Are some tires safer than others?

Image Gallery: Car Safety Jerry Alexander inspects the Michelin X-One truck tire at the Commercial Truck tire plant in Spartanburg, S.C. See more car safety pictures.
AP Photo/Michelin North America

A lot of thought has gone into the latest automotive safety technology. Many people today wouldn't think of driving a car without things like electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes and airbags.

Yet, one of the most important safety features on a car is something most people don't even consider a safety feature: the tires.

The tires are what connect a car to the road. They provide the traction that allows the car to stop, move forward and turn. Having the wrong tires, or unsafe ones, on your car is like wearing the wrong shoes. Except, instead of just tripping and falling down, with the wrong tires, the consequences can be much more serious.

Tires have five main parts. The bead is actually a steel cable that's wrapped in rubber. It goes along the inside edge of the tire, holding the tire to the wheel. The body of the tire is made up of layers of strong fabric. Each layer is called a ply. The more plies, the stronger the tire. Some tires have steel belts under the tread and those types of tires are called steel-belted radials. The steel belts help make the tire more resistant to punctures. Plus, the belts also help keep the tire slightly flat, which increases the amount of rubber in contact with the road. That increases vehicle traction, making the car more surefooted. The sidewall is the side-edge of the tire. It keeps all the inner parts tightly compacted. And the tread is the rubber part of the tire that actually makes contact with the road.

While most tires have these basic parts, there are many different types of tires available, and with many designations. Because tires come on all cars, and they're such an important safety feature, you may be wondering if some tires are safer than others. Keep reading to find out.