Recent experimental research indicates that superelastic shape memory alloy nickel–titanium (NiTi) is superior to stainless steel against wear and could be applied in tribological engineering. It is believed that the super wear resistance of shape memory alloys is mainly due to the recovery of the superelastic deformation. Our recent wear study indicates that wear rate is very sensitive to the maximum contact pressure. In the present investigation, which involves applying Hertz contact theory and the finite element method, the wear behaviour of shape memory alloys is examined against that of stainless steels through analyzing the maximum contact pressure and the plastic deformation. Our investigation indicates that the contribution of superelasticity to the high wear resistance of NiTi is directly linked to the low transformation stress and the large recoverable transformation strain. Furthermore, the low Young's modulus of this alloy also plays an important role to reduce the maximum contact pressure and therefore reduce the wear rate. Additionally, the high plastic yield strength of transformed martensite NiTi enhances its wear resistance further.