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Car Tire Basics

Our research identified all-season and winter tires for less than $100 that deliver on handling, longevity, and comfort, not to mention peace of mind. The No. 1 pick is General Altimax RT (starting at $63), which earns kudos for its smooth ride, 70,000-mile treadwear warranty, and road-handling chops in all seasons (but for the most extreme winters).

Falken Sincera Touring SN211 (starting at $77), parked in second place, comes with an 80,000-mile tread warranty and also provides a comfortable ride, although users brake their enthusiasm slightly for its handling in snow and wet weather. The Goodyear Wrangler ST (starting at $73) pales in comparison to the top contenders. Its specifications don't measure up and users raise doubts about longevity and reliability.

Car Tire Reviews
Cheap Winter Tires

Tires, of course, are always round and made of rubber but differ from model to model in many respects. In other words, after putting aside quality and value, there is no single right tire. Your choice ultimately depends on the car you drive, the way you drive, the roads you regularly traverse, and where you live -- all factors addressed by, and reflected in, a tire's specifications -- its size, speed tolerance, tread wear, and heat resistance. The up-market Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar G:2 (starting at $288), for example, is a race-inspired, high-performance tire designed to withstand extremely high temperatures generated from racing at top speeds. As superlative as this tire may be, it's likely that the average driver has no need for such capabilities.

To provide the most help to the greatest number of people, our buying guide focuses on the best cheap all-season tires with a complementary section devoted to the best low-cost winter tires. All-season tires are a compromise classification developed to provide reliable handling throughout the year, except in extreme winter weather when their functionality may be hampered. All-season tires are never as good as dedicated winter (or summer) tires, but they have become ubiquitous due to their ease of use and general dependability. Winter tires are, as the name suggests, specifically equipped to provide better traction and steering on roads slick with snow and ice, but their performance falters in warm weather and on dry pavement.

What We Looked For in All-Season Tire Specs

A lot of information is visible on the sidewall of a tire. Unfortunately for the average tire shopper, these critical details are displayed in a code of numbers and letters that stand in for specifications like speed, tire width, height-to-width ratio, maximum tire pressure, maximum load, and treadwear. We'll discuss the most important.

Tire Size.

The best cheap all-weather tire for your car is partially predetermined by tire size. Car manufacturers specify the required dimensions, and there's no room to fudge here. Size matters because it affects the car's suspension and handling. Before you shop, find the car's tire placard -- it should be located on the driver-side doorframe or doorjamb. The placard should indicate the proper tire size, how much weight each tire should carry, and the appropriate speed rating. The tire's load index should match or exceed that found on the placard.

Speed Rating.

Tires are rated for speed according to a letter system. There are 12 letters, starting at H, then jumping to N and ending at Z, each denoting a maximum miles per hour that the tire can handle without loss of performance. (Oddly, the maximum speed for H -- 130 mph -- places the letter between U and V.) A higher tire speed rating generally suggests better handling, but high-performance tires (rated V, W, Y, or Z) manage higher speeds at the cost of less effective performance in wintry conditions. For the other letters, driving below the rated maximums (which are way above speed limits) should provide a good balance between speed and grip on the road.

Both the General Altimax RT and Falken Sincera Touring SN211 carry a T rating, a very generous maximum sustained speed of 118 mph. These cheap all-season tires are approved for use in both family sedans and vans.

Tire Tread and Longevity.

Tire manufacturers provide a rough estimate of how many miles a tire can roll (under optimal conditions) before the tread wears out and the tire needs replacing. Elevation and climate also affect a tire's life expectancy. In general, tread life for standard, all-season tires extends between 40,000 and 100,000 miles; high-performance all-season tires have a shorter lifespan, on the order of 40,000 to 70,000 miles. Pay attention to the tire's estimated life because a slightly pricier model could potentially yield savings by lasting longer than the cheaper alternative.

The best cheap all-season tires on our list fare comparatively well on the longevity scale. The Falken Sincera Touring SN211, our runner-up pick, comes with a treadwear warranty of 80,000 miles. The General Altimax RT, our top pick, is backed by a 70,000-mile warranty. Out in the world, drivers report that both live up to their billing. Goodyear doesn't specify a tread life for the Wrangler ST.

Tires also are assigned a treadwear rating that indicates how many miles the tread should last relative to other tires. For example, the useful life of a tire with a treadwear rating of 300 should be twice that of a tire with a rating of 150. The actual lifespan, however, depends on driving style, climate, and maintenance (are those tires properly inflated?). Falken assigns the Sincera Touring SN211 a rating of 720, which suggests the company has high confidence in its product, and General gives the Altimax RT a rating of 600. The Goodyear Wrangler ST, on the other hand, carries a tire treadwear rating of 340. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), only 8 percent of tires are rated 501 and above.

Review continues below

Uniform Tire Quality Grading System.

The NHTSA established the Uniform Tire Quality Grading System (UTQGS) to help consumers evaluate the features of all-season tires. The system comprises three measures of tire quality: treadwear (baseline of 100), traction (scale of AA, A, B, C), and temperature resistance (scale of A, B, C). Grades are determined by the manufacturer based on specific test criteria set by the U.S. Department of Transportation. UTQGS ratings are most helpful for comparing the relative strengths and weaknesses of different all-season tires from the same manufacturer. The General Altimax RT and Falken Sincera Touring SN211 both score well, with UTQGS scores of 600-A-B and 720-A-B, respectively. The Goodyear Wrangler ST presents with 340-B-B.

Car Tire Reviews

When zeroing in on all-season tires for your car, both consumer and expert reviews can tell you a lot about the tires' performance; i.e., the road grip, riding comfort, and overall driver satisfaction. In making our picks, we paid particular attention to review sites that display an average score for the tire across multiple categories. By doing so our conclusions account for drivers whose experience and subsequent assessment might have been skewed due to driver error, such as improperly rotating the tires, failing to keep them fully inflated, and the like.

All-Season Tires Traction.

How well a tire grips the road is largely a function of the tread. And tread ultimately has an effect on driver confidence and vehicle performance. Dozens of all-season tire reviews indicate that our top picks provide the traction that drivers can count on.

The General Altimax RT (starting at $63) enjoys a reputation for an excellent grasp of the road, with traction that stands up to dry and water-slicked pavement. The average of dozens of all-season tire reviews at Tire Buyer give the Altimax RT close to top scores for performance on dry and wet roads, traction in light snow, and resistance to hydroplaning. Some drivers also say the tires deftly manage ice, although others assert they slip and are unsuited to harsh winters. Still, there is strong consensus in all-season tire reviews that these are some of the best around.

We also found positive reports for the Falken Sincera Touring SN211 (starting at $77) all-season tire. Reviews at Vulcan Tire Sales assign very high marks for dry traction and wet traction, but slightly lower grades for hydroplane resistance and traction in light snow, and just average scores for traction on ice and packed snow.

By contrast, Goodyear Wrangler ST tires (starting at $73) take plenty of heat in reviews for poor traction on wet roads (especially when covered with snow), and some drivers report difficulty rounding corners even on dry roads. Some all-season tire reviews of the Wrangler ST also claim the tread wears down quickly.

Riding Comfort and Handling.

A good marker of buyer satisfaction with a product is repeat purchases. We read many all-season tire reviews that noted drivers previously had used General Altimax RT and Falken Sincera Touring SN11 tires and had already bought, or would in future buy, them again. Part of the appeal, no doubt, are their budget prices. But drivers also say they like the feel of the ride, the handling, and the low noise level, which no doubt up their value quotient.

General Altimax RT tires attract a strong following for a smooth and quiet ride as well as for responsiveness, even in emergency maneuvers. One diesel-car owner says the noise level is so minimal that it's possible to believe you're driving a gasoline-fed vehicle. All-season tire reviews of the Falken Sincera Touring SN211 tout their steering responsiveness and smooth cornering, and place them on par with higher-end tires. This tire also wins points for being incredibly quiet. Passable reviews for riding comfort and noise accrue to Goodyear Wrangler RTs but many disgruntled drivers pan this tire for inadequate traction, which leaves them feeling uneasy about the ride.

Cheap Winter Tires

Winter tires differ from all-season tires in several critical respects. Good all-season tires perform well in a variety of weather conditions, including light snow. Winter (a.k.a. snow) tires, with their deeper and more aggressive tread design, are made for plowing through snow and ice while their rubber compound retains flexibility in very cold temperatures. These virtues come at a price, though: shorter treadwear longevity and less responsiveness (including longer stopping distances) on wet and dry roads. That said, the best cheap winter tires are a worthwhile investment, and arguably indispensible, in regions where snowfall is heavy and prolonged and temperatures sit in frigid territory for days on end. Just remember to swap them out for all-season tires once the weather turns.

Again, a General Altimax tire holds the No. 1 spot on our list of best cheap winter tires. The Altimax Arctic (starting at $65) routinely garners top scores in winter tire reviews for its smooth handling and excellent traction regardless of the challenges posed by winter. Michelin X-Ice Xi3 (starting at $78) is our runner-up choice for winter tires, although we read some reports indicating these tires strain to stop in loose snow. The Hankook Icebear W300 (starting at $116) fails to make the grade owing to user reports of poor traction and limited tread life.

Some winter tires, including the General Altimax Artic, can be installed with studs for extra traction. Recent improvements in tire design, however, have prompted some experts to argue that studs are obsolete. But if studs hold some appeal, be sure to consult local laws -- many states regulate their use.

What We Looked For in Winter Tire Reviews.

For obvious reasons, the most critical factor in choosing a winter tire is traction on snow and ice. Although riding comfort is important, a tire's ability to chomp down on the white stuff while securely grabbing onto the surface deserves heavier weight in the decision-making process.

Winter Weather Traction.

Snow, ice, wintry mix, or whatever combination of cold and wet land on the ground, dependable traction is the measure of performance for a winter tire. Reviews at sites such as Tire Buyer are larded with kudos for the General Altimax Arctic's traction on snow and ice, with some drivers asserting it's the best winter tire they have ever purchased. Reviewers also report that the tires have a sturdy feel and the tread is long-lasting.

Drivers likewise commend the Michelin X-Ice Xi3 Tire in online reviews, saying they hold up well in various settings -- that would include city and mountain -- and provide the predictability that drivers crave on wintry roads. Still, a handful of winter tire reviews note minor slips when gripping ice and loose performance when pushing through slush. Tire Rack's expert review hits on similar themes, praising traction on snow and ice and performance on clear roads, but adding that cornering on ice could be improved.

The Hankook Icebear W300, on the other hand, leaves drivers cold. We read positive winter tire reviews at 1010 Tires about handling on dry and wet roads but this performance doesn't compensate for weaknesses in other dimensions, notably its grip on snow-covered roads and its mediocre durability (i.e., tread longevity).

Noise and Comfort.

There's no need to sacrifice a quiet and comfortable ride with the best cheap winter tires. Reviews for the General Altimax Arctic tire say driver and passengers can expect a smooth ride without being bothered by obnoxious or loud noises. And while some reviews grouse that Michelin X-Ice Xi3 tires are a bit loud on the highway and treadwear is only adequate, they are upbeat about the smooth ride. The Hankook Icebear W300 scores surprisingly well in winter tire reviews for noise and riding comfort, with drivers reporting the ride is incredibly smooth once the car is in motion.



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In this review:
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