Tires 101: Understanding the Many Types of Tires

American Tire Distributors (ATD) is one of the largest independent suppliers of tires to the replacement tire market. We operate more than 140 distribution centers, including 25 distribution centers in Canada, serving approximately 80,000 customers across the U.S. and Canada. With more than 80 years of experience, we know a thing or two about tires and we want you to be safe every time you get behind the wheel.

When shopping for tires, some of the most important factors to consider are the proper tire service type, size and rating. Just like with shoes on your feet, there are many options in the marketplace. When you buy shoes, you want them to fit just right. The same goes for when you buy tires for your vehicle. You want to them to fit just right in order to maintain the overall safety and performance. Just like shoes, tires are grouped together based on what they will be used for. These groups include passenger vehicles, light truck, SUVs and CUVs, and specialty tires.

Passenger Vehicles

This group includes vehicles such as passenger cars and minivans. These tires are designed to provide consumers with a quiet, reliable and long lasting tread life. Within the grouping, there are multiple options to choose from depending on your geography and driving style. These are usually P-Metric tires, as they are the most common. However, roughly 5% of the vehicles on the road have other types (ex. Metric/Euro-Metric).

  • All-Season: These tires are designed with all of the elements Mother Nature may send your way. They deliver comfort and solid traction on any surface. The tread pattern tends to be symmetrical with grooves that are designed to provide better grip in wet conditions.
  • Touring: Touring or Grand Touring tires are built to deliver a comfortable ride and responsive handling. These tires usually have a higher speed rating and tend to have an asymmetrical tread pattern.
  • Performance: Performance, Ultra High Performance, Track and Competition tires can all fall under this category. When you want to get the most exhilarating performance out of your vehicle, these are your tires. Performance tires are designed to have larger circular and lateral grooves, which provide better grip. Ultra High Performance, Track and Competition tires are engineered to provide peak performance and handling so you can feel all of the horses your vehicle has to offer.
  • Summer: Summer tires are built to perform in wet and dry conditions typically seen in the summer months, but are truly optimized for warmer weather. These tires provide a strong grip and responsive handling.

Light Truck, SUV’s and CUV’s

This group includes light trucks that have a 1/2-ton, 3/4-ton or 1-ton load capacity, sport utility and crossover utility vehicles. Within this group, the tires are designed to handle a lot of highway or aggressive off-road driving.

  • All-Terrain (A/T): These tires live up to their name, being able to conquer various terrains it may encounter whether it is on a highway or a trail. These tires have a more aggressive tread pattern and have large tread blocks, which provide handling on gravel, sand and light mud. These are popular tires for off-road vehicles because they provide an aggressive look, while minimally affecting road noise or comfort.
  • Mud-Terrain (M/T): These tires are designed with an extremely aggressive pattern with very large tread blocks that provide extreme traction in soft terrains like sand and mud. They often have a more rugged appearance and can withstand punctures, abrasions, tears and other damages that could occur when driving off-road. These tires however are less comfortable on roadways and tend to be noisier than the A/T tires.
Hercules Terra Trac M/T
  • Highway/Sport Truck: Highway and Sport Truck tires are very similar. Both tires provide an all-season tread design that deliver a smooth and comfortable ride on highways and a tread compound that is durable and long lasting. The Sport Truck tire usually features a higher speed rating than that of the Highway tires, however the design and compound of the tire typically are the same.

Specialty Tires

This group includes tires that are designed for a specific use. Whether it’s to tackle ice and snow, haul a vehicle on a trailer, mow your grass or farm a field, this group of tires can handle whatever is thrown its way.

  • Winter (studded or non-studded): Winter tires are designed to perform in the toughest weather conditions. These come are available in studded or non-studded options. The “studs” are small metal suds or pins that stick out from the rubber and are designed to provide enhanced grip in icy driving conditions. Studs are not legal in every state, so be sure to check if they are allowed before purchasing. The non-studded tires deliver enhanced safety and performance in snowy conditions.
  • Temporary (T): These are also known as mini spares, space savers or the well-known term “donut” and should only be used short-term. Temporary tires are available in compact or full size options as well, depending on the vehicle.
  • Specialty Trailer (ST): This group of tires are specialty tires and are specifically designed for use on trailers that carry boats, other recreational vehicles or various equipment. They are constructed in either bias ply or radial ply. Each has its own advantages for the consumer based on what the end use will be. Bias ply tires offer a more rugged design for rougher conditions, however they tend to wear faster. Radial ply tires offer a more smoother ride, best for long trips and highway use.
  • ATV/UTV: These tires are designed with work and play in mind. Whether they are for a four-wheeler or for use on a working utility vehicle out on the ranch, these tires can handle varying terrain.
  • Lawn and Garden: Small lawn and garden tires are designed for lawn equipment used for cutting grass and other off road applications.
Hercules L2 Loader
  • Agriculture (AG): Agricultural tires are designed for tractors and wagon equipment that are used in farming and off road agricultural applications.

Understanding these many types of tires will help you be more knowledgeable and confident when you are ready to purchase your next set of tires. From your friends at ATD, we want you to be prepared for the road ahead so you can thrive and drive into the future. Follow along our Tires 101 blog as we explore the world of tires.

Who we are as people is who we are as a company. We share the same values in the way we work with each other, our partners and our customers. We are ATD.