Are some tires safer than others?

Different Tires and Different Features
Vehicles travel in poor visibility near Mead, Neb.
Vehicles travel in poor visibility near Mead, Neb.
AP Photo/Nati Harnik

There are lots of different tires on the market today. You can get everything from racing slicks to mud and snow tires -- not to mention the all-season tires most new cars come with. When it comes to tire safety the safest tires are the ones that are well-matched to your vehicle and those that are properly maintained.

Having tires that are well-matched to your vehicle means a couple of things. First and foremost, it means having tires that fit your car. Putting the wrong size tires on a car can adversely affect the car's handling and maneuverability. Plus, different tires have different weight ratings. If you put tires on a car that can only handle a certain amount of weight and your car exceeds that amount, it's a recipe for disaster. Beyond fitting the car, tires need to also fit how a driver intends to use his or her car. If you're driving through mud, snow or other conditions that reduce traction, you'll need a tire that can make up for the traction loss, like mud and snow tires. If you drive in the rain, you'll need tires with a traction pattern that channels water safety way from the tire's contact patch with the road. If the tire can't effectively move the water out of its way, then the driver runs the risk of hydroplaning and losing control.

While the choosing the right tire is important, so is maintaining it. Tires that are badly worn will have limited contact with the road, and what contact they do have will be less grippy. Plus, if a tires treads are worn down, they'll be less able to channel things like water, snow and ice, away from the tire, which increases the risks of skids. Tires that are under- or over-inflated also increase crash risk because they aren't making optimal contact with the road, not to mention that it's easier to puncture and blow out an over-inflated tire.

The best way to maintain your tires and make sure they're safe is by checking once a month to ensure that they're properly inflated. Have your tires rotated regularly. You should also visually inspect your tires on a regular basis. Look for things like flaky rubber or debris embedded in the tire. Finally, check the tread wear using the penny test: Take an ordinary copper penny and place it into your tire's tread with Lincoln's head pointed down. If you can see any space between Lincoln's head and the edge of the penny, your tire's tread is too thin. It's time for new tires.

So, are some tires safer than others? The short answer is yes. The safest tires are ones that are well-matched to the vehicle they're on as well as the type of use they're subjected to and those that are well-maintained.

For more information about tires and other related topics, follow the links below.

Related Articles


  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "Tire Ratings." (Aug. 3, 2010)
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "Tire Size." (Aug. 3, 2010)
  • Road and Travel Magazine. "Penny Test to Check Tire Tread." (Aug. 3, 2010)
  • "Selecting the Right Tires." (Aug. 3, 2010)