I need new tires for my Subaru, but am overwhelmed by the choices
March 5, 2014 10:17 AM   Subscribe

I need new tires for my Subaru, but am overwhelmed by the choices, help me understand what I am looking for?

I have a 2009 Subaru Impreza Outback Sport and a recent flat has made me turn to buying new tires. Googling has revealed that my tire size is P205/50R17/88V. So I understand that I need P (Passenger) tires, R (Radial) tires. But what about the V do I really need a tire that I can go 150 mph on for up to 10 mins?

Some of the tires I saw that were recommended (Michelin Primacy MXV4,Continental PureContact, Pirelli P7 Cinturato All Season) all do not appear to fit my car. It looks as if the Pirelli P9 Cinturato All Season Plus fits and gets good ratings and is around $128/tire and a friend recommended General tires (General Altimax HP Grand Touring All Season) which are around $106/tire. I am not opposed to spending money on good tires, but I am not sure what is "worth" the money. I live in Massachusetts in New England and would like tires that could handle the winters as Im not interested in changing tires back and forth from summer to winter.

What am I looking for in tires and how do I figure out which tires are best? Right now it feels like a crap shoot. My husband is also going to be getting new tires for his Toyota Rav4 soon and he is thinking of getting snow tires in case you have any thoughts on that (because he is more intense about this), but my tire needs come first since the flat :-) Thanks very much for your help in advance!
posted by Carialle to Shopping (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Just buy the same ones that are on it now.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:34 AM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's already going to be expensive for you to buy 17s. Go for what's cheap. I don't think there will be any performance differences in what's available to justify any price differences.

I've bought way too many tires for my '04 OBS, and they've all performed reasonably well, including in snow. (And, I only have 16" wheels.)
posted by Citrus at 10:35 AM on March 5, 2014

I am on my third set of these on my 2004 Forester XT (mine are 16s, though). I think they are great tires for the money.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:46 AM on March 5, 2014

But what about the V do I really need a tire that I can go 150 mph on for up to 10 mins?

It is a rating that is assigned to a car and is a 'speed' rating really only because it matches the kinds of load you would see at that speed. Some places you have to match the speed rating of the manufacturer by law.

I suggest you stick to Manufacturer specification for tyres (do you have a manual?). Don't just buy what you have now unless they match the manufacturers specs. If you need to go up a size on width only (for instance, Michelin list a MXV4 at 215/50/17 V rated which would be fine) then that is perfectly acceptable. If you're this overwhelmed, I suggest you ask a Subaru dealer what they recommend for size and rating, write it all down, tell them you need to think about it and get those same tyres somewhere else....

I don't think there will be any performance differences in what's available to justify any price differences.

I strongly disagree.

If you want all season tyres, make sure to buy something that has a proper winter rating (not just a generic all season tyre). You can buy tyres that are nominal all season, but also ones that are winter rated as well as compromised for all year/summer. It is better to buy a tyre that is more suited to the winer than the summer if you are using it all year - generally speaking a tyre not suited to summer quite as well may wear a little faster in hot weather, but a tyre not suited to winter will put you in a ditch. Choose accordingly. Don't buy the cheapest tyre you can, but a reputable make with good reviews. By all means shop around for the best price when you get a make and style decided, but cheap tyres are generally crap. There is a HUGE difference in tyre compound and tread quality across the price range.
posted by Brockles at 10:47 AM on March 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: All those numbers are different sizes on the tire.

the 205 is the width in millimeters at the shoulder (the widest part of the tire)

the 50 is the height of the sidewall (the part of the tire that is vertical between the rim and tread) in % of the height-your tire sidewall height is 50% of the width (205mm*.5=102.5mm).

The 17 is the rim diameter in inches (its a screwy system ok?)

The 88v is both a speed rating (the noted 150 mph) and a load rating (the 88 means how much weight the tire can be loaded with at the maximum inflation pressure listed on the sidewall-for this kind of tire usually 44psi). The lower in the alphabet the higher the speed rating and the higher the number the more weight it can carry. NOTE: inflation pressure really, really matters on this, and these ratings are only true at MAXIMUM inflation pressures, which your car may or may not actually need. There is a little placard in your cars door well (can be passenger or drivers) that list manufacturers recommendation for size and inflation pressure). If you tires are not inflated to maximum inflation pressure they are not that strong. However running tires at a different pressure than the manufacturer calls for can lead to weird handling-This issue is the cause for the Corvair's bad reputation and is the also the cause for the first generation Ford Explorer's rollover/tire blowout problem.

As brockles said it is a quality rating as well-the higher the speed and load rating the 'tougher' the tire is.

There is another number listed that is the quality rating usually appearing like 400 A AA. The first number is hardness of the rubber. Generally a harder rubber will last longer but also has less 'grip' and will be more likely to skid in poor conditions or 'spirited' driving. However the construction of the tire and more subtle parts of the rubber compound can really affect this also.

The middle letter is the heat rating-meaning how well the tire handles excess heat. Excess heat is usually caused by under-inflation for the loading and is what leads to separation and all those 'alligators' on the side of the road in the summer. Ever notice you don't see those in the winter? This was the cause of the Explorer mess. For a cushy ride Ford said inflate the tires to 25 psi (not the max 35 psi), at which the OEM tires on the Explorer couldn't handle the weight and load of the vehicle at highway speeds which lead to tires blowing out and then the vehicle rolling over.

A quick aside-OEM tires are NOT necessarily the best tire for what you do or even for the maximum capabilities of your vehicle. The manufacturers pick tires on a compromise of cost, fuel efficiency and customer perception. The quality of the tire or its suitability for snow, ice, heavy loads, intended vehicles use and so on are not really their concern. Tires are NOT covered in the vehicle warranty (neither are batteries btw) and once the vehicle is sold they don't really care.

The last number is the wet traction under braking rating and it is the tires ability to resist skidding under hard braking on wet pavement.

the higher in the alphabet these numbers are the better the rating. Recently they added the double A rating as tires are getting better and better all the time.

There are lots of good tires out there and lots of cheap crap. I seem to remember a recent article on the blue (metafilter) about people renting tires cause they were too expensive anymore to buy outright.

I would do my research on Tirerack.com for your new tires. You just enter in your car and then select different categories for your tire from that (you want all season passenger tires) and read the ratings. I have had the best luck with Yokohama myself, but Michelin, pirelli, Bridgestone, etc are usually pretty good also. Read the ratings and go from their (kinda like on Amazon). They will probably even have actual reviews on various tires for your car (since it is pretty common and this size is also).
posted by bartonlong at 11:16 AM on March 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The most expensive, but easiest, reasonable solution is to purchase the same brand and type of tires that were on the car originally. Typically called the "OEM" tire, you'll have no fitment concerns, and you'll get the same behavior (essentially) that you got when the car was new.

If you're just looking for the easiest solution, stop reading. Go buy your tires.

Still here? Okay, so the OEM tire is expensive because it is the OEM tire, and they know most people just buy it again and again, so they charge more. Which makes up for the lower profit they make initially by providing the tire to the manufacturer in the first place, which is how they got to be the OEM tire.

The implication is that the OEM tire might not actually be the best value, or even the best tire, for you. And that's 100% correct, when talking about average cars (vs high-performance supercars, which use specialty tires.) So what do you buy instead?

It really boils down to three things:

1. Is money tight? If so, pick a tire with identical ratings (yes, including the speed rating), a good tread life rating, a good warranty, and a low price. The ride might get worse, the handling might get worse, the road noise might get worse, but you got a tire that fits and will last a long time for a reasonable price.

2. Are you picky about handling, ride and/or tire noise? If so, pick a tire with identical ratings that has been tested by experts, ideally in a comparison against the OEM tire, that they claim is better in the areas you care about the most. I've done this for every car I've owned since the late 90s, and I've never been disappointed in my choice (for instance, I replaced the tires on a Volvo I owned with a non-OEM tire that was equivalent to the OEM tire, except rated more highly for road noise and about $80 cheaper per tire. It delivered exactly as expected.)

3. Are you exhausted just reading this? Then buy the OEM tire.
posted by davejay at 11:19 AM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you want one set of tires all year round, you want what are being called "all weather" tires, since "all season" tires don't cut it for winter. John Mahler has written lots of good articles on this type of tire, and has a few recommendations (follow the link). It is absolutely worth spending money on good tires; you're connected to the ground by four patches of rubber about the size of your palm, and if you lose grip, not much else really matters.

For your RAV-4, if you're looking for dedicated winter tires, I'd recommend the Yokohama Ice Guard iG51v (reviewed here). The Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V1 is also great; the only problem with Blizzaks is that the super-grippy compound only forms the first 55% of the tire, so you get less tread life.
posted by Dasein at 11:20 AM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Think of the speed rating as a "heat" rating of the tire. The more heat it can take loosely relates to the strength of the tire. So Subaru looks at a variety of factors and decides the V rating is the minimum you should use. For some vehicles, like most SUVs, it is the side force that is considered more than the "speed."

The selection of tires basically comes down to what is important to you. The factors are dry/wet traction, mileage, comfort, and strength/durability. You can't have everything in the same tire. More aggressive tread patterns will give you better wet traction but your mileage is slightly lower and they will be louder. Flatter tires will give quieter ride, better mileage but may be more prone to hydroplaning. Softer tires give better traction but don't last as long.

For New England, especially in the cities, all season tires should be OK, but keep in mind there is a minimum temperature they should be driven in, usually in the -40 degree range. There may be a few day a year when you really shouldn't be driving on them.

I would figure out which of these is important to you and look on the manufacturers websites to see which of their tires for your needs best, then compare the prices of those tires locally. Most manufacturers like Goodyear are pretty good at rating their tires against their own models in categories like traction, mileage, quietness. Tirerack.com used to have some good comparisons between brands. You may run into the problem where your ideal tire is not available in your size. Also consider if you want to shell out for 90k mile tires if you are selling the car in 6 months or if you will replace them of you get another flat.
posted by Yorrick at 11:24 AM on March 5, 2014

The lower in the alphabet the higher the speed rating...

Um, no.
V is faster than H, H is faster than S and T. W is faster than Z. It's kind of a mish-mash, actually.

I always default to getting tires with the speed and load rating the manufacturer recommends, regardless of whether I'm ever going to actually drive that fast. Many tire stores will have you sign a waver if you deliberately buy tires with a lower-than-spec speed and/or load rating.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:46 AM on March 5, 2014

Response by poster: Wow, so glad I asked, you all are a wealth of information. At this point I would scandalize my own self to get the OEM tire!

Close to a decision but I am thinking of getting the one below:
Pirelli Cinturato P7 All Season Plus
posted by Carialle at 9:40 AM on March 6, 2014

Beware of those Pirellis. Check to make sure - if there's grooved pavement in your area - they don't "tramline" (follow the grooves, which results in a nausea-inducing twitching of the entire vehicle). I had P-Zero Neros on my Subaru. They tramlined terribly and also wore out very fast.

My rule of thumb has been for a long time "just get the Michelins" and every time I don't follow that rule I regret it.
posted by jet_silver at 5:10 PM on March 7, 2014

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