What Tire Treadwear Ratings Mean

July 9th, 2021 by

Four rows of tires are waiting to be sold at Chicagoland tire shop.

When you visit a Chicagoland tire shop for new tires, you may see a specification known as the treadwear rating. A treadwear rating, generally in the form of a three-digit number preceding the abbreviation “TW,” is essentially a rough approximation of how soft and sticky the rubber of a tire is. As a rule of thumb, the softer a tire’s rubber compound is, the grippier it is. By that same rule of thumb, the harder a tire’s rubber compound is, the longer it will last. While tire technology is always improving, and improving rapidly, modern tires still have to make this tradeoff.

Treadwear ratings are not an exact science and vary somewhat by manufacturer. However, they are a good way to establish a rough ballpark estimate of what kind of tire you need for your application. Tires across the treadwear range, which normally ranges from 800 down to 100, provide the grip and longevity needed in applications from long-endurance trailer tires, to premium daily tires, to full-on racing slicks. The lower the number, the higher the grip. The higher the number, the longer they last.

Medium Treadwear Applications (200 to 500)

Most tires used on passenger vehicles have a treadwear rating that falls between 200 and 500. Tires in this bracket offer a great mix of grip and safety, matched with enough longevity to last multiple years if not driven hard every day.

Tires with medium treadwear are therefore excellent for everyday driving. Most all-season tires fall in this category, especially between 300 and 500 treadwear. All-season tires are aptly named, as they are equally capable of providing good grip at normal road speeds on dry pavement, wet asphalt, and even light snow and dirt. While not particularly high performance, these types of tires allow a single set to handle just about anything one would expect to run into in daily life, all while being reasonably priced and lasting several years.

Other medium treadwear tires, on the lower end between the upper 200s and 350, are ideal for entry-level sports cars. These are low-end summer tires that are almost as cheap as bargain all-seasons but provide noticeably more grip on dry roads. While not suitable for track driving or racing, they work well on sports cars used mainly for spirited cruising in warm weather, all while not having any price penalty compared to decent all-season tires.

The final main category of medium treadwear tires is those used on premium passenger cars. These tires are more expensive than standard or “touring” all-seasons and don’t offer any more grip than those low-end summer tires. However, they specialize in providing as much ride comfort as possible. This is true both in terms of making a vehicle’s ride more comfortable and in terms of emitting as little road noise as possible.

Overall, the vast majority of people will find the right tire for their application in the medium treadwear categories, as the primary goal of these tires is to provide a balanced mix of grip, longevity, and price.

A gloved mechanic is changing a tire during a service at  a Chicagoland tire shop.

High Treadwear Applications (500 and More)

Moving into the more specialized treadwear regimes, high treadwear tires are meant to last a long time with no maintenance or upkeep. These tires are best in applications where having large amounts of grip is unnecessary, but being able to run on the same tires for a large chunk of the vehicle’s life is a must.

High longevity tires, mainly for commercial vehicles and certain passenger cars, tend to be cheap, low grip, and incredibly long-lasting. These tires start at a treadwear rating of 500 and can rise to 700 and higher. This is not only useful for vehicles where the owner or driver is not inclined to do regular maintenance but also for vehicles that cover huge distances during normal usage. Commercial vehicles that traverse tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of miles annually would go through multiple sets of medium treadwear tires every year, and high treadwear tires allow them to be more profitable. Being able to run several hundred thousand miles, especially while carrying heavy loads, is the bread and butter of high treadwear tires.

Outside of commercial vehicle use, the most common application for high treadwear tires is on trailers. Whether the trailer in question is for a large semi, a fifth wheel recreational vehicle, or a small frame to haul a boat to the lake, the same types of attributes are required. No one wants to have to care about trailer tires, and they have to be able to handle heavy loads – a perfect situation for high treadwear tires.

There are a few passenger car applications for high treadwear tires – mainly those applications where the vehicle in question never needs high levels of grip. Very cheap, long-lasting tires for economy vehicles are one such type, and they can further reduce the upkeep cost of a vehicle. Similarly, the low grip levels of high treadwear tires are actually ideal for hypermiling, as the lower rolling resistance increases gas mileage and efficiency.

Low Treadwear Applications (200 and Less)

For enthusiasts, the best part of the treadwear spectrum is the lowest part. Tires with treadwear ratings of 350 or less tend to have some performance pretentions, but for serious drivers and competitive racers, the only tires they will ever consider have treadwear ratings of 200 or less. These tires trade longevity for extremely high levels of grip, sticking to dry and even wet pavement like nothing else on the planet.

As a general rule, racing organizations tend to classify 200 treadwear tires as the lowest treadwear that can be called a “street” tire. These are extreme performance summer tires, the highest performance street tires in existence. While providing enormous levels of grip without being full racing slicks, they do trade away longevity. It is still possible to safely daily drive a car on these kinds of tires, provided ambient temperatures are above 45 degrees Fahrenheit, but on a daily driven car that is occasionally raced, they will only last about a year. Depending on how the car is driven and the exact tire in question, some of these tires will barely last an entire summer of street driving and monthly track use.

200 treadwear comprises the ultimate street tires, and those are perfect for dual-use cars and street-class vehicles raced in track and autocross events. But the ultimate performance tires are slicks and semi-slicks, which in many cases won’t even last an entire day of endurance racing. These tires are impractical for road use, not only because they have life spans measured in hundreds of miles but because they need to get hot before they provide actual grip of any kind. Semi-slicks and full slick tires have treadwear ratings well below 200.

A stack of tires is shown in a repair shop.

Remember to Check Treadwear When Tire Shopping

Treadwear ratings are a great general sign of what a tire’s strengths and weaknesses are. Knowing what treadwear means can help you get the best tire for your budget and application. That said, treadwear ratings are not a science. They vary depending on the manufacturer and are most accurate in the high and medium ranges where the most common types of tires are found.

In the very specific 200 treadwear category, tires like the Bridgestone Potenza RE-71R and Yokohama ADVAN A052 have actually been derided by competitors as “cheater” tires, as their manufactures artificially labeled what amount to semi-slicks as street tires. Granted, both of those tires used new technology and compounds to make them somewhat practical on the street, but they still last only half as long as the previous 200 TW tires. In any case, be aware treadwear isn’t everything, but it works wonderfully as a general guideline, especially for non-competition tires.