You might think that tires are universal and that it doesn’t really matter all that much which wheels you put on your vehicle.
But as you’ll see in this article, it does matter which tires you choose!
Do All Tires Fit All Cars?
You can not fit any wheels on your car. You need to make sure that the dimensions are a good fit for your vehicle. Car wheels have different widths and they also have different uses. Some tires are made for heavier vehicles and others are made for sedans and lighter cars.
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Are car wheels universal?
The short answer is ‘no’.
Just like people have feet that are of a certain size that only fit certain shoes, vehicles have rims that are of a certain size that fit only certain tires. Just like feet can wear different types of shoes, rims can hold different types of tires, as long as the middle of the tire is the correct size.
Tires with a broad width will have more grip on the road and thus make the vehicle more maneuverable and easier to handle.
However, wide tires tend to be too thin to handle rough roads.
Keep this in mind when choosing the best-suited tires for your purposes.
How to Size Tires
Tire sizes are, at first glance, more confusing than shoe sizes.
- Tires made to standards in the United States have a size number that starts with P for “passenger vehicle tire”.
- No letter means a European standard tire. (Or, rather, tyre.)
- If the size starts with LT, that means “light truck”.
- If it starts with ST, that means “special trailer”.
- The letter will be R, B or S for Radial, Bias or Solid, the three construction methods for tires.
The letters will be followed by a three-digit number that is the tire’s width in millimeters.
This is followed by a forward slash, two numbers, a letter and two more numbers.
The first two-digit number is the aspect ratio of height to width in percentage. The last number is the diameter of the rim it will fit in inches.
The Tires Should Match
Let’s go back to the shoe analogy.
Why do people not wear mismatched shoes? At first glance, it’s only because such a thing looks silly. However, there is practical reason.
If you wear a pump on one foot and a flip-flop on the other, you’re going to walk in a very unstable manner.
It is much the same with tires on a vehicle.
You preferably want all the tires to be of the same brand. They all need to be the same size with the same tread and load index.
If you must mix tires on your vehicle, do it in pairs. You’ll want the tires in the back to have the deeper tread.
What are the main types of tires?
Like there are different shoes for different occasions, there are different tires for different occasions. You won’t have to change tires as often as shoes, but it’s a similar principle.
Here are some of the most commonly used tires.
These are all-purpose tires that can work on your typical sedan or minivan. They’re good for highway use.
This tire provides a smooth ride with a bit of a performance boost. It’s built for traveling at high speeds.
These tires are for people who live in places so hot asphalt melts. The strong grip of these tires make them responsive enough to use in both wet and dry conditions.
Performance tires are made for even higher speeds than touring cars. The deep grooves in the tread make it most suitable for wet weather conditions.
These tires are for heavier vehicles such as SUV’s and trucks. They create a smooth, even ride with good traction.
They’re also known as all-terrain tires. These are for vehicles that go off-road onto uneven surfaces. They work well on terrain that isn’t very solid.
Rib tires are the best kind of tires for frequent highway use. They support the heavy vehicle and have traction that works in any weather. They can boost a vehicle’s fuel efficiency.
This is an extra tire many people keep in the trunk or their vehicle in case they get a flat. It is meant to be a temporary replacement and should not be used in speeds of excess of 50 mph.
These are best if you live somewhere with snow or icy roads. They come in studded and unstudded. The studded ones may be illegal in some areas. Consult your local DMV.
A Penny for Your Tread
Here’s a handy way to test the tread on your tire.
Take an American penny and put it in the tread with Lincoln’s head downwards. If you can still see all of The Great Emancipator’s head, it’s time to replace the tire because the tread is worn down.
Ideally, the area between Abe’s hairline and beard should be covered by rubber.
Some Safety Tips Regarding Your Tires
There are things you can do that will not only save your tires, but could possibly save your life as well.
To quote the Micheline slogan from the 80’s, “Because so much is riding on your tires.”
- Slow down before you turn.
Speeding around corners looks cool in the movies, but you really shouldn’t do it. Not only is it dangerous to take turns at high speeds, but you could also be greatly shortening the lifespan of your tires. It’s better to keep up a consistent speed through the turn. Practice caution when braking in a turn.
- Check out your tread often.
You don’t want to wait until an inspection to consider your tires. You may get in an accident before that due to worn treads. Some people will suggest using a quarter to test a tread rather than a penny, but such a big coin gives the tread too much leeway.
- Check on your tire pressure regularly, particularly before long drives.
It would be best if you did this in the morning as that is when the pressures are both cool and stabilized.
- If you slip or slide, don’t brake immediately.
This will be difficult but resist the urge to slam on the brakes if you lose control in harsh weather conditions.
Ease up gently on the gas pedal and simply slow down until the car regains traction.
- Keep your tires properly inflated.
Your tires will lose one pound per square inch of pressure every month. If your vehicle was built after 2007, it will come with a monitoring system to let you know if the air pressure in the tires is low.
Properly inflated tires are both safer to drive on and improve the vehicle’s gas mileage by 3.3%.
- Rotate your tires.
Reducing irregular wear on your tires will make them last longer and overall make them safer to drive on. Typically, you should do this every 5,000 to 8,000 miles. Your vehicle’s owner’s manual should give you the exact information you need.
If your front and rear tires are of different sizes, then they are not interchangeable. Read your manual for all necessary details.
It’s also really important that you have your wheels balanced with weights to make sure the car rides smoothly without vibrations.
There is a type of tire colloquially called a donut tire that is meant for temporary use.
Many new vehicles come with this compact and lightweight tire instead of a full-sized spare. It’s not expensive, easy to move and saves on space.
However, it must be noted that this tire is not for long term use.
If you have a blow out, the donut can safely get you home or to the nearest mechanic where you can have this problem taken care of. Keep in mind that the donut is specifically made for the model of car it came with.
They will not fit just any car.
Because they are already of a shallow tread, you shouldn’t drive on one any longer than strictly necessary and have it replaced by a full-sized tire as soon as possible.
Remember to test your spare’s air pressure when you test the air pressure in your regular tires.
A spare is useless if it is flat as well, after all.
How do I know what type and size of tires I need?
First, you will need to know how much clearance your vehicle has for tires.
This would be the spacing between the rim, the wheel and the surrounding vehicle components. Different vehicles will have a different amount of space.
This will determine just how broad a tire your vehicle can handle.
Measure both the front and rear axles.
Once you’ve figured out how big a tire your vehicle can handle, determine what the purpose of the vehicle is.
- Do you travel over rough roads?
- Will you carry heavy loads or a trailer?
- Do you drive in snow?
Narrow tires are good for making it through snow, but broad tires are better for a heavy payload or rough terrain.
Can you fit the wrong tires on a car?
You certainly can, but you shouldn’t.
Just like the wrong sized shoes can hurt your feet and even your legs, knees, and back, the wrong sized tires can hurt your car.
Too wide tires can damage your fender and suspension as well as any components they come in contact with.
A too narrow tire can fall off altogether too easily.
What happens if you are using the wrong tires?
This could lead to disaster.
The wrong tires can make your car unstable. If you brake with the wrong size tires, the car may stop too slowly or too quickly.
Either way, that can cause an accident.
As nice as the idea of “One size fits all” would be for a vehicle’s tires, it is not an actuality.
Learn what size tires will fit on your rims and buy accordingly. Once you know what size your rims are, buying tires will be as easy as buying shoes. (Granted, the very expensive designer shoes, but you’ll get enough use out of them to make it worth it.)
Think about what size tires your vehicle can take and what your purpose would be.
Follow some safety tips that will not only make your tires last longer, but will keep you out of an accident.
Keep this in mind, and your vehicle will carry you safely for a long time.