Don’t Spin Your Wheels

Most tire buyers stick to vanilla choices, but you can get versatility and durability. Here's how to pick the right rubber for your roads.

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If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That sums up the mentality of most replacement-tire buyers. But there are downsides to conventional all-season tires. Cold weather, for instance, can stiffen them so much that they struggle to keep their grip. And besides, specialty tires just make sense sometimes. A run-flat, for example, is a great insurance policy if you often travel through remote areas. And if you have a souped-up sports car, why not run it on the most responsive rubber you can buy? Here are the pros and cons of each of the four major tire types.

1. ALL SEASON
Life span: 80,000 miles

Buy Them If:
You want to put tires on your car and forget about them for a few years-rain or shine. If you want slightly better handling but still no maintenance, several companies now offer “touring” tires designed to bridge the gap between all-season and high-performance tires.
Think Again If: You do a
significant amount of serious winter driving. They’re far less capable than dedicated snow tires.

2. HIGH PERFORMANCE
Life span: 4,000 to 40,000 miles

Buy Them If:
You like to feel connected to the road. Their larger width and diameter provide more grip, which means better handling.

Think Again If: You like a nice quiet cockpit-the higher a tire’s speed rating, the stiffer its construction and the more noise it makes. Also, if you don’t consider tires an investment in your car’s performance, you may balk at spending a grand or more for a set of four.

3. SNOW
Life span:
3 months a year, for 4 years
Buy Them If:
You live in a cold climate with lots of snow and ice. These tires have much softer treads than all-season tires, so when they stiffen in cold weather they don’t lose as much traction. Also aiding their grip: specially designed lateral tread grooves.
Think Again If: You’re lazy about car care. If you try to use snow tires year-round, you’ll almost certainly shred them before the next winter.

4. RUN FLAT
Life span: 80,000 miles
Buy Them If:
You often travel through sparsely populated areas, as the tires last 125 to 150 miles at 55 mph after going flat. Also, they come with an electronic tire-pressure monitoring system, so it’s easy to keep them at the recommended psi, which optimizes your gas mileage.
Think Again If: You didn’t order them with the car. Run-flats are an expensive retrofit, mainly because of the monitoring system.