How do you choose tires for a car?
August 19, 2008 7:49 PM   Subscribe

How do you choose tires for a car? In particular, what is the best deal on all-season long lasting tires for a 2004 Toyota Matrix XR Front Wheel Drive, size 215/50/R17 in Southern Ontario.

Some backstory...

So, my Mom needs new tires. The original equipment tires were some kind of performance compound type which have a wear rating of 200. She wants something that will last much longer, and perform well in winter weather (that is, cheapest possible tire per km driven, while not sacrificing utility in Canadian winters).

Problem is, she has been told by at least a couple of local shops that she has to replace the tires with similar performance compound type models. The local shops say that handling will be effected by any change, and they won't do it (or at least they don't want to).

This seems insane to me (Note: I've never driven, but I am technically minded). Sure, soft tires are going to handle better in ideal conditions, that's the whole point, but that doesn't seem relevant to my Mom's driving, or safety, or to anything other than up-selling an old lady.

Current status...

So, this whole 'replace with similar' issue may have been solved, because she has been shopping around and found places who are suggesting (or at least accepting her choice - whatever) a couple of relatively long wear tires. However, that doesn't really address the important question - what is the best value available.


Goodyear Assurance Triple Tread, at $195 each installed (and balanced, although why you'd quote an installation without it being a complete and proper installation is a mystery to me). These have an apparently extraordinary wear rating (according to tirerack) of 740!

Falken ZE-912, at $150 each installed. These have a wear rating of 480.

Finally, real questions...

Better deals around S. Ontario? Will the Goodyears really last 1.5x better than the Falkens? Remember that these have to be good in snow.
posted by Chuckles to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Tire Rack has a pretty good search / comparison matrix thingy. It tells you what people felt about tireses: Hydroplaning Resistance, Wet Traction, Cornering Stability, Dry Traction, Steering Response, Light Snow Traction, Deep Snow Traction, Ice Traction, Ride Comfort, Noise Comfort, Treadwear, and an overall raiting. And the price.

Also their prices are pretty good.
posted by aubilenon at 7:59 PM on August 19, 2008

Seconding Tire Rack, if it's only to explore options and get other feedback.
posted by iamabot at 8:08 PM on August 19, 2008

thirding Tire Rack for reviews and all that sort of stuff, and then find the tire locally. (you can ship, but - and this might just be my area - it ended up being cheaper for me to find the tire locally and have them install it.) trusted the reviews on TR for my last tire purchase and it worked out nicely. (remember to sort by miles driven.)
posted by mrg at 8:18 PM on August 19, 2008

I have the Goodyear Assurance TripleTreds on my Honda CR-V. They were an immense improvement over the crappy OEM tires and I think they give good traction in rain and snow (I live in St. Paul, Minnesota). They are a little noisy, but that doesn't bother me. I'd buy them again, for sure.

As to whether they will really last that much longer, keep in mind that they are 80k mile tires and the Falkons are either 40k miles or 65k miles depending on which model you pick. So, yea, I do think the Goodyears would last longer. And if they didn't, you have the warranty to back you up.

I have no idea about the performance number you speak of. When I needed new tires I read the HondaSUV boards to find out what people liked.
posted by cabingirl at 8:19 PM on August 19, 2008

Response by poster: One big question is why these local stores are telling her to replace with similar to original equipment. Is it completely bogus, as I suspect, or is there some reasoning behind their insistance.

Also, this is in Canada, so even if Tire Rack was cheap for Americans, it probably isn't after you factor in higher shipping cost.
posted by Chuckles at 8:23 PM on August 19, 2008

Response by poster: The wear life numbers (200, 740, and 480 respectively) are UTQG Tread Life numbers.
posted by Chuckles at 8:26 PM on August 19, 2008

Sure, soft tires are going to handle better in ideal conditions, that's the whole point, but that doesn't seem relevant to my Mom's driving, or safety, or to anything other than up-selling an old lady.

In the nicest possible way it is clear you have never driven. Grip levels are directly relevant, and proportional, to safety. Grip level is the same as 'handling' in that context. The safety margin is the bit between 'how hard you drive' and 'what the tyre is capable of'. I'd be putting a large safety margin on my mums car, that's for certain.

Soft tyres are not about 'ideal conditions' and hard/long wearing is almost directly contradictory to 'best winter performance' as soft winter tyres get destroyed in the summer, and hard summer tyres last for several summers and just don't grip at all in the snow and ice. As such, the soft tyres have everything to do with safety and about your Mum's driving. 'Little old ladies' (and old people in general) don't have the best reactions and so the safer the car the better - this means putting on the best tyres for the conditions.

Hard wearing, cheaper, summer tyres would be great for your mum. They'd probably last several years. To have a cheap set of extra wheels (or pay the remounting fee every year to swap them) with a set of good quality winter tyres is the most cost effective and safety conscious method in the long run. For a small inconvenience (and a higher initial cost) you end up with the best tyres for her in all seasons.

The logic behind scrimping in summer and splashing out in winter?
Summer: It is unlikely that a mature person will be getting anywhere close to their vehicle and tyre handling limits in good conditions (ie dry, warm tarmac).
Winter: Conditions have a nasty way of making sure you have little to no idea how much grip there is from the snow/ice/slush or how different the surface is just around the corner, or how deep the snow will be on teh way back home. The limits of the road are much more changeable, and so a larger safety factor is prudent.

Clearly you consider cost of the tyres to be more of a major factor than safety - at least, that is how you are presenting your logic. Having experienced Ontario winters a couple of times now, I'd have to disagree. I will be running decent winter tyres this season no matter what the cost - it's too dangerous not to. Even cold tarmac (ie below 10 deg C) produces grip issues for 'normal' summer tyres, and All Season tyres are obviously a compromise - they can't be the best tyre for either extreme, as the two demands are polar opposites.

The Tyre Rack recommendations are good for comparison, but I urge you to educate yourself a little more about what tyres do, how and why they work, and look at the longer term for the investment if you at all have the option to do so. If you have the time to hunt out a second (steel, maybe?) cheap set of wheels from a breakers/scrap yard/ebay and fit some decent winter tyres to them and get them swapped back off in April, they'll last a few seasons - maybe more. You can then have hard summer tyres that last 4 years, and good winter ones that maybe last two or three. That's better than a set of all-rounders that don't grip so well any part of the year and last two years. If luck prevails, you will only need to buy one set of tyres every other year, if her mileage is low.

Just be aware that All Seasons are by definition compromise tyres, though. Don't let fancy marketing fool you.
posted by Brockles at 8:43 PM on August 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

One big question is why these local stores are telling her to replace with similar to original equipment. Is it completely bogus, as I suspect, or is there some reasoning behind their insistance.

Manufacturers recommend tyre specifications that work well with their suspension design. Not all tyres are equal. Manufacturers specify makes/compounds that they know are competent, to ensure the reputation of the handling of their vehicles.

Also, this is in Canada, so even if Tire Rack was cheap for Americans, it probably isn't after you factor in higher shipping cost.

Perhaps not, but even if you don't buy them from there, it's a great resource for comparisons. It has, in my investigations, been well worth the inconvenience to drive into the states, get your tyres swapped, and drive back. At least last winter, I'd have saved $50-75 a tyre to do that, and Buffalo is only a two hour drive...
posted by Brockles at 8:46 PM on August 19, 2008

If you like analyzing data, have a go at comparing the tires that fit the Matrix.

The alternative is to find out what other Matrix owners are buying, and how much they like them. Search the web Matrix forums.

But if you work at Andy's Tires and Radiator Repair, you probably don't have a clue about any of this, so you play it safe and just recommend something like the original equipment.
posted by exphysicist345 at 8:59 PM on August 19, 2008

Response by poster: I should probably be letting the thread take its course, but..
Let's just consider this my Mom asking the question, and she is not a prototypical "little old lady". She just drove to Halifax and back this spring, for example - that is not at all unusual - and most of the research above was her legwork. Also, she has done both the all-season-tire thing, and the winter-tire summer-tire swap, on various previous cars. For whatever reason, she has expressed a particular interest in not doing it this time around - perhaps I can work on her a little about that :P
posted by Chuckles at 9:01 PM on August 19, 2008

long lasting tires

Keep in mind that tires have a life of about five years, irrespective of how worn the tread is. After five years, the compound loses its flexibility and becomes brittle, which means the tire loses its ability to grip the road and slow you down, especially in wet or snowy conditions. You should replace tires after five years even if they have plenty of tread left to wear.
posted by Dasein at 9:10 PM on August 19, 2008

Ack, ack, ACK. I've just read your question more thoroughly, and you are in dangerous territory. Your mother, without knowing it, is asking to sacrifice her safety on the road. What I just said above about tires losing their suppleness and grip after five years - well, the same thing happens to "all-season" tires in colder conditions. Note: not just in snowy conditions; not just in cold conditions. Below 5-7 degrees Celsius, the rubber compound in "all-season" tires becomes brittle and stops being able to stick to the road properly. This reduces your ability to brake effectively in the winter. Winter tires don't just grip better because of their tread pattern, but because they're made with compounds specifically designed to stay soft at low temperatures.

By asking for a tire that will last much longer, and perform well in winter weather, your mother is making a common mistake, which is reinforced because tire companies label as "all-seasons" tires that are built for all seasons in California, Texas and Florida (think where their biggest markets are). You simply cannot buy a single set of tires that will perform well in Canadian winters. Not possible, and not particularly safe. A good set of winter tires is far more important for winter traction and safety than anything else, and you should discourage your mother from the view than any one set of tires is going to stand her in good stead in both summer and winter. It's simply not true. Really.


1) Most people will not wear through a set of tires in five years of driving.

2) This is doubly true if they are swapping out their tires between October/November and March/April, as they should in Canada, for a set of good winter tires (you should look at the Bridgestone Blizzak WS-60 or the Continental ContiWinterContact TS810).

3) The softness of the tire is critical to safety, because it allows the tire to grip the road. This is a safety consideration; wearing through tread quickly is not. If your shop is telling you you need a soft tire, for your mother's sake listen to them. This is true in summer, and it's true in winter. Go with the tire they recommend for summer, and consider it simply part of the cost of owning a car in Canada that you buy a good set of winter tires (which you install when it gets colder, not only once the first snows have fallen).
posted by Dasein at 9:33 PM on August 19, 2008

Sure, soft tires are going to handle better in ideal conditions, that's the whole point,

Actually soft tires handle better in bad conditions. That's the whole point.

Some Matrix models/ years have a pretty well known issue with uneven wear and cupping on the rear tires. This may be why your local shops are unwilling to put various makes or models on your Mom's car. They know she will come back in 3,000 miles very unhappy with them.

True 4 season tires like the Pirelli P6s (not all weather) are very expensive and noisy as hell. I ran less expensive all-weathers on a Subaru successfully in similar winter conditions but a) it's a good AWD car, very smart and b) it didn't get very hot in the summers where I was.
posted by fshgrl at 9:52 PM on August 19, 2008

After reading consistently solid reviews of them on Tire Rack's site, I've put Kumho (quite cheap) all-season tires on three vehicles (a VW Jetta and two Volvo wagons) over the last several years, and been very happy with them. I'm right across the lake, in northern Ohio. We haven't had a single problem with these tires -- they do well in snow and resist hydroplaning nicely. The Kumhos have been on the Jetta for about 35K miles, and my wife prefers them to the much more expensive Goodyears that were OE. That said, we're both conservative drivers and neither of us put zillions of miles on our vehicle.
posted by jon1270 at 4:17 AM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

nth'ing Tire Rack. I live in Ottawa and have bought from them several times, only hassle was UPS delivery during the workday and brokerage fees. The lower cost, even combined with shipping was usually still cheaper. With the Canadian dollar basically at par with the US, it might be worth it.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 7:02 AM on August 20, 2008

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