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The top-rated tires for all seasons

Choosing the right tread for the road ahead can make the difference between a close call and disaster.

Not all tires are created equal.

Choosing the right tread for the road ahead can make the difference between a close call and disaster.

Your safety, comfort and vehicle?s performance depend on what and where you drive just as much the rubber that gets you there.

After testing more than 150 kinds of car, truck and SUV tires, with up to a dozen sets of each put to pavement, pot holes and patches of ice, snow and rain water Consumer Reports has narrowed down the best in nine categories for 2012.

Tires were tested for dry and wet braking, cornering, snow and ice traction, ride, comfort, tire noise, tread life and the rolling resistance that affects gas mileage.

Stacked up, the more than 3,200 tires tested at Consumer Reports? 327-acre proving ground in Connecticut would rise higher than the CN Tower.

It took a lot of testing by Tire Program Leader Gene Petersen and an associate to grade tire performance on skid pads and good and bad road surfaces with a variety of world-class bumps, potholes, cracks, grooves and stretches of uneven pavement.

Recently Petersen took a break from brake testing just long enough to give The Star an idea of his department?s colossal task.

Tire testing is done on a three-year cycle. One year is spent on all season tires for mass market cars, the next on SUVs and light trucks and then on ultra-performance vehicles.

Ten categories are used to grade tires, some involve electronic measurement and others stem from the subjective opinions of the white lab-coated experts with clipboards. These ten scores are not averaged but rather weighted depending on the categories.

For all-season tires rolling resistance, ride, comfort and tread life are given a bit more value than outright handling. The opposite is the case when rating ultra-high performance tires as few Porsche or AMG Mercedes drivers bemoan tread wear or the price of premium gas.

For all the tires put through Petersen?s tests very few make it to Consumer Reports ?recommended list?.

Out of the 26 all-season tires for cars tested only four made it, with Continental ProContact EcoPlus, Michelin Energy Saver A/S and Hankook Optimo H727 scoring 82 out of 100. Goodyear Assurance TripleTread came in at 80.

The three out 17 performance winter tires for cars that made the list, each with a score of 76, are Nokian WR G2 (V), Hankook Winter I*cept Evo and the Michelin Pilot Alpin PA3.

And the only two winter tires for cars making the list were the Michelin X-Ice Xi2 scoring 84 and General Altimax Arctic rated at 78.

In the all-season tires for SUVs and trucks four models of Michelin tires and one Continental made the recommended list, all scoring a 72.

The only tire to get a score of 90, the highest rated hunk of rubber on the list, is the ultra-high performance Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer tire.

Ranking tires is not an absolute and even Consumer Reports acknowledges that, so they have tips to help drivers choose the right ones.

?It is not just about numbers; it is how well-mannered is this set of tires? There is always a tire out there for everyone. He recommends studying test charts (available in detail on CR?s website) and then take into account where and how you drive. If it comes out a tie between two tires consider rolling resistance the tie breaker.

?Tires are getting better and better,? said Jennifer Stockburger, senior automotive engineer with Consumer Reports.

?Consumers no longer have to make performance trade-offs between traction and tread life ? plenty of models are long-lasting and offer impressive grip.?

The experts stress when buying tires it is wise to stick with the size and speed rating of the wheels that originally came with the vehicle.

And Consumer Reports warns readers when shopping for a car or truck to be aware of the types of tires and repair or replacement risks you could face down the road.

Some cars are equipped with a compressed air and sealant kit instead of a spare and jack. They are useless if the tire?s sidewall is damaged, and then you?re stranded.

Performance tires on mainstream vehicles may provide better braking and handling, but when its time to replace them you could be shocked by the cost.

While flat-run tires seem practical as they can get you to a service station, it may be hard to find a matching replacement right away depending on where and when you need it.

Adding a new replacement tire to some all wheel drive vehicles that have partially worn tires may affect and even damage the AWD system. Replacing all four tires, especially performance tires, can be extremely expensive.

John Mahler writes the Tire Talk column for Toronto Star Wheels. Henry Stancu is a Toronto Star reporter.

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