Tire shop lingo: What you need to know when you're buying tires

Tires may all look the same to the untrained eye, but the ones you choose can affect how...

Tires may all look the same to the untrained eye, but the ones you choose can affect how your car rides, steers and stops. Arm yourself with some knowledge to help you choose the right tire shop in Atlanta, and the right tires for your car.

Treadwear rating: This indicates a tire's durability. A tire with a 600 rating should cover twice as many miles as a 300-rated tire. But it's a ballpark estimate. Everything depends on your driving and how you take care of your tires, and some long-wearing tires sacrifice grip for added durability. Since different brands measure treadwear differently, ratings are only useful when comparing tires made by the same company.

Traction rating: This indicates a tire's stopping ability on wet pavement in a laboratory test. "AA" is highest and usually seen on sportscar tires, followed by "A," "B" and "C." If you do a lot of driving on wet roads, look for a better traction rating.

Temperature rating: This rating indicates a tire's ability to withstand heat buildup from high speeds and hot pavement. Tires with an "A" rating can handle desert conditions, while "B" or "C" tires are better suited to lower speeds and temperatures.

Speed rating: This indicates the maximum speed a tire is designed to handle. Most family car tires carry an "S" rating (max speed 112 MPH) with each successive letter indicating a greater capacity for speed--Lamborghinis and Ferraris wear "Z"-rated tires, designed for speeds in excess of 180 MPH. You probably shouldn't explore your car's top speed on public roads, but tires with a higher speed rating can give your car sharper responses even at reasonable speeds.

All-season tires: These tires will perform acceptably in dry, wet or light snow conditions. However, "acceptable" performance is a far cry from "excellent," so these tires represent a bit of a compromise. If you think you might get caught in the occasional flurry or light snow, go for all-season tires. If rain is the only precipitation you'll drive through, a "summer" or "three season" tire will offer better dry and wet grip. And if you're going to be driving through serious snow, dedicated snow tires are your best bet.

Alignment: Tires perform best when they're pointed straight ahead with their tread flat on the pavement. Rough roads, potholes, railroad tracks and the like can knock things out of kilter, wearing out your tires and affecting your car's handling. Having your car properly aligned will make sure you get the most miles out of your tires.

The last word: Most car, minivan or SUV tires you'll find strike a happy medium in all of these parameters. But being able to talk turkey in the tire shop will help you find the best option for the type of driving you do.

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