dissipate heat (A, B or C).

Best rated car tyre brand award breakdown

Data: Finder Retail Brand Survey, 2019, Roy Morgan. Metric out of 5 stars unless indicated. Methodology and more info. Roy Morgan

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