Say you just decided to purchase new tires online for the first time in your life. You probably tried searching with the dimensions of the tire, like, for example, 205/55R16 and clicked on the first few results.
Once you open those pages, though, a plethora of different tires await you there, with another marking that might look like this: 91H. That marking is equally important as the dimensions of the tire, as it shows you the load capacity (91) and speed rating (H) of the tire.
In this article, I will focus on the speed rating, as I reckon it's the least-understood aspect when purchasing a new set of tires. Namely, while hitting the right tire size for your vehicle (usually) means you are also hitting the ride load capacity, with speed ratings, it isn't as straightforward. That is because you can find the same tire size in two different speed ratings.
Fortunately, you arrived at the right place to learn everything there is to know about speed ratings and why they matter. For easier understanding, I will compare the most common H and V speed ratings, both of which cover a significant portion of passenger vehicles driving on public roads today.
Let's start by explaining what speed ratings are, and then I will comprehensively compare H and V speed ratings so you can make an informed purchasing decision later on.
- Understanding Tire Speed Ratings
- A Close Look at Speed Rating H
- An In-Depth Look at Speed Rating V
- Comparing Speed Rating H vs. V
- How to Choose Between H and V-Rated Tires
- Touring vs. Grand-Touring Tires Regarding Speed Ratings
- Cheap V-rated Tire vs. Premium H-rated Tire
Understanding Tire Speed Ratings
Navigating through the world of tire sizes can be like deciphering alien language for beginners, especially today when most of us shop online. In the past, the tire technician would've recommended a suitable size for your car, which made things easier.
However, even when you are in the shop, the salesperson might recommend a lower speed rating with the explanation that "you are not really traveling at those speeds often." Thus, it is crucial to understand speed ratings, why they are important, and whether you should save some money by going for a lower speed rating when you purchase the next set of tires.
Put simply – they are more than just figures – they guide you to the tire that suits your vehicle's capabilities and your driving style best.
1. What Are Tire Speed Ratings?
Tire speed ratings, represented by a letter from A (the lowest) to Y (the highest), indicate the maximum speed a tire can safely handle when properly inflated and carrying its rated load. It is important to note that putting tires with higher speed ratings doesn't encourage you to drive faster – they only provide information on the capability of the tires.
In this article, we will focus on the most common speed ratings for passenger cars, crossovers, SUVs, and trucks – H and V.
Here's a brief look at a few speed ratings:
- H-rated tires are approved for speeds up to 130 mph (210 km/h).
- V-rated tires are approved for speeds up to 149 mph (240 km/h).
This means if you have a V-rated tire, it's designed to perform well at speeds up to 149 mph. Beyond that, the tire's performance, particularly its heat dissipation, could be compromised. As a result, the tread of the tire could start to separate from the carcass, which could then lead to a catastrophic blowout.
2. Why Are Speed Ratings Important?
Speed ratings are as important as the dimensions of the tire when it comes to safety. A tire's speed rating affects handling, grip, and braking distance. Using a tire with a lower speed rating than recommended for your vehicle can result in poor handling and increased braking distances, especially at higher speeds.
Furthermore, tires with lower speed ratings usually have a softer construction, which could result in worse handling and steering response. This is also important because your car's suspension was fine-tuned with the speed rating of the OE tires in mind, so putting tires with lower speed ratings could make it less stable.
Another lesser-known factor regarding speed ratings is insurance in case of an accident. Namely, fitting tires with a lower speed rating than recommended by the manufacturer could potentially invalidate your insurance. Automakers specify a certain speed rating because they know that's what the vehicle needs to perform safely and as designed.
A Close Look at Speed Rating H
When you are shopping for new tires online, you might notice that most tires intended for compact and mid-size passenger vehicles are H-rated, meaning they are designed for speeds up to 130 mph (210 km/h). But what does that really mean? Let's dive in.
1. Characteristics of H-Rated Tires
H-rated tires are designed to strike a good balance between comfort, performance, and durability.
As far as performance goes, these tires offer reasonably responsive steering and solid grip, though they can't reach the stability of V-rated or Z-rated tires. Still, they should be fine for daily driving, particularly if you own a family sedan, minivan, or crossover.
With that said, H-rated tires will provide you with a smoother ride than V-rated tires because their construction and sidewalls aren't as stiff. Moreover, they should be quieter, although this depends on the make and model.
Most H-rated tires are designed to offer longer treadlife, meaning they were made from a harder and longer-wearing rubber compound. Still, they aren't as tough as V-rated tires and will be more susceptible to damage from high-speed driving or impacts.
2. Suitable Conditions for H-Rated Tires
H-rated tires are more than sufficient for most drivers, as they allow for speeds of up to 130 mph (210 km/h), which is way above the speed limit in every country (except Germany). Furthermore, H-rated tires are great for drivers seeking a more comfortable ride, as they are better at absorbing impacts and minimizing noise.
However, H-rated tires aren't a good choice for spirited drivers that often attack corners at high velocities. Although these tires are rated at 130 mph, that is only true for driving on the highway. Push them hard on a twisty road, and they will start to flex at much lower speeds than V-rated or Z-rated tires.
An In-Depth Look at Speed Rating V
Speed rating V represents a higher echelon of tire performance compared to H-rated tires. Suited for performance sedans, sports cars, and some high-performance SUVs, V-rated tires bring a different set of qualities to the table.
1. Characteristics of V-Rated Tires
V-rated tires are approved for speeds up to 149 mph. To achieve that, these tires usually have a stiffer construction than H-rated tires, a stickier tread compound, and better heat dissipation properties. As a result, V-rated tires offer better longitudinal traction and lateral grip, along with better high-speed stability and sharper/quicker steering.
However, due to the stiffer construction, the ride won't be as smooth as on H-rated tires. The difference is minimal, though, as recent advancements in tire technology have led to the development of V-rated tires that also provide a relatively smooth and quiet ride.
Moreover, treadlife on V-rated tires is shorter on average, though again, the difference is minimal. Namely, an H-rated touring tire might come with a 70,000-mile treadwear warranty, while a V-rated grand-touring tire will come with a 60,000-mile warranty. There is overlapping here, though, and some V-rated tires might exceed the treadlife of H-rated tires.
2. Ideal Conditions for V-Rated Tires
V-rated tires are engineered to perform under certain conditions. For instance, they typically shine for high-speed driving in a performance vehicle or any car with a more powerful engine.
Furthermore, V-rated tires provide a higher lateral grip than regular tires, making them the preferred choice for enthusiast drivers.
So, ideal conditions for V-rated tires would be highways, fast twisty roads, or any road where you can experience the maximum performance of your vehicle.
Comparing Speed Rating H vs. V
Before we delve into the comparisons, it is important to note that H and V both belong to the high-speed category of tires. Tires for commercial vehicles, for example, come with way lower speed ratings because they are limited to lower top speeds. With those vehicles, having a higher load capacity is usually more important.
1. Performance Differences
On average, a V-rated tire will handle better than an H-rated tire. For starters, the steering will be more responsive and accurate, and you will be able to achieve higher speeds in the corner before losing grip. Furthermore, the stopping distances will be shorter, and you will get better acceleration off the line.
Another important aspect is that V-rated tires have better heat dissipation, meaning you can use them at higher speeds for longer periods. As a result, they are more resistant to blowouts when pushed hard, particularly when the environment temperature is high.
2. Pricing and Availability
In general, V-rated tires are often more expensive than H-rated tires. The higher cost comes from, the more sophisticated design and materials used to handle higher speeds and provide superior performance. They are also usually found in higher-end and performance-oriented tire ranges, which adds to the cost.
As for availability, H-rated and V-rated tires are perhaps the most widely available of any speed ratings nowadays. Automakers mostly put H-rated and V-rated tires as original equipment on their vehicles, and as a result, tiremakers offer more of these tires.
3. Lifespan and Durability
H-rated tires often have a longer lifespan than V-rated tires, primarily because they are designed for less aggressive driving styles and lower speeds. They are constructed with harder compounds that trade a bit of high-speed performance and grip for longer tread life. For instance, on many tire models, tiremakers provide shorter treadlife warranties on their V-rated sizes.
With that said modern V-rated tires are pretty durable. For instance, if you opt for a grand-touring V-rated tire over a touring H-rated tire, you will lose around 10,000 miles on treadlife, which is insignificant considering that touring tires have a treadlife of 60,000 to 80,000 miles.
Remember, it's essential to consider these factors in the context of your driving needs and habits. If most of your driving is done in the city or on highways at moderate speeds, H-rated tires will likely serve you well. If, however, you own a high-performance vehicle and enjoy spirited driving on open roads, V-rated tires would likely be a better fit.
How to Choose Between H and V-Rated Tires
Choosing between H and V-rated tires isn't just about deciphering the codes on your tires' sidewalls. It involves understanding your driving habits, acknowledging the type of vehicle you have, and considering whether a change in speed rating is necessary or beneficial.
1. Evaluating Your Driving Style and Needs
Before even thinking about changing to a higher/lower speed rating for the next set of tires, it's crucial to evaluate your driving. For instance, if you often drive on the highway, push the throttle pedal harder, or drive through corners at higher speeds, you will need a set of V-rated tires.
With that said, most people will be well-suited to H-rated tires. These work very well at urban speeds but also at moderate speeds on the highway and on twisty roads. You will lose some steering precision and grip, but if you are a defensive driver, you should be fine.
2. Vehicle Compatibility
Although your driving style plays a big role in determining the best speed rating, I would always put the same rating as the OE tires. The reason is that the car was designed with such tires in mind, meaning it offers an optimal balance between handling, comfort, and durability.
As a rule of thumb, always check your vehicle's owner manual or the placard on the driver's side door jamb for the manufacturer's recommended tire specifications, including the speed rating. The automaker might allow you to use lower speed ratings than the factory tires, but make sure you check that in the manual.
Still, if I ever changed the speed rating when I purchased new tires, it would be to go higher. Your mileage might vary, but I am saying this because safety should always be the number one priority, not cutting costs.
Most standard sedans, minivans, and compact SUVs are likely to come with H-rated tires as standard, whereas sports cars, high-performance sedans, or sporty SUVs might come with V-rated tires or higher.
3. Considerations for Changing Speed Ratings
If you're contemplating switching from H-rated to V-rated tires, or vice versa, there are a few things to consider. Crucially, while it's generally permissible to fit tires with a higher speed rating than recommended by the vehicle manufacturer, it's not advisable to fit tires with a lower speed rating.
If you do decide to switch to a higher speed rating for an improved driving experience, be ready to experience worse ride quality, more noise, and a slightly shorter treadlife. This depends on the tire, sure, as some modern V-rated premium tires strike an excellent balance between performance, comfort, and durability.
If you're considering moving from V-rated to H-rated tires to cut costs or improve the ride, be sure to consult with a tire professional, as it affects the safety of your vehicle.
Also, it is important to note that downgrading to a lower speed rating doesn't necessarily make the ride smoother. In my experience, it does make the ride softer on smoother roads but makes the ride worse on bad roads with repetitive impacts. Namely, tires that are overly soft don't handle sharp impacts well and tend to lose composure, resulting in more vibrations and harshness.
Touring vs. Grand-Touring Tires Regarding Speed Ratings
When looking for new tires for your vehicle, you might have noticed that the most common models are touring and grand-touring tires. But what is the difference between these?
Well, first of all, touring tires are designed for low-performance vehicles and emphasize treadlife and comfort over performance. Meanwhile, grand-touring tires up the ante on performance by sacrificing a bit of comfort and durability.
But the speed rating plays a big role here as well. In fact, I always use these tire categories to better explain speed ratings to people that don't understand them.
Namely, the speed rating is often higher for grand touring tires. Most touring tires have speed ratings of T (118 mph) or H (130 mph), while grand touring tires often have speed ratings of H (130 mph) or V (149 mph). This means that grand touring tires are designed to sustain higher speeds compared to touring tires.
In other words, grand-touring tires are more geared toward vehicles with more powerful engines, like mid-size sedans with V6 or turbocharged engines, while touring tires are better suited to entry-level models with naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engines. Of course, I am simplifying things here, but this thinking is a good basis for understanding speed ratings.
Generally, I would always put the same type of tire that my car came with from the factory. However, you can put grand-touring tires on your vehicle for some added responsiveness and cornering capability, provided you are ready to accept the slightly bouncier ride. With that said, I wouldn't put touring tires with lower speed ratings on a car that came with OE grand-touring tires with a higher speed rating.
Cheap V-rated Tire vs. Premium H-rated Tire
Are you ready to forget everything I said about the differences between H-rated and V-rated tires? Do that just for this paragraph because speed ratings still matter, though not as much as the quality of the tire itself.
For instance, a premium H-rated tire, even though it has a lower speed rating, will often be made from high-quality materials using advanced design techniques. Its design will also be more sophisticated, with advanced tread patterns and compounds that offer superior wet and dry traction and better resistance to heat build-up, which is essential for longevity and consistent performance. Not to mention, premium tires are tested for thousands of miles before they hit the market.
All of those advancements in design and manufacturing result in an H-rated tire that offers better handling, braking, and ride comfort compared to a cheaper V-rated tire.
Not to mention, a premium H-rated tire will offer vastly superior treadlife and overall longevity when compared to a V-rated cheap tire. And the difference won't be small – H-rated tires are more durable on average, but the advanced rubber compounds and tread designs of premium tires wear more evenly and slowly than on cheap tires. Of course, you will be paying much more for a premium tire, but you will also replace these tires less frequently, meaning the cost difference is much smaller in the long run.
Now, sure, V-rated tires are designed to hit higher speeds without overheating, but that doesn't make them perform better elsewhere. In fact, most of the H-rated premium tires I tried offer sharper and more engaging handling, and cheap V-rated tires.
Lastly, cheap tires suffer from severe issues like cracks, bulges, and tread separation much more than premium tires, regardless of the speed rating. They are also more prone to damage from hitting a curb or a pothole and won't protect your rims as well.
This last part might have confused you, so let me clarify things a bit. Namely, if you are just a regular car owner that wants a safe, comfortable, and durable tire, you should always go with the same speed rating as the OE factory tires. By doing that, you ensure maximum safety, which should be the number one priority when driving.
If possible, opt for models from premium manufacturers, as they are much safer, more comfortable, and more durable. Believe me, I tried cheap all-season tires in the past, and they wore down after only two years of (very edgy and unsafe) driving. The replacement, of course, doubled the cost (if I opted for cheap tires again). This would have matched the price of the premium tires that are double the price initially but last for four years. Since then, I never even thought of putting no-name tires on my car ever again.
So, yeah, buying tires from reputable tiremakers doesn't only ensure your safety, but it might be easier on your wallet. Don't let no-name tiremakers lure you into buying their tires just because they have a higher speed rating than the premium alternatives!
I’m Ivo Gievski, the content writer for Tireer. We built our website with over 15 years of experience and extensive research in the automotive and technology sectors. My dedication to delivering high-quality content is unwavering, and I strive to continuously hone my skills to stay ahead of industry trends and provide readers with informative, engaging, and valuable insights.