Performance Tires: The Ultimate Guide

Give me that sticky-sticky rubber.

A yellow Porsche GT3 RS.
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Despite what you may believe, all tires aren’t the same. Construction, rubber formulas, and adhesive properties greatly vary from tire to tire and among different brands. As such, there are specific types of tires for specific uses. Today, we’re going to be discussing the most fun of the bunch: the performance tire. 

Whether you’re driving a $30,000 Hyundai Veloster N, a $180,000 Porsche Taycan Turbo S, or a $3 million Bugatti Chiron, you’re riding on performance tires. Across the spectrum of sports-tuned automobiles, the most effective tire to put down power is the performance tire as it has greater adhesive properties. They’re also the most expensive.

But even delving into the world of performance tires has its nuances. To better inform your next tire purchase, The Drive’s crack informational team is here to walk you through the types of performance tires, how they work, and answer some of your other burning questions.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s kick the tires and light the fires!

A single performance tire.
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A lone performance tire sits ready to grip and rip.

What Are Performance Tires?

A performance tire is a type of tire with a blend of increased adhesive properties, accomplished through the chemical nature of the tire’s rubber compounds and its tread design, intended for performance vehicles. These specially crafted designs increase the tires’ responsiveness, handling, and traction.

There are, however, different grades of performance tires. While each manufacturer has its own name for the grades, they can be broken down into three distinct categories: Performance (good performance), Summer Performance (better performance), and R-Compound (best performance). Let’s break them down.

Types of Performance Tires

Performance

Performance tires are designed to be used in dry and damp conditions, not wet or snowy. Their treadwear balances the life of the tire and handling for longer-lasting performance but are not intended for repeated enthusiast abuse. 

Toyo’s Proxes series is a good example of a Performance-grade tire.

Summer Performance

Summer performance tires are designed to be used strictly in dry conditions. Due to the tire’s tread design and compound formula, damp, wet, or snowy conditions would make for unsafe driving conditions. Summer performance tires trade longevity for performance and offer drivers further enhanced handling, responsiveness, and grip. However, they will need to be replaced sooner. 

Michelin’s Pilot Sport 4S series is a good example of a Summer Extreme Performance tire.

R-Compound

R-compound tires are a step under race-spec slick tires. These tires offer the most responsiveness and grip of any street-legal tire with a tread design that resembles semi-slick tires and a rubber compound formula that is far stickier than other performance tire types. These tires live for extreme performance and will wear out very quickly if used repeatedly.

Pirelli’s P Zero Trofeo R is a good example of an R-Compound tire.

A silver Ferrari 360.
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A Ferrari sitting on some grippy tires. 

What’s the Difference Between Performance and All-Season Tires?

As their name implies, all-season tires provide adequate handling and adhesion in both the dry, wet, and snow. They also have longer life spans than other specialty tires. Performance tires, as illustrated above, are designed to be extremely effective and grippy in dry conditions and trade longevity for responsiveness.  

What Damages Performance Tires?

Damage can occur to performance tires in all the same ways any other tire can be damaged, including road debris, punctures, and slashes. However, because of the performance tire’s trade-off between life and performance, heavy or daily use will lead to degeneration of the tire faster than other types of tires. 

How Long Are Performance Tires Good For?

Tire longevity will depend on which performance grade you select, with Performance offering around 50,000 miles, Summer Performance offering 30,000 miles, and R-Compounds offering about 15,000-20,000 miles. 

Another factor to consider is use. The more you use and abuse your performance tires, the faster they’ll wear out. Scroll down to determine if your performance tires need replacing.

A gray Porsche 911.
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A Porsche 911 and its tires working in tandem. 

Are My Tires Worn Out?

Here at The Drive, we’ve come up with a handy-dandy tire health checklist that you can easily follow. Below is everything you’ll need to make sure your tires are safe to use. 

Tire Health Checklist

A lot can go wrong with a tire, so it’s important to constantly check that it’s up to snuff. Look for and be aware of these factors when examining the health of your tires: 

  • Pressure: Measured in pounds per square inch (PSI), this refers to the air pressure inside the tires.
  • Tread depth: This refers to how deep the exterior ridges of the tire are.
  • Punctures: Check for anything that has penetrated the tire that could cause air to leak out.
  • Cracks/dry-rotting: Look for cracks or splits in the tire. If found, the tire is not safe for driving and should be replaced immediately. 
  • Over/under inflation: Inflating a tire with too much or too little air will cause uneven tread wear and will detract from its full performance capabilities.
  • Balance: The mass distribution of tires needs to be even and balanced in order to function properly.

How Old Are Your Performance Tires?

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requires that all tires must list the month and year the tires were produced on the sidewall. On tires made in 2000 or newer, this can be found in the last four digits of the Tire Identification Number. 

Of those four digits, the first two convey the month, and the last two convey the year. For example, a tire that reads DOT U2LL LMLR 3209 means it was made in the 32nd week of 2009. Before 2000, three digits were used, with the first two digits translating to the month and the last digit marking the year.

A black BMW 3 Series.
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A BMW 3 Series driving enthusiastically because of its sticky tires. 

FAQ About Performance Tires 

You’ve got questions, The Drive’s informational team has answers!

How Often Do You Need to Rotate Your Tires?

As a general rule, we recommend every 5,000-7,000 miles, but it depends on numerous factors, including your car’s alignment and how hard you push your performance tires on the street and track. You can read more on The Drive’s guide for How To Rotate Car Tires.

How Often Does Your Car Need an Alignment?

Should you notice any inconsistencies with steering or your car’s tire wear patterns, get your alignment checked as soon as possible. If not, a safe and reliable rule is to have it checked once a year. 

A black BMW 3 Series driving aggressively.
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Driving aggressively.

How Often Should You Put Air in Your Tires?

It’s not a bad idea to do an eyeball test any time you get in the car. For further inspection, use a tire pressure gauge once a week or once a month to check your tires. It only takes a few minutes and could save you time, money, and your own health in the future.

Can I Use A Spare Tire On a Day-to-Day Basis?

We do not recommend that you use a spare tire on a daily basis. Most spares are only designed to be used in case of an emergency such as after getting a puncture or delamination. The Drive’s informational team recommends that you replace the damaged tire as soon as possible and stop driving on your spare.

Find the Right Tires With Tire Rack

Listen, we know how hard it can be to pick the right tire. Between the word-jumble that are tire specifications, as well as the tire manufacturer's names for tires that never just say what they are, it can be a pain and you might end up with the wrong shoes for your ride. That's why we've partnered up with our friends at Tire Rack. They'll take the headache out of tire shopping. All you have to do is click here

Featured Tire Products

Michelin Defender LTX M/S All-Season Tire

Bridgestone Blizzak WS80 Winter Tire

Pittsburgh 1.5-Ton Aluminum Racing Jack

Got a question? Got a pro tip? Send us a note: guidesandgear@thedrive.com