The Insider: Get a grip of the basics for maximum performance

There's a daunting number of tyres on the market. Before you start looking, you'll need some basic information about the right type for your car. You can only fit the size and specification of tyre recommended by the manufacturer for the wheels on the model you drive.

Never fit tyres that are a different size or speed rating from those specified by the car manufacturer, and don't use a mixture of tyre types without first checking your car's handbook, or asking a reputable dealer.

Which? carries out a series of rigorous tests to find the best on the road. "We assess how well tyres cling on when our test drivers try changing lanes and going through 's' bends at more than 90mph", says Which? car editor Richard Headland. "We test to see how quickly they allow you to stop – both in the dry and in severe wet conditions, on tarmac and on concrete.

"We also check how easily the tyres slip when accelerating in standing water 7mm deep. And we ask our testers to see how fast they can go round a circular track, covered with standing water, before the car skids off."

With so many types on sale, Which? can't test all of them, but selects ones that are typical for a wide range of cars and among the biggest-selling sizes in the UK market – the 205/55 R16 W is fitted to medium cars, large cars and mid-sized MPVs; and the 185/60 R14 H is popular on superminis and older, medium-sized cars.

In the former category, the Continental PremiumContact 2 (£82) is a Which? Best Buy. This tyre offers first-rate handling on dry roads, good wet and dry braking and good resistance to aquaplaning in bends and on straight roads. It's around average for noise, so motorway cruising at speed shouldn't be too much of a strain.

The Uniroyal RainSport 2 is exceptional value at £67. The tyre has good all-round grip, handles well in wet and dry conditions, and resists aquaplaning well on the straight and in bends.

In the latter category, the Continental PremiumContact 2 (£58) is a Best Buy which gives excellent handling on dry roads, good wet and dry braking, and decent wet grip in bends and on straight roads. It's slightly noisier than some tyres, but the tyre noise isn't intrusive.

An exceptionally good value tyre is the Kumho Solus KH17 at £43. It scored well on wet and dry braking, dry handling and wet grip in a straight line. Buying a set of these instead of premium tyres like the Michelin Energy Saver could save you as much as £72

Where to buy

Considering the range of prices for tyres, it's well worth contacting several retailers to compare costs. Independent retailers generally sell tyres at lower prices than the bigger chains. If the tyre you choose isn't available at your local independent retailer, you may have to go to a national or online supplier, which generally offer a wider range.

Shopping around might save you money. If one retailer offers you a better deal, but is further away, try asking a nearer one to match the offer.

What to look out for...

How can I tell how old my car tyres are?

The week and year of manufacture is always marked on the sidewall. Tyre makers specify strict storage conditions for tyres, as they can deteriorate if these aren't met.

When do I need to replace my car tyres?

Change them when the tread is below about 2mm, when you notice damage, or when you suffer a flat that cannot be repaired. By law, car tyres must have a tread depth of at least 1.6mm across three-quarters of the tread width.

Should I fit new car tyres on the rear axle?

Yes, this is the best advice. The ideal is for all tyres to be replaced at once, but front and rear tyres wear at different rates, so it is rarely practical. Whenever you make any changes, fit the new or least-worn tyres on the rear axle.

My car's tyre size isn't one Which? has tested. What should I do?

If you can't find your size among the popular sizes Which? has tested, look for the closest match. If Which? has named a Best Buy in a size very close to yours, it's reasonable to expect the same brand/model performance will be similar.

theinsider@independent.co.uk

The Insider is written by Which?, the independent consumer champion. For more information go to www.which.co.uk/tyres or pick up a copy of Which? Car, on sale at Sainsbury's for £3.99. To get three issues of Which? magazine for a special price of £3, call 01992 822800 and quote INADVICE.

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