Let’s Demystify the All-Terrain Tire
When you think of the important parts of your car, you likely think of things like the engine and the body of the car, but honestly, your tires are perhaps the most important. Your tires provide you with your vehicle’s contact points on the pavement. Without good tires, you’d be without good traction. All-terrain tires provide a fantastic experience for many drivers, especially if you drive on a wide variety of terrain (hence the name). These tires are tires for any terrain.
That said, with so many types and sizes of tires out there, not to mention all the different tread patterns and companies selling tires, we thought it best to take a closer look at all-terrain tires so you have a full understanding of the tire type, why they exist, and when you should use them.
What are All-Terrain Tires?
All-terrain tires, or A/T tires as they’re often abbreviated, are designed to provide your vehicle with traction both on the road and off-road. All-terrain tires likely won’t perform as well as designated off-road tires or designated road tires in their respective situations, but they offer a hybrid experience that gives you the best of both worlds.
All-terrain tires are commonly seen on SUVs and trucks that spend time on the road and off-road. Even a two-wheel-drive vehicle can benefit greatly from the addition of all-terrain tires. In fact, most tire aficionados and automotive journalists (including myself) find that the tire tends to make all the difference in terms of the vehicle’s capabilities.
You may even find that a two-wheel vehicle with high-quality all-terrain tires outperforms a four-wheel-drive vehicle with poor-quality tires both on the road and off-road.
All-Season Tires VS. All-Terrain Tires
You’ve likely purchased some all-season tires for your regular family vehicle no matter what type of vehicle you own. Are all-season tires the same as all-terrain ones? Nope. They’re designed for different things. All-season tires are specifically designed for on-road use. They’re good for all seasons throughout the year, but they won’t perform as well as all-terrain tires off-road.
If you off-road regularly or honestly at all, you may find that you’re better served by all-terrain tires. There’s a wide variety of all-terrain tires out there. Many all-terrain tires will perform really well on-road as well as off. This means they will challenge all-season tires on the street, but still offer fantastic results off of the pavement.
Determining if You Need All-Terrain Tires
Figuring out if you need all-season tires or all-terrain tires should be relatively easy. Ask yourself if you are ever off-road in your truck or SUV. If you do go off-road, you could benefit from having some all-terrain tires.
Still, you might want to ask yourself, what kind of off-roading is it? If you’re just rolling down a fire road without a steep grade from time to time, all-terrain tires should be able to handle that without issue.
However, if there’s a steep grade or hill, or you’re doing something a little more extreme off-road (crawling over rocks for example), then you will likely want to look at some designated off-road tire options. All-terrain tires are designed to handle on-road and off-road conditions, but if you do anything too extreme, you will really need designated off-road tires.
Choosing the Right All-Terrain Tire
Depending on the type of vehicle you have and the size of tires it can be fitted with, you could potentially have a long, long list of options. Choosing the right all-terrain tire when you have so many options can seem daunting.
Tread and Tire Compound
Tread patterns vary widely from tire-to-tire, even among all-terrain tires. The tread can have a dramatic impact on the performance and characteristics of the tires.
Good all-terrain tires will have deep and aggressive tread to handle off-road situations. They also need to provide good coverage and a good pattern for street driving as well. This balance is delicate.
Tire makers spend millions of dollars getting the best blend of capabilities out of their tires by tweaking the tire compound and tread patterns. When shopping for all-terrain tires, make sure to get a tire compound and tread pattern that’s designed for how you drive.
If you spend more time on the road rather than off-road, you’ll want to look for an all-terrain tire that’s designed to be quiet on the pavement, provide better gas mileage, and be long-lasting. If you want to off-road often, you can go with a more aggressive, chunky tread pattern and not worry so much about noise and level of efficiency.
The sidewall is the part of the tire that separates the wheel and tread. If you plan to go off-road, your tires need to have a taller sidewall than a typical street tire will. All-terrain tires come in a variety of sidewall heights.
Generally, a lower sidewall height translates to better stability on the road. However, a higher sidewall height offers more cushion for off-roading and allows you to reduce the air pressure of your tires when off-roading, which can be very helpful in certain situations like deep sand or mud.
There are a few different ways to look at tire ratings. There are ratings and categories for speed, longevity, and conditions. Generally, enthusiasts often prefer a softer tire that provides a good grip. Regular drivers are often more interested in longevity and efficiency. You don’t necessarily need to pick one or the other. There are plenty of options that offer a blend of both.
The speed ratings vary from L (rated for 75 mph) and go to Z (rated for over 186 mph). All speed ratings are a simple letter. The most common speed ratings are S and T, which will probably be what you should buy.
There’s also a longevity rating. Tires are rated for different distances. At the tire store, you’ll likely see this expressed in terms of miles, but the actual methodology calls for a formula to be used and the tires to be compared to Course Monitoring Tires. All you really need to know is that some can do more miles than others. As you shop, notice the tire tread-life warranties. A longer tread-life warranty will mean you’ll be able to get more miles out of that tire.
When it comes to tires, brands matter. There are many unknown brands out there. Most of those brands you’ve never heard of offer a sub-par tire with many similar features to the higher-dollar offerings. You might spend less money on them, but you’ll replace the tires sooner.
Brands like Falken, Continental, Goodyear, and BF Goodrich all offer good tires, but they’re certainly not the only ones. If you’re thinking about a tire brand, but haven’t heard much about it, check out customer reviews. There are many new brands entering the market, and some of them can provide a good value.
The question ever all-terrain tire buyer has is, how much is it going to cost? That’s extremely important, but the answer is that it will vary. Some tires can cost as little as $40 per tire while others can cost over $1,000 per tire. It all depends on the quality of the tire, its type, speed rating, and longevity.
Generally, you get what you pay for, but you should think about a few things no matter the price. First is the tire warranty. A good tire brand will stand behind its product and place a limited warranty on the tires for a certain amount of time or number of miles. Second, you should look for special discounts. Tire companies often have sales on tires or offer a special discount if you buy four tires at once. This applies to all types of tires, but it can be a great way to get some good quality all-terrain tires at a fair price.