Tires 101 – Learning the Tire Categories

Tires are purpose-built. In other words, they are built using the specifications that are best suited to the job that the tire will perform. These specifications determine the materials that the tire is made of as well as the tread patterns and the overall look of the tire. These build specifications can be broken down into the following categories: Touring, Performance, All-Season, Light Truck, and Winter.


I’m sure you heard the term “touring”, but what does that mean? Touring means traveling at highway speeds for prolonged periods. Touring tires are designed to give a quiet, excellent ride with top-notch handling at highway speeds. This type of tire has a non-aggressive tread pattern with straight ribs that allow the channeling of water. Another characteristic of the touring tire is long tread life. Long tread life is certainly a plus but the downside is that the hard compound that makes up this tire tends to freeze in winter, which in turn, sacrifices traction in bad weather.’


This type of tire does a great job at highway speeds. It has an aggressive tread pattern that provides great traction and handling during cornering and aggressive driving. These tires have heavy or large shoulder lugs for cornering traction and a wide smooth face for gripping the road surface. Evacuating water is usually not a strong point of this type of tire. They are made of a softer rubber compound which aids traction but wears out quickly. Performance tires are usually short-lived. Most “Summer” tires fall under this category.’


This category includes the most versatile tires. All-season tires have a dual purpose. First, the tread patterns squeegee, or remove water from underneath each tread block maximizing rubber-to-road contact. Secondly, the tread patterns allow the “pumping” of water, ice, and snow away from the tire. These tires are also made up of a compound that resists freezing, ensuring better traction during icy conditions. Another great characteristic of the all-season tire is its performance in great weather. They are comparatively quieter than performance tires and their blocky tread pattern allows good traction and handling in the wet and dry.’

Light Truck

This type of tire is built for work. They are constructed to work under heavy loads and in rough conditions. The rubber compound is hard, ensuring durability and the steel plies help the tire resist punctures and tears. The tread patterns vary widely and is determined by whether the tire will be used on or off-road. You will find lots of variation for light-truck tires, so thinking through the truck or SUV’s mission will go a long way.’


This category of tire is built for inclement and severe weather. Its whole mission in life is to move and break through snow and ice. The rubber compound resists freezing temperatures and remains flexible. The treads open and close as the tire moves down the road creating a “crunching” effect on ice and snow. This “crunching” keeps the treads clean which gets them ready for the next bite, ensuring traction. They are excellent at evacuating water. The sharp edges on the treads break through ice so that the tire can find the road or a surface that provides greater traction. If you experience an abundance of ice, snow, or inclement weather, the winter tire is your best bet.

Here’s a quick guide for category characteristics:

  • Touring- quiet, good highway performance, long tread life 
  • Performance- great handling and grip for aggressive driving in the dry, poor performance in wet and snow, short tread life 
  • All-Season- good highway performance, good wet, dry, and snow performance, moderately quiet 
  • Light Truck- good for heavier loads, hard compound, aggressive tread pattern, good on and off-road performance 
  • Winter- great in ice and snow, resists freezing, best at evacuating ice and snow, great winter traction

Now that you can “speak” tires and know the difference between the types of tires available, you can make an informed purchase, choosing the right tires for your needs.