Tyre speed rating explained

By David Sholicar

Understanding tyre data can seem confusing at the best of times but, at Protyre, we are here to help!   The code found on the sidewall of a tyre gives quite a lot of information, including the diameter, height, width of the wheel, and the load index rating. The single letter at the end of the code represents the tyres speed rating. For example, if the code is 205/55R/16/91V then it is the V that is the speed rating.

tyre diagram

So, what is tyre speed rating?

Essentially the speed rating of a tyre is the maximum speed that it can safely tolerate – if running at the approved load capacity. The rating is given as a letter and each letter represents a different speed. This rating exists to ensure the safety of your tyres.
Speed ratings range from L to (Y). The system is based on the European use of kilometres, which is why the ratings in mph seem as though they increase in unusual increments. The speed ratings are established by engineers who run the tyres in ten-minute increments until the desired speed has been met. In imperial terms, the difference between each letter is approximately 6mph.
The speed ratings by letter are outlined below:
L = 75mph/120kmh
M = 81mph/130kmh
N = 87mph/140kmh
P = 93mph/150kmh
Q = 99mph/160kmh
R = 106mph/170kmh
S = 112mph/180kmh
T = 118mph/190kmh
U = 124mph/200kmh
H = 130mph/210kmh
V = 149mph/240kmh
Z = 149mph+/240kmh+
W = 168mph/270kmh
Y = 186mph/300kmh
(Y) = 186mph+/300kmh+
V, Z, W, Y and (Y) are for sports cars. L rated tyres are primarily for off-road and light trucks. Q is primarily for winter 4x4s. R is primarily for heavy-duty light trucks. S and T are primarily for family saloons and vans. U is primarily for saloons and coupes. H is primarily for sports saloons and coupes.
Tyres with larger diameters often also have a higher speed rating because they are intended for use on higher-performance cars so need to be able to handle higher speeds.
For most modern cars, the tyre rating is not the same as the maximum speed the vehicle is capable of. For example, most family cars will have a tyre speed rating that is higher than the car’s maximum speed. This is mainly for safety reasons and so that the performance of the tyres always exceeds the maximum performance of the car. A higher speed rating means that the tyre is able to cope with acceleration, braking, and high-speed cornering.

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Why are speed ratings important?

When travelling at higher speeds your wheels turn faster and more heat is subsequently generated. It is important, therefore, that the chosen tyres can cope with this.
Speed ratings are not exclusively about speed – they are also about ride comfort, tread wear, traction, and cornering ability. A tyre with a higher speed rating will give better grip and stopping power but may not last as long and may not perform as well in cold weather/winter conditions. V, Z, W, and Y-rated tyres, therefore, tend to be better suited to high-performance vehicles driven in warmer climates.

Can I fit tyres with a higher speed rating?

Yes, this is fine. If changing tyres, there are no issues with fitting models that have a higher speed rating than your current ones.

Can I fit tyres with a lower speed rating?

No, you should NEVER do this. Using a tyre with too low a speed rating for the car increases the risk of tyre failure at high speeds. Also, doing this can potentially invalidate your insurance.

We Can Help You Choose The Right Tyre

Tyres are essential for keeping your car safe and performing at its best, but with so many options out there, it can be tough to know where to start. That's where our informative articles come in – we're here to help you navigate the world of tyres and make the best choice for your specific needs.

Whether you're considering upgrading to Premium car tyres for enhanced driving dynamics, run flat car tyres for added peace of mind, or trying to decide between summer car tyres and winter car tyres, Protyre can help. Our articles have got you covered with a wide range of tyre-related topics to help you make informed decisions.

The brand you choose matters too. We offer recommendations for trusted names such as BF Goodrich tyres, Bridgestone tyres, Continental tyres, Dunlop tyres, Falken tyres, General tyres, Goodyear tyres, GT Radial tyres , Hankook tyres, Michelin tyres, Pirelli tyres, Runway tyres, Sumitomo tyres, and Toyo tyres. But our articles don't just focus on choosing the right tyres – we also offer practical advice for maintaining them. From simple tips like checking your tread depth and keeping your tyres inflated to the proper pressure, to more advanced topics like extending tyre life through regular rotation and balancing - we've got you covered! Dive in and discover everything you need to know to keep your car running smoothly and safely with Protyre.

The local garage you can trust

All Protyre garages are staffed by qualified fitters and our tyre professionals have years of experience to call on. Our garages stock a range of tyres to suit all budgets, including options from well-known manufacturers such as Pirelli, Goodyear, Falken, Sumitomo, and Bridgestone.
Our website also has an easy-to-use tyre finder tool – click the “Buy Tyres” button below and simply enter your registration number into the search box. You will then be shown a range of options available at different price points together with some useful details about each tyre, such as fuel economy rating, wet weather grip level, and noise levels.

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If you would like an experienced mechanic to give your tyres the once over (or replace them), why not give your nearest Protyre garage a call to arrange an appointment? We offer free tyre checks and a number of other vital free safety checks. To find your nearest Protyre garage, click the button below and enter your postcode into our search box. You can also book a tyre check online if you prefer.

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About the author

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By David Sholicar
David is the National Retail Operations Manager for Protyre. One of David’s areas of responsibility and expertise is dealing with the DVSA and MOT’s for Protyre. As the Authorised Examiner Designate Manager ( AEDM ) David deals with applications for changes to the many Vehicle Testing Stations ( VTS’s) including managing the growth of the Number of MOT testing stations that Protyre operate, allocating MOT tester roles, and monitoring the MOT Test logs to ensure that Protyre MOT standards are maintained as the best in the industry.
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