The Truth About Tire Treadwear

Tire treadwear is about much more than how frequently the tires need to be replaced. How rapidly tires wear down speaks to how soon they will transition from providing optimal grip to losing their ability to divert water and avoid hydroplaning. Treadwear is a cost, convenience, and safety concern.

Our research tells us that when people shop for tires, their primary considerations are all-weather grip, brand, and treadwear warranty. How well a tire holds the road, in various weather conditions, is a core element of the Consumer Reports test program. That information is available on the tire model pages, and the cumulative results are available in our annual Tire Brand Report Card. The treadwear warranty can be located on the model pages, the brand’s website, and at the local tire store, but we have found that the warranty is only part of the story.

Nearly all tires carry some form of warranty from the manufacturer for defects. These policies are referred to as workmanship and material warranties. Their coverage is typically limited to a specific time period or wear condition, such as when the tire has just 2⁄32 of an inch of tread remaining—the point when it is legally worn out.

But those warranties are influenced by marketing decisions, rather than product transparency. For instance, some warranties are a bit conservative to direct buyers to more profitable models. (Learn more about tire warranties.)

The only way to truly predict how long a tire will last is to test it. That is exactly what Consumer Reports does with an extensive on-the-road program that measures the wear on two tires per model of driving to 16,000 miles on public roads through the scrub grass of West Texas. (We exclude winter/snow tires, as most do not carry a treadwear warranty.) We list projected mileage based on how tires wear in our tests on the tire model pages. (See our tread life mileage, and much more, in our tire ratings.)

Of course, there’s more to a good tire than long life. But longevity is a key to whether a tire you’re considering is a good deal.

Noteworthy in the findings is that more than half of the 47 all-season and performance all-season tires could last at least 65,000 miles; five could top 90,000 miles or more. And there’s a wallet-friendly surprise: Tires with the longest life don’t necessarily cost the most. (Learn how to extend tire life.)

Do Tire Tread Warranties Wear Thin?
Many replacement tires, especially the all-season ones that come standard on a car, minivan, or SUV, have a prorated mileage warranty. It’s based on how long the tread on a tire is expected to last. For the tires in our ratings, it is usually between 50,000 and 90,000 miles. But those warranties often don’t offer the consumer much payback if the tires wear out prematurely. If tires wear out before the warranty mileage is used up, you’ll probably get only a fractional credit representing the miles the tires didn’t cover. And that’s good only toward the purchase of identical or comparable tires from the same manufacturer—which you may not want. You can’t use it to get better tires or tires from another brand.

Here’s where the math really doesn’t add up: The credit can be applied to a manufacturer’s suggested retail price for a new tire or to a dealer’s price. And that price is often high relative to the frequent discounts offered by many retailers. In fact, you may be able to buy new, discounted tires for less than the price of warranty replacements.

On top of that, restrictions to get your prorated credit abound. Your tires may have to show even wear across the tread or the deal’s off. You may also have to show receipts that verify you had the tires rotated at the prescribed intervals, usually every 5,000 miles, since they were new.

The tires also have to be worn out, which is defined as having a tread depth of only about 2/32 inch. Tires that are worn out will perform poorly on wet roads and could pose a safety risk. (Learn more about tire warranties.)

Our controlled tread life tests cut through the marketing mumbo-jumbo to tell you how many miles your tires will last before becoming worn out. Of course, your actual experience will vary according to the vehicle you drive, how and where you drive, routine maintenance, and other factors.

How to Read a Tire Sidewall

How to Read a Tire Sidewall

Tires have a wealth of information encoded on their sidewalls. When replacing them, we recommend staying with the size and speed rating of your car’s original tires. Check your owner’s manual for more information.

Size: On the tire above, 215 is the cross-section width in millimeters; 60 is the ratio of sidewall height to its width (60 percent); R indicates radial-ply construction; and 16 is the wheel rim’s diameter in inches.

Load index: Shorthand for the weight each tire can carry safely. The 94 here means 1,477 pounds per tire—pretty typical for a midsized car tire. That’s the maximum tire load.

Speed rating: A letter denoting the tire’s maximum speed when carrying the load defined by the load index—and not how fast you should drive! Standard all-seasons are usually rated T (118 mph) and H (130 mph). Climbing up the scale are V (149 mph), ZR (149-plus mph), W (168 mph), and Y (186 mph) ratings. Winter tires may carry the letter R (106 mph) or higher.

Treadwear grade: A government-required number that indicates a tire’s expected wear. A grade of 300 denotes a tire that will wear three times as well as a tire graded 100. But the numbers are assigned by tire manufacturers, not an independent third party.

Traction and temperature scores: Those scores denote a tire’s wet-stopping ability and temperature resistance. For traction, AA is best, C is worst. For temperature resistance, scores range from A (best) to C.

Manufacture date code: Every tire has a Department of Transportation number after the letters on the sidewall. The last four digits show the week and year the tire was made; for example, the digits 2321 would signify that the tire was made during the 23rd week of 2021. Don’t buy tires more than a couple of years old.

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