The recommendations below are based on our extensive tires review and comparison report.
As the days get longer and the snow finally melts away for good, drivers are switching out their winter tires for the all-season variety. But will last year's tires provide a smooth, safe ride this season? Take a minute to do a quick tread check -- a test that can easily be conducted with a coin. Slide a penny (or a quarter, if you want to be more cautious) into a groove with the president upside down. If you can see Lincoln's (or Washington's) entire head, it's time to start looking for new tires.
First, check your owner's manual or driver's side doorjamb to determine the size and speed rating of the tires you'll need. While size is fairly straightforward, speed ratings (which indicate handling) jump around in roughly alphabetical but sometimes seemingly random order. See this guide from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for specifics and don't buy all-season tires with a speed rating any lower than your car's manufacturer recommends.
The NHTSA has also established a Uniform Tire Quality Grading System you can use to quickly judge an all-season tire's treadwear, traction, and temperature resistance (it does not apply to winter tires). Grades are given by manufacturers based on test results. They use a baseline of 100 to indicate a tire's wear versus a control tire (higher is better); a scale of AA, A, B, or C for traction; and a scale of A, B, or C for temperature resistance.
Cheapism.com has assessed the market and found four highly rated tires that cost less than $100 each. Two are all-season tires, perfect for this time of year, and the other two are winter tires to keep in mind for next year.
The General Altimax RT (starting at $63) comes with a 70,000-mile limited treadwear warranty. This all-season tire also earns good marks according to the Uniform Tire Quality Grading System. The treadwear grade is 600, compared with the standard of 100. The tire scores an A for traction and a B for temperature resistance. Online reviews of the General Altimax RT say the ride on these tires is quiet and smooth and consumers are generally pleased with the brand relative to better-known competitors.
The Falken Sincera Touring SN211 (starting at $77) is an all-season tire that's meant to last. It has a treadwear rating of 720, and Falken backs this up with an 80,000-mile warranty. The tire has also been given an A for traction and a B for temperature resistance. Reviews credit this tire with providing a comfortable ride in the warmer months. It may not be suitable for the slicker wintertime, however, so it makes a good choice for drivers who switch to snow tires.
The General Altimax Arctic (starting at $65) is a winter tire that can be outfitted with metal studs for extra traction in hazardous conditions. Even without the studs (which are illegal in some localities), these tires handle well in tough conditions, according to reviews posted online. Some drivers have even referred to the tires as "life savers," a definite vote of confidence.
The Michelin X-Ice Xi3 (starting at $99) is lauded as an all-around good choice for cold weather. This studless tire is made for wintery conditions but performs equally well on dry surfaces, reviewers say. Unlike many winter tires, it comes with a 40,000-mile treadwear warranty, which is much appreciated considering it costs more to replace than the other tires featured here.