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How to match your tires to your driving needs

Tara Baukus Mello
Tara Baukus Mello

When you bought your car, you probably didn't think much about its tires, but when it comes to replacing them, you'll have numerous brands to choose from, with prices that may vary widely. Rather than buying on price alone, do a bit of research to determine the best choice for your driving needs.

When you choose new tires, you first have to understand that the original equipment tires, which means not just the brand, but the model name, size and speed rating, have been carefully selected by the automaker to provide the optimal ride and handling for the car based on what the automaker has determined most of its customers want. This may or may not suit your driving style or needs.

Let's take a 2008 Honda Accord EX sedan with a V-6 engine. The original equipment tires are Michelin Pilot HX MXM4. This is considered an all-season tire that will provide some traction in light snow. It is designed to provide a smooth ride quality and relatively low road noise. This is a popular tire that is on a lot of cars and surely suits many of the drivers, but it is not going to be the best choice for someone who lives in a cold, wet climate or is a more aggressive driver. It's also not going to be the best choice for someone who prefers a super-comfy ride over performance.

To determine the best tire choice, first consider what your typical driving conditions are and what your worst driving conditions are. You'll want to select a tire that works well for your typical scenario but won't cause you problems in your worst scenario. If you are typically in aggressive-driving situations with lots of braking and heavy cornering, you need a more performance-oriented tire, but if your worst driving condition includes snow, you don't want a pure performance tire or you'll have traction problems in the snow.

Next, when you choose new tires, consider your ride quality and road noise. If you prefer a softer ride with low road noise, then you want a touring tire. If you want better handling and don't mind some road noise, then you'll want a performance tire.

Your answers to these questions can help you navigate through the tire maze, including the multiple levels of tires that fall into the performance and touring categories as well as in between.

Once you have the basics of what you want, you can narrow your options with an expert at your local tire center or even online through sites such as TireRack.com, which does its own independent tire testing and offers personal consultants to guide consumers on their purchase.

Even if your research determines that the original equipment tire works best for your needs, you still will find you have many choices that are the same style, size and speed rating, allowing you to choose new tires that suit you best financially.

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If you have a car question, email it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories. Follow her on Facebook here or on Twitter @SheDrives.

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