The Best Tires for Off Road Vehicles
Selecting tires for your off road vehicle may appear difficult. With a little thought and planning, the whole process becomes much easier. All you really need to do is ask yourself a few basic questions:
- What kind of vehicle am I driving (truck vs. ATV vs. dune buggy, for example)?
- What do I need it to do (mud, rocks, sand, highway)?
- Where am I (arid Southwest desert, coastal trails, deep snow)?
- What is my time and monetary budget (casual explorer or hardcore enthusiast)?
Each of these options helps you to narrow down the possible candidates. In some cases, it’s possible to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. In others, a canny decision can save you hundreds of dollars and still give you one hell of a ride.
All Terrain Tires: Hedging Your Bets
All terrain tires are a great option if your recreational vehicle also happens to be your main ride. For the most part, they are relatively inexpensive and hard wearing. Like their name states, they are designed with an interlocking tread that chews up mud, snow, ice, rocks, and highway driving. They give a great all-around performance, but sometimes falter in extreme environments.
Performance can be the deciding factor with all terrain tires. Their affordability is made even more attractive by the fact that it is possible to get decent highway gas mileage from your truck. Factory tires on most trucks are typically all season tires, made to deal with paved roads in different degrees of wet or ice. These are not all terrain tires. Be sure to check what you’re driving on before your spontaneous adventure gets you stuck in the sticks.
Mud Tires: Get a Grip
Mud tires are more specialized than all terrain tires. In general they are more aggressive in profile, with larger lugs and harder wearing, durable sidewalls. These are best for those vehicles that spend most of their time off paved roads: The bigger, softer grip of these tires wears depressingly fast on pavement and contributes to a much louder ride.
They are particularly useful on very rough ground, absorbing impact and chewing through challenging terrain, but at a cost. Mud tires, like all higher-performance equipment, are more expensive and wear out more quickly. The greater performance can be worth it in order to tackle the most harrowing trails, to go farther and faster down them, and to get back with the least amount of potential mechanical failure attached.
Sand tires are a subcategory of mud tires, being very soft and gripping, with additional horizontal or V-shaped treads to better traverse loose sand efficiently.
All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) and Utility Type Vehicles (UTVs) can come factory equipped with mud tires or all terrain tires, so know your gear, both before you buy and before you hit the trails.
Snow Tires: Bogging in a Winter Wonderland
Snow tires can be a solid investment if you live in more northerly states. Winter provides its own challenges and joys, and the right set of tires can mean the difference between a brisk blue-sky weekend ice fishing, or getting stuck nose down in a ditch.
Snow tires have larger lugs like mud tires, but have a more complex tread structure featuring channels called “sipes” to really bite into the slippery stuff. Composed of rubber that stays pliant and gripping even in subzero temperatures, snow tires give great, safe traction but at the cost of a louder, rougher ride and decreased gas mileage.
Size Matters: Tires and Rims
There’s no argument that tall tires just look sharp, but there’s more to a great performing truck or ATV than looking pretty. In particular, bigger, taller tires give you more clearance, which means you can safely take on rougher trails without getting hung up or bending a rim.
Check the sticker inside your glove box, which will give the dimensions of the tires safely allowed for that vehicle. The biggest possible choice printed will get you the best possible performance out of your machine, outside of the possibility of a lift kit. With one of these, more clearance is available so you don’t shred your sidewall on your own fender, but some restraint and logic is still desirable.
Check out your options with a reputable dealer. The internet has a lot of resources like review sites and discussion boards to help point the way here. An honest tire dealership is looking for your long term business, so keeping you satisfied in the long run is in their best interest.
If you do upgrade the size of your tires, don’t neglect to change out your rims if necessary. Under- or over-sized rims can decrease the lifespan of both your tires and your vehicle. Changing these components changes performance output, gear ratios, and how basic features (like brakes and steering components) fit and function. Safely should always be of primary concern, but there’s no reason why a safe vehicle can’t be fun, too.