How to buy the best tyres for your car - guide to size, type, cost and care

Hands touching a car tyre

Bruce Newton

Posted July 31, 2023

For most of us, shopping for new tyres is a choice based first and foremost on what they cost. Here's what you need to know about buying the best set of tyres for your car and budget.

If you can afford to stretch that little bit further when it comes buying a new set of tyres, then chances are you are going to save money – and potentially more - in the long run.

“Tyres are critical to the performance of your car,” says automotive engineer Graeme Gambold.

While Gambold is best known for his work helping Kia tune the driving behaviour of its vehicles for Australian roads  – including the new Kia EV6 GT electric vehicle – he spends a lot of time conducting tyre evaluation testing for different brands.

And his conclusions drawn from years of comparative testing is that while tyres look the same, they don’t perform the same. Tyre development and construction really is a black art.

“There are a million things that we tune in a tyre: The [steel] belt tension, belt width, belt height, belt position vertically, apex height, silica content, natural rubber content, how much colouring black is in there.

“And then you have the mechanical tread pattern properties in terms of [water] evacuation performance and everything.

“Then you have chemistry and that is the big one. Chemistry is 80 per cent of the tyre’s performance and that’s why the great tyre manufacturers in the world have really smart chemists and laboratories developing these chemistries.


Are more expensive tyres worth it?

Premium tyres can last longer  

If you pay more for a tyre but it wears more durably and performs better for longer, then it's possible to save money and be safer on the road. 

“I know through my industry history and experience that tyres age and deteriorate at different rates,” says Gambold. “A tyre with great chemistry will retain 80 per cent of its initial brand new performance at 80 per cent of its tread depth life, whereas some other tyres will fall off more quickly.”

Higher-priced tyres can be more fuel efficient 

Improved fuel efficiency is another way better tyres can save you money. Major brands have developed tyre technology that means they don’t generate as much resistance. Less effort from the powertrain to get the tyres rolling can save fuel consumption. 

You can play a role here too by setting tyre pressures correctly. Soft tyres use more fuel.

More expensive tyres may offer more grip 

There is a huge gap between the ability of different tyres to offer maximum grip when accelerating, stopping and cornering. This performance gap especially applies in wet conditions. 

“It doesn’t matter what sort of stability systems your car has, if you haven’t got grip [from your tyres] you’re going off the road,” says Gambold.

Premium tyres can increase vehicle comfort  

While the focus for a vehicle’s ride comfort is often on the suspension tune of a car, the construction and size of a tyre is crucial too. The big tyre brands spend a fortune developing new tyres that can better absorb road imperfections. 

Again, you can improve your vehicle’s ride comfort through the tyres you choose. While lower profile liquorice strap rubber can look better, the narrower, stiffer sidewall can negatively impact the vehicle's absorption capability. Low profile tyres can also be more susceptible to damage over potholes or bumps.

Expensive tyres may be quieter  

Tyre construction also has an influence on the amount of road noise generated in the cabin. This is a particular issue in Australia with our coarse chip bitumen roads. It doesn’t take a long drive to figure out if a tyre has been tuned for Australian roads or not.


A tyre on a Kia EV6 GT

Tyres might all look the same to the untrained eye, but there's a lot of science that goes into their manufacture. Image: Supplied

Tyres for electric vehicles

Electric vehicles such as the Tesla Model 3, Tesla Model Y and BYD Atto 3 are becoming increasingly popular, and it’s worth knowing that specific tyres are now available for them. Tyres created specifically for electric vehicles should be used in preference to orthodox rubber developed for internal combustion vehicles (ICE).

Compared to an equivalent petrol or diesel vehicle, EVs are usually heavier, quicker and quieter. Current battery technology also means EVs typically have a shorter driving range than an ICE vehicle.

The characteristics of EVs place a seemingly contradictory combination of demands on a tyre – it must have high grip, low rolling resistance, be extra-quiet and comfortable too.

“There are a lot of things you can tune in the EV tyre just like a conventional tyre,” says Gambold. “But EV tyres are a more complicated game.”

Making the choice between different tyres and brands

So, having considered all the benefits of premium tyres and decided you’re willing to spend a little more the next time round, how do you decide which tyre brand to choose?

Gambold says tyre brands you’ve heard of are a good place to start your research, but admits it gets more nuanced than that.

“It’s horses for courses. It often depends on the intended use. For a high-performance sports car it might be one tyre brand, for an off-road vehicle it could be another,” says Gambold.

“Personally, I would go and buy the tyres that I know have the big engineering resources behind them.

For safety reasons, “cost shouldn’t come into,” Gambold insists. “Especially something you are putting your family into.”


A tyre on a tesla model 3

Electric vehicles need specific tyres to cope with the different demands of the heavier, quieter cars. Image: Supplied

Five questions to ask when buying new car tyres

How can I tell if I need new tyres?

All tyres have inbuilt tyre wear indicators to show when they’ve worn down too far. You can look at the ‘tread’, (the outer rubber that makes contact with the road) yourself to see if they are due for a replacement because of uneven wear. Look for small, raised squares set that create tyre wear or a weak spot in the bigger grooves of the tread. When the face of the tyre wears down to this point, your wheel balance may no longer be aligned - it’s time to replaces your tyres.

Remember that any bulges, deep cuts, exposed cords or other damage on your tyres also make the tyre unroadworthy. 

What are the best tyres for my car?

Step 1: Figure out what size tyres you need. You can do this by finding the size on the wall of your tyre, or on the placard inside the driver’s door jamb (the part of the car when the door attaches to the vehicle frame). Look for four numbers specifying width, profile, rim and load – they will look something like this: 205 55 R16 91V. 

Step 2: Once you have this, you can compare features and prices. Some high-end manufacturers have tyres specifically designed for a particular model of car, and so if your car falls in this category, this will be your ideal choice.

In other cars, a sound choice is to replace your tyres with the ones they were fitted with by the manufacturer. If they’re outside your price range, choose the highest-quality tyre you can afford. 

What are the best value tyres for my budget?

Tyre prices vary from budget to premium. The more you spend, the more likely you are to come to a quicker stop, enjoy better grip and handling, a more comfortable ride, and less cabin noise. Try to buy the best-quality tyre you can afford. The more a tyre has been used, the more ‘tread’ that has gone, leaving it ‘bald’ or appearing too smoother. If you're buying cheap tyres, new budget tyres are always better than expensive bald tyres.

How do I recycle my old car tyres?

Australians throw out 56 million tyres a year, and only 10 per cent of them are recycled domestically. The rest go to landfills, are exported overseas or are illegally dumped.

To avoid this fate, make sure the mechanic, garage, or tyre retailer you use will recycle your old tyres. Look for the Tyre Stewardship Australia (TSA) logo to ensure the business is accredited. If you have old tyres on your hands, Planet Ark’s website will direct you to a tyre recycler near you. 

How do I take care of my new tyres?

Maintaining correct pressure will prolong the life of your tyres – incorrect pressure accelerates wear and can impair grip and stopping ability, and underinflated tyres increase fuel consumption. You can do this at your local petrol station.

All car makers recommend tyre pressures for their cars, listed on a small placard usually found inside the driver’s door jamb or on the fuel cap. Check the pressure once a week when the tyres are cold. While you’re at it, check the tyres’ tread depth and look at their general condition. If in doubt about bulges, cuts or wear, check with your mechanic or a tyre specialist. 

Remember that faulty wheel alignment can cause uneven and premature tyre wear, so if you notice this, get it checked too. And if you’re having new tyres fitted, it’s worth having the alignment checked while you’re at it.