Understanding Tire Speed Ratings: A Comprehensive Guide

Every tire has a story to tell. Beyond the size and brand, there’s a unique identifier that is often overlooked: the tire speed rating. This rating represents the maximum speed a tire can safely maintain over time. It's not just a mere number or a letter; it's a testament to the tire’s capability, design, and engineering.

What Are Tire Speed Ratings?

Simply put, tire speed ratings indicate the maximum speed a tire can handle while carrying a load. Originated in Europe in the 1960s, these ratings were established as a standard to match the increasing speed capacities of vehicles. Today, it's crucial for safety, ensuring that you select tires that can handle the top speed of your vehicle.

How Is Speed Rating Denoted?

The speed rating is typically denoted as a letter found at the end of the tire size designation. For instance, in the tire code “P215/65R15 95H”, the 'H'; symbolizes the speed rating.

Importance of Tire Speed Ratings

  1. Safety: The tire's design and structure are optimized to perform up to its rated speed. Going beyond this limit can risk blowouts or loss of control.
  2. Performance: Tires with higher speed ratings often provide enhanced handling and braking capabilities.
  3. Comfort: The construction determining the speed rating also impacts ride comfort and noise levels.

But, while it’s essential to match or exceed your vehicle’s original speed rating, it doesn’t mean you should drive at this maximum speed. Always adhere to posted speed limits.

Tire Speed Rating Chart with Examples:


Rating Speed (mph)Example Tire SizeExample Tire Model
Q99LT215/85R16Michelin XPS Rib
R106LT265/70/R17BFGoodrich Commercial T/A All Season 2
S112215/65R16GT Radial Savero SUV
T118205/65R16Continental TrueContact Tour
H130225/55R17Bridgestone Turanza LS100
V149235/45R18Pirelli Cinturato P7 All Season Plus
Z150+235/45ZR-17Lionhart LH-503
W168265/35R-22Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 3
Y186245/35ZR-18Michelin Pilot Sport PS2


Notes on 'Z' and 'ZR' Ratings

Historically, the letter "Z" in a speed rating, especially in older tires, signified "in excess of 149 mph". In contemporary tires, the presence of "ZR" indicates a tire's capability for high speeds. However, to understand the specific mph rating, it's often essential to reference a secondary
speed rating (like W or Y) in the tire's specifications.

Selecting the Right Speed Rating

When replacing tires:

  1. Check the owner’s manual: The manufacturer’s recommended speed rating will be mentioned.
  2. Stick to the recommendation: While upgrading to a tire with a higher speed rating is permissible, downgrading is generally discouraged.
  3. Consider driving conditions: For regular highway driving or situations demanding better handling, a higher speed rating might be beneficial.


Tire speed ratings are more than just a letter on your tire sidewall. They signify the safety and performance capabilities of your tire. By understanding these ratings and ensuring your tires either match or exceed your vehicle's requirements, you'll be on the path to a smoother, safer drive. Whether navigating a bustling highway or cruising down a country road, the right tire makes a world of difference. Safe travels!