In this article, you will learn to read a tire size and its maximum load and speed and find out how the brand, range and tire type, are shown on your tire. You will also learn about other tire markings such as the snowy mountain symbol, M+S letters and the significance of the OE marking.
Tire numbers meaning
If you look at the sidewall of your tire, you will notice numerous alphanumeric codes and symbols. What do those tire markings mean?
These tire markings give you important information about tire usage or replacement.
How to read a tire size?
The dimension of the tire is defined by numbers and a letter, as shown here in yellow.
Note that these characters are sometimes accompanied by additional letters that indicate the recommended use of the tire.
Such letters could be :
- P: Passenger Car
- LT: Light Truck
- C : Van commercial tire
- XL, HL or Reinforced : Tires with a higher load capacity than normal for their dimension. Such tires need to be replaced by the equivalent (example : an HL tire by another HL tire)
- T: Temporary (spare wheels)
How to read a tire width and the aspect ratio?
Example: 205 / 55
These are important tire markings that will help you find the right tire when you need to change it.
The first of the two numbers is the nominal section width of the tire. It is given in millimetres and defines the distance between the inner and outer sidewall of the tire. For example, 205 means that your tire is nominally 205 mm wide.
The second number is the relationship between a tire’s sidewall height and the tire's width. It is expressed as a percentage. For example, 55 indicates that the sidewall height, between the top of the tread and the rim, is 55% of the tire width.
How to read a tire construction type and the wheel diameter?
Example: R 17
These tire markings are usually composed of a letter and a number.
The letter, R, indicates that the tire’s internal construction is Radial.
Radial technology, invented by Michelin, uses combinations of rubbers and metal and textile reinforcing materials to form very robust structures in the tread area but flexible sidewalls. It allows a longer tread life and reduces fuel consumption thanks to the reduction of the rolling resistance.
After the letter you will find a number. In our example: 17.
This number is expressed in inches and indicates the diameter of the wheel on which the tire is designed to fit.
How to read the maximum load and speed of a tire?
Example : 91 V
On the sidewall of your tire you will find a number followed by a letter.
The tire load rating or load index (in our example: 91) is a code which corresponds to a maximum load (in kg) that can be carried by a single tire.
The tire speed rating (in our example: V) is a code which corresponds to the maximum speed at which a tire can carry its maximum load.
You will find a table of correspondence between these codes and their values in our article on load and speed ratings. These ratings are important information, as is tire size, especially when considering choosing new tires for your car.
How to identify the brand name and range of the tire?
This is quite easy. The manufacturer's brand name is always showing on the sidewall, as is the range of the tire.
In this picture, MICHELIN and our Michelin Man are clearly visible and the name "Pilot Sport ⁴ ˢ" refers to the range of the tire.
How to identify the type of tire?
The word "Tubeless" on the sidewall of your tire indicates that your tire does not require an inner tube. Note that a tube is sometimes necessary for certain wheels, but in such cases it is important to assess if the tube and tire are compatible.
Conversely, the word "Tube type" indicates that the tire requires to be fitted with a tube.
What is the benefit? A tubeless assemby is lighter, more fuel efficient and often more reliable owing to damage that can occur to the tube in service.
Check tire pressure
There are markings on the sidewall of the tire (MAXLOAD and MAX PRESS) that indicate the maximum load and the maximum pressure of the tire. However, these are not necessarily the load and pressure values for your vehicle.
To ensure that your tires perform correctly on your vehicle, you must refer to the inflation pressures recommended by the manufacturer of your vehicle. These can normally be found in your owner's manual or on the sticker in the driver's door or fuel filler cap.
How to read a tire date code?
The tire date code appears in the DOT (Department Of Transportation) field, where other tire markings are present.
The first codes are for the US market requirements. The date code appears at the end, with four numbers.
The first two numbers designate the week and the last two numbers, the year of production. In this example, the tire date code indicates 4714, which means that the tire was manufactured in the 47th week of the year 2014.
As for the end of the tire's life, the only indicator is its wear. This can be measured with the help of wear indicators.
How do I know if the tire has reached its maximum wear level?
Your tire has wear indicators.
These small 1.6 mm high ridges are present between the sculptures of the tire.
On MICHELIN tires, you can easily identify them by the little Michelin Man symbol that appears in several places on the sidewall of the tire. When you see the Michelin Man, you know that the wear indicators are arranged in line across the width of the tire.
When the treads on your tire are worn down to the same level as the wear indicators, the tire has reached the minimum tread depth level.
Some car manufacturers equip vehicles with tires tuned specifically for their requirements.
A marking on the tire, meaning "Original Equipment", indicates that the tire was designed by the tire manufacturer and approved by your vehicle manufacturer to be fitted as standard.
The OE marking refers not only to the Manufacturer but often the specific car model. The differences between tires of these types might relate to vehicle handling, comfort, noise and sometimes the requirements of the transmission and vehicle software systems. Also, the rolling resistance is optimised.
Michelin recommends that if your vehicle was originally fitted with OE marked tires, replacement tires should be the correct OE marked versions.
In the example image, the "AO" marking corresponds to the Audi brand, as you can see in the table below.
Table of OE markings by vehicle brand: