Automotive Maintenance

A tire-buyer's guide to the different types of tires

A hand touching a tire on a rack of tires

If you're in the market for new tires, it's easy for the jargon to feel overwhelming.

What's the difference between touring and performance tires? Can you drive all-season tires in snow? And why are some tires just called "passenger tires"–aren't they all passenger tires? With your safety on the line, we partnered with Discount Tire to make this important but simple guide to understanding which tires are right for you.

Passenger tire categories

Tires made for use on personal vehicles such as sedans and coupes, as opposed to trucks or heavy-duty commercial vehicles, are designated as "passenger tires." Many SUVs and light-duty trucks also use passenger tires because they provide a more comfortable ride.

Tire categories are not mutually exclusive—for example, a touring model may be all-season, and performance tires may be summer-only. 

Passenger tire photo

Passenger

In the marketplace, tires that don't fit into performance or touring categories are usually referred to simply as passenger tires. These jacks-of-all-trades are designed to provide a smooth and quiet ride, all-season traction, and long-lasting tread life without being too expensive.

  • Good for: Normal daily driving for subcompact and compact cars, wagons, and crossovers
Performance tire photo

Performance

Performance tires are optimized for better grip, higher speeds, and better wet-weather handling, often thanks to an asymmetrical tread design. Those perks sometimes come at the expense of comfort and noise level.

  • Good for: Drivers of high-performance cars, or who just want the best road grip and handling
All-season tire photo

All-season

All-season tires maintain good traction in wet and dry weather and in warm and cold temperatures, even in light snow, making them a versatile fit for many climates. They usually have a symmetrical tread pattern geared more toward traction in a wide variety of driving conditions than high performance, though there are performance-oriented all-season tires.

  • Good for: Normal daily driving in places that experience all 4 seasons
Summer tire photo

Summer

Like all-season tires, summer tires are built to grip the road well in wet and dry conditions. But they sacrifice cold-weather and light snow ability, and some wet-weather traction, for better grip in warm, dry weather. They're attractive for drivers in climates that never drop below freezing, or who want superior traction and don't mind switching tires in winter. 

  • Good for: Drivers in warm climates who want more performance
Winter tire photo

Winter

Winter tires have aggressive tread patterns to maintain traction in snow, ice, and slush, and their rubber is formulated to work well in freezing temperatures. They come in studless and studded varieties—the studded ones provide more grip on ice but aren't legal in all areas. 

  • Good for: Drivers in places that have lots of snow and ice in winter
Touring tire photo

Touring

Sometimes called grand touring, these tires combine the comfort and quiet of all-season tires with the responsive handling and traction of performance tires, and often cost more as a result. A common choice for sports and luxury cars, they often have an asymmetrical tread designed to work well in a wider array of conditions.

  • Good for: Drivers who want high-performance handling without compromising comfort
Temporary spare tire photo

Temporary spare

Also known as "donuts," compact temporary spare tires are typically rated for 50 miles of driving at no more than 50 mph—enough to reach a mechanic's shop. Many cars no longer have these, but drivers of those that still do should ensure theirs is inflated to the right pressure and in good condition.

Truck/SUV tire categories

Tires for trucks, vans, and SUVs come in two varieties: passenger and light truck. Some tire models have both passenger and light truck versions.

  • Passenger tires, discussed above, are more comfortable, with a smoother ride and exceptional traction in wet and dry conditions. When fitted to trucks and SUVs, they're usually called "highway tires." They have adequate load carrying capacity for smaller vehicles and light-duty hauling. Passenger tire size designations begin with the letter P, such as P195/65R16, or no letter, such as 205/55R16.
  • Light truck tires are engineered to support not only the weight of larger trucks, SUVs and vans, but also heavier loads when towing and hauling. Their stiffer sidewalls don't absorb bumps and road noise as well, especially on smaller vehicles, so LT tires are typically reserved for larger vehicles or off-road conditions. Light truck size designations begin with the letters LT, such as LT245/75R16.

Truck tires are available in many of the passenger categories listed above, as well as a few others specific to trucks:

All-terrain

All-terrain tires (sometimes abbreviated as AT) have rugged, blocky tread patterns with big gaps to provide traction in off-road driving. Many drivers enjoy all-terrain tires because they have a more aggressive look with minimal sacrifice in noise, comfort, or longevity.

  • Good for: Drivers who want to an aggressive-looking tire and/or who occasionally drive off-road or on poorly maintained roads

Mud-terrain

Mud-terrain (or MT) tires have an even more aggressive design than AT tires, with bigger tread blocks and bigger gaps to provide traction in deep mud and sand. Their sidewalls are thickened to resist damage, making them much noisier and less comfortable in on-road driving than AT tires, but with more off-road capability.

  • Good for: Drivers who regularly drive off-road or on poorly maintained roads
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AAA members save with Discount Tire

AAA members get exclusive savings at Discount Tire and America’s Tire: Up to $40 off a set of new “better” or “best” tires, or a free tire repair (a $20 value).1 Buy a set of tires and you’ll get free air checks, tire inspections, tire repairs, rotation, and re-balancing. 

Offer is only available to AAA members in Southern California, New Mexico, Tidewater Virginia, and the Kansas City metro area.  

Learn more

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Need new tires, an inspection, or rotation?

If you need new tires or another tire-related service, consider a AAA Approved Repair shop. These shops are regularly inspected by AAA and come with member benefits.

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1No discount on “good” tires. Vendor Point of Service system identifies “better” or “best” tire classification.

Information provided by Discount Tire and America's Tire, "Different Types of Tires" and "Passenger Tires vs. Light Truck Tires."

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