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Tire Treadwear Ratings: Grip vs Longevity

I firmly believe in the importance of having the best tires possible on your vehicle to ensure you remain in control of your car and have it respond to your steering precisely. That being said, there’s no single “best tire” for every driver, vehicle, and road condition – it’s a matter of what you’re looking for. One person might find that a good set of summer tires are the right way to go, while another driver is going to need great all-weather or all-season tires to get the most out of their vehicle.

Today, I’m going to approach this issue from a very specific angle: the treadwear rating on your tires. We’re going to take a look at what the rating is, where to find it on your tires, how it’s determined, and what it really means for you. I’ll tell you right now; the answer isn’t a simple “choose the highest number and win” type of solution. There are subtleties here that are quite important, so let’s jump in and learn what you need to know about tire treadwear ratings.

What Does “Tire Treadwear” Mean?

Before we start getting into a lot of specifics, let’s take a moment to make sure we’re all on the same page about what we’re even discussing here. First things first: the tread on your tires refers to the outermost layer of rubber on your tires, including the surface of the tire and the deep grooves that you’ll find it designed with. These grooves are there to help move water, slush, and snow out from your tires so that the surface can make optimal contact with the road.

Over time, the rubber of your tires will wear down as you drive, which makes these grooves shallower, so they no longer work as well. So what we’re talking about with “treadwear” is how the tread on your tires wears down over time. In other words, tires with good treadwear will last longer than those with poor treadwear – usually due to the type of rubber used in making them, how it’s treated or chemically created, and similar factors.

However, this is not as simple as “good treadwear = good tires” and “bad treadwear = bad tires” – there’s more to consider here. But we’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s talk about…

A red and an orange 2021 Corvette are parked on a racetrack.

What is a Tire Treadwear Rating?

Since treadwear is so important when looking at the quality of tires, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the US established the idea of a Uniform Tire Quality Grade (UTQG). When someone refers to a “treadwear rating” or “treadwear grade,” this UTQG is what they’re talking about. The idea is pretty simple: a numeric value that indicates how long the tread on a tire can last compared to other tires.

This is a great idea in theory since it would make it easy to compare all tires in terms of their treadwear at a glance. The problem, however, is that the NHTSA doesn’t actually establish and determine this rating; they don’t do testing or provide the grade. Instead, individual tire manufacturers are allowed to establish their own ratings for their tires – though, in fairness, they do all use the same standard process.

How Treadwear Rating is Established

Basically, tire manufacturers use a test tire as their standard, which is run on a vehicle on a course that is a 400-mile test track. They are allowed to check the pressure and alignment and rotate the tires every 800 miles, and they run for a total of 7,200 miles. The tread is then tested to see how it has worn down. This test tire – also called a course monitoring tire – sets the standard for treadwear for that manufacturer and is given a rating of 100.

The manufacturer then runs this same test of 7,200 miles with their other tires, and the treadwear of their other tires is compared to the test or standard tire. So the ratings you find on the tires you can buy relate back to this test tire, rather than some other standard. A treadwear rating of 800 doesn’t mean the tire is graded to last 800 miles or something like that; it means the tire is expected to last eight times longer than the standard test tire that had a rating of 100.

Since this base 100 rating is established by each manufacturer, you can’t really directly compare the numbers from one manufacturer to another. A Michelin tire with an 800 treadwear rating isn’t necessarily going to last the same amount of miles as a Goodyear tire rated at 800. Still, it’s very useful for comparing tires by a single manufacturer and can give you a general sense of how these tires compare. Even from different manufacturers, an 800 rated tire should last longer than one with a 200 rating.

A summer tire is shown on pavement at sunset.

Where is the Rating Printed on the Tire?

You’ll find the rating on a tire pretty simply: it’s stamped into the side of the tire along with the other information about it. You’ll usually see it labeled simply as “Treadwear,” though if you’re looking at specs or information online, you can also see it called UTQG. This is provided with other ratings for traction and temperature, but those will have to wait for another day.

How Can You Use This Rating?

As you can see, the best use for the treadwear rating on a tire is comparing it to tires from the same manufacturer when you’re buying new tires for your vehicle. Treadwear is important for two main reasons: first, it gives some indication of the lifespan of the tire; and second, it ensures long-lasting traction. At its heart, treadwear is a clear measurement of how long it takes for the tread on your tires to wear down, so higher numbers mean they’ll last longer.

But this doesn’t just impact how often you’ll need to pay to have them replaced (though that’s certainly important). The longevity of your tread also means you’ll have better traction, especially on wet roads, for longer. Since the tread on your tires helps keep you in control, tires with high treadwear ratings not only last longer but can also be safer in the long run.

All of that being said, I can’t simply say that high treadwear is always the right choice. In order for tire manufacturers to make their tires last longer, they’re typically made from harder rubber that can withstand driving for thousands of miles. Softer rubber doesn’t last as long, but it provides much better grip on the road – especially when the road is dry, and you’re going at high speeds. So if you look at summer tires or performance tires, you’ll find they have lower treadwear ratings by design. Low ratings mean you lose some longevity, but if you have a car you like to take to the track, then you probably want low-rated tires. For many amateur racing events, 200 treadwear tires are the ideal choice.

What Tire Treadwear Rating Should You Choose?

At the end of the day, it’s all about getting the tires that best meet your needs and the kind of driving you tend to do. As I said: if you have a car that you take to the track, then you’ll want high-performance tires; they’ll have a low treadwear rating on them but offer excellent grip and control. For daily driving around town or on road trips, higher ratings in the 700 or 800 neighborhood are a good choice that will last you a long time. Consider all of these different factors when you’re buying tires so you get the right ones for you.