Tire speed ratings and the the law

Or, was the tire guy at Costco just feeding me a line?

Here’s the story:

Several months ago I need to replace my front tires due to an alignment issue. Since I was in the vicinity I headed over to Costco. I picked out a tire in the correct size at a reasonable price. The tire salesman looked up my car (a '93 Volvo) and told me that legally, he wasn’t allowed to install those tires on my car because they had a lower speed rating than the OEM tires.

Now, I am not unknowledgeable in the ways of cars, and I used to do my own car repairs until I got into the real world, with less time than money. I am also aware that pretty much all passenger car speed ratings are in excess of 100 MPH (a speed I only attained once in this car, and that when it was only a few years old). The rating of the tire that I had picked out was only one level lower (I don’t remember what they are, and I don’t have the car with me, so I can’t go look) than the OEM rating, but the price of the tire he wanted me to buy was about double that of the tire I had chosen (so I ended up buying a much less expensive tire at my local tire chain store, and they were quite willing to put on one with a differing speed rating). The car is used almost exclusively as a station car these days, so handling is not really an issue any more (and it’s still pretty good).

So, was this guy just giving me a load of BS? He claimed to actually have “gone to school” to learn about tire ratings. I have read many different articles about tires over the years, but never once have I seen mention of the legality of using a lower speed rating.

This is in New York State if it makes a difference.

There was a thread on this quite a while back. It’s not illegal to sell tires that are below the OEM rating, but most tire outlets won’t do it. There are two reasons for this. One is that they do not want the legal exposure. There is an apocryphal story about some guy in a high performance car who bought tires below the OEM speed rating, but he took off down the highway one day at 100+ and blew a tire, crashed, and sued the tire shop (or maybe his estate sued the tire shop :wink: ).

The second reason is that higher speed rated tires generally cost more.

But there’s no law that requires it, AFAIK.

New York State may be different. It has some automobile practices that are not normal, as I recall.

Sometimes OEM tires have unnecessarily high speed ratings. For example, all new Toyota Corollas come with V-rated tires (240km/h) but these cars can reach 200km/h only if dropped from a cliff. An H-rated tire (210km/h) could be safely used in place of the OEMs.

But sometimes the OEM tire rating just barely covers the capabilities of the car.

Another issue here is that a lower speed rating in most cases also means a lower load rating too. Those two numbers are connected. If you tend to load your car at max capacity then you might have a problem with lower rated tires.

My advice is to give the extra 50 bucks (or whatever it is) and get tires with the OEM rating or higher.

since the load rating is specified as a separate number, it’s easy enough to determine if it is sufficient. I hardly think that’s enough of a reason to pay for a higher speed rating.