NHTSA Tire Grades Tool Will Help You Buy the Best Tires

Tire buying guides online can be confusing, and sometimes even pretty biased. Plus, if you’re like most drivers, buying tires is more of a chore than anything else, but just like most chores, it still has to be done. With more distributors selling tires that are seemingly becoming more and more affordable, it’s hard to find a standard by which tires can be measured and compared. Luckily for us, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has developed just the tool.

Checking your tires with the NHTSA

The NHTSA website has a lot of valuable and unbiased information about car safety, regulations, procedures, and even recalls. They’ve even developed an app you can install on your phone to stay up to date with important vehicle recalls and provide guidance on what to do in the case your car is affected.

Their user-friendly website, safercar.gov, gives users the ability to compare tires by brand, tire line (type), and even size. This, of course, requires a scale by which measurements can be taken and compared, and it’s called the Uniform Tire Quality Grading System. There are three categories to this grading scale: treadwear, traction, and temperature.

A close-up of the 2021 Toyota Tacoma's tire kicking up dirt
The 2021 Toyota Tacoma driving on a dirt road | Toyota


The treadwear of the tire is debatably a factor that people care about the most. The treadwear grading of a tire explains how much life you can expect out of the tire’s tread, meaning how often you will have to replace the tire. Most companies that have higher treadwear ratings are typically on the more expensive side, but there are still plenty of good options that are more affordable.

The treadwear grade is a number that is compared to a control of 100. According to the NHTSA, a majority of tires fall in the categories between 300 and 500. The tires with the highest treadwear gratings, ranging over 500, make up less than 8% of the tires produced.

A white 2021 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack 1320 does a burnout that creates smoke from the tires
2021 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack 1320 in White Knuckle | Stellantis

Traction and Temperature

The other two important factors of the grading scale are traction and temperature, which are based on a scale from AA down to C. Traction refers to the tire’s ability to come to a complete stop on wet pavement, which is important for many drivers. Temperature refers to how the tires perform at higher temperatures and how well they can sustain heat without blowing out or having tread separation. Combined, these three factors are what the NHTSA finds the most important for standard tires.

An auto mechanic changes the tires on a car
A mechanic changing the tires on a car | Wolfgang Kumm/picture alliance via Getty Images

Can a Sticky Set of Performance Tires Make Your Car Faster?

Many snow tires are graded with additional testing more relevant to snowy and icy conditions. Using the NHTSA guide, you can check out the grading of many tires based on what your car needs, and with these breakdowns you can understand exactly what those numbers really mean.