If you’ve just purchased a 4×4 and your head is full of offroad dreams, you’re also probably wondering if the tires on your 4wd are the best ones for your plans. The tires you use are on of the most important aspects of your vehicle.
With all the options to choose from, the task of choosing the right tires for your 4×4 can seem overwhelming, but there are really some rather simple rules to play by that all relate to the number one big question: exactly how do you plan to use your vehicle? Knowing how you’re going to use your car will assist you in choosing the correct tires which is not only good for you and the upkeep of your 4wd, but for the trails you travel and your vehicle’s efficiency. Selecting tires geared towards the trails you most frequently travel will provide grip and traction without tearing up the trail to the point of unsatisfactory conditions.
What is airing down
Airing down means adjusting your air pressure to the terrain you’re tackling. It can make a huge difference when done correctly. Lowering your tire pressure allows your tire of choice to flex more, meaning better grip on slipperier surfaces. This is especially true when you’re rolling with tires with meaty side lugs. Be sure not to lower your air pressure too much, and to have a way to reinflate your tires before you hit the blacktop again.
- When driving on pavement air up tires to manufacturer spec
- Low tire pressure when driving on paved roads will cause your tires to wear faster
- Too high tire pressure can also cause your tires to wear faster
- When airing down, do not lower your tire pressure too much.,You may damage your tire or pop the bead out
- If you plan to run low tire pressure often, beadlocks can help prevent it from popping the bead out
- Don’t drive too fast with aired down tires
- Air tires back up before returning to pavement
Lift kits & tire sizes
You simply may be wondering how tall of tires you can fit under your 4×4 with your chosen lift kit. The charts below will provide a good breakdown to refer to, so you can properly match your tires and lift heights. This is the chart for a Jeep Wrangler JK:
|4.5 inch without fenders
Note: The JK came with three tire sizes: 225/75/16, 255/75/17 and 255/70/18. The backspacing for the stock rims is 6.25″ which means the mounting surface of the wheel is 3.25″ from the rear lip of the wheel. The less backspacing you have, the more the wheel and tire will be tucked into the wheel well.
The largest tire you can comfortably (for the most part) run on a stock JK is a 33 inch. Road going 4×4’s won’t see a difference. Off-roaders, however, will want to pay attention to how much flex they experience on the trails. Disconnecting your sway bars with 33 inch tires will result in the tires contacting the fenders. If you decide to run wide 33 inch tires, you may run into issues with your tires contacting suspension components. Wheel spacers will fix this issue.
The best tires for your daily 4×4
You’ll need chains, or good all-season tires to navigate off-road, but you also want a tire that can handle being driven on the pavement as well. It can make the difference between sliding sideways down the road until you bury yourself in drifts past your hood and getting to your destination safely. Bald tires are also always an issue you want to address as soon as possible. Use all-terrain radials with plenty of tread when you’re driving in dangerous winter climates.
Take for example a good dedicated mud tire. Said tire can perform great in mud, light dirt, and rocky terrain, but can suffer excessive wear and noisy performance on the highway. A big reason why is because what makes a mud tire great is a soft sidewall. This contrast makes it horrible on the highway where it leads to a bogged down feel in acceleration and poor handling due to sidewall flexing. In addition, the large knobby aggressive tread pattern that contributes to ideal traction on the trail could be problematic on the highway during the rain.
Overall, a tire like the Goodyear Duratrac or BFGoodrich K02, do a great job of maintaining a reasonable balance between the dueling environments. Firm but pliable sidewalls offer great highway performance and when deflated offer very pliable traction on the trail. The tread pattern still offers a good amount of traction, while on the trail, but not too aggressive to cause noise or issues with the rain while on the highway.
- Good compromise between on and off-road
- Low noise levels
- More tread-life than typical mud tires
What are all-terrain tires (AT’s)?
All-Terrain (AT) tires are commonly the standard factory tire 4wd’s. These tires are designed for mostly paved road use, but still offer good traction during adverse weather conditions along with light off-road use. The tires follow a traditionally channeled tread pattern found on most sedan vehicles which makes them very efficient at dispersing and channeling water out of the treads to prevent any type of hydroplaning on paved roads.
It’s important to note unlike traditional road tires found on most passenger vehicles, all-terrain tires have slightly larger tread blocks and spacing. This could result in tread “cupping” which is uneven wear or “balding” on only some spots of a tire. This in turn causes the tire to oscillate or bounce slightly. Cupping is sometimes caused by wheel imbalance or bad suspension/steering components. The larger tread pattern of an all-terrain tire makes the tread more prone to cupping and requires special attention to suspension/steering components and more importantly, tire rotation schedules.
The best all-terrain tires feature slightly larger tread patterns and have some advantages when it comes to dealing with the snow, sand, or light dirt terrain. The wider paths between treads allow more movement of terrain to work itself out of the channels. This process ensures a good amount of traction in looser terrain conditions such as gravel and sand. All-terrain tires, however, have a limit in terms of off-road ability. In an effort to develop a good balance between paved and off-road use, all-terrains have to maintain a closer channel gap. This of course limits its ability on very loose terrain and in harsher off-road conditions. This is especially noticeable in muddy conditions. The tread will compact quickly with mud and lose any ability to provide traction. In essence turning them into slick tires.
All-terrain tires are a great choice if you plan on doing most of your driving on paved roads. The slightly aggressive tread pattern still provides good traction during severe weather conditions and light trail use. If you plan to do more sand and beach trails, all-terrains still provide great traction. However, if most of your time is spent on muddy terrain, then an all-terrain tire is not a good choice and you should consider a mud tire instead.
- Quiet on paved roads
- Great in all weather conditions and sandy terrain
- Better fuel economy
- Good wear lifetime
- Limited off-road capability
- Prone to cupping if imbalanced or faulty suspension/steering components
- Bad in mud conditions
Offroad tires or mud terrains (MT’s)
Mud tires (MT) have a much more aggressive tread pattern, making them some of the best off-road tires for. The tread blocks on these tires are more pronounced with greater channel gaps. Unlike all-terrain tires, these are designed for more off-road use, but can still be driven on paved roads.
As the name implies, mud terrain tires are designed primarily for muddy terrain. The larger, chunky treads are designed to allow more debris through the tire channels. This is essential during muddy terrain which typically fills those channels and compacts them quickly if the mud doesn’t have enough space to work through the channels. The same principle is seen during heavy snow conditions.
In addition to muddy terrain, mud tires are also excellent in rocky terrain. The larger treads provide a great layer of protection and prevention from possible punctures from rocks. In addition, when the tire pressure is lowered the footprint of the tire becomes larger, and the large treads provide a better grip as they conform to the terrain.
Mud terrain tires can also be prone to cupping like all-terrain tires, so proper tire balancing and suspension/steering component maintenance is essential. Another drawback with mud tires is fuel economy and road noise. The larger tread pattern can create a humming noise while on paved roads and the harder rolling resistance on a mud terrain tire will translate in more fuel consumption. In addition, tire longevity is significantly worse for mud terrain tires as the larger tread pattern wears much quicker than an all-terrain tire.
If you plan on doing an extensive amount of off-roading in muddy or rocky terrain, then a mud tire is an excellent choice. The aggressive and larger tread pattern allows constant movement within the channels, preventing any compacting of material. This ensures great overall traction, while also providing a great layer of protection against rocks or other hard terrain. If you plan on doing more driving on paved roads, then a mud tire isn’t the best choice due to the increase in road noise, decrease in fuel economy, and overall tire wear.
- Better traction off-road
- Better puncture resistance
- Louder on paved roads
- Less fuel economy
- More tire wear
- Prone to cupping if imbalanced or faulty suspension/steering components are present
Navigating winter with snow tires
If you live somewhere that gets very low temperatures and plenty of snow during the winter, good winter tires will outperform almost all tires in snow. Better acceleration, stopping distance, and turning are some of the benefits you get from these tires.
In shallow snow skinny tires will help cut through and reach pavement/dirt. However if you are off-road up north during the winter, skinny tires may not help. In some places snow can be several feet deep and one of the only ways to get through in a 4wd is to try to float on it with wide aired down tires. Whatever way you decide to get through snow, make sure you bring a shovel and some chains in case you get stuck. That is… if you don’t have a winch.
Going through sand
When driving in sand the most important things to remember is to air down your tires and to not spin your tires. If you gun it when taking off, you will probably end up digging holes with your tires. Smooth acceleration is important to prevent this from happening. Airing down your tires will give you more traction, better weight distribution, and will allow your 4×4 to float on the sand better. Wider tires will typically be a better choice in this situation.
You can have a look at all our available tires here.