If your idea is to get the biggest, most aggressive looking off road tires around there are a few things you might want to consider before pulling out your wallet.
Off road activities such as sand-racing, rock crawling, mud-plowing, etc. may have you thinking about equipping your vehicle with off-road tires.
Many people have the mistaken idea that bigger, more aggressive tires will give you better traction on rugged terrain. This isn't always so.
Tires are only part of the equation when you want to improve traction off-road. Often you can get better results by modifying your vehicle and installing a traction differential and keep your regular off-the-shelf sport tires.
Another idea to consider is installing a winch* --possibly before you do anything else. Sometimes, making modifications such as changing your differential might cause you to take chances that will get you into trouble that would make you wish you had a winch.
* You might want to consider the Mile Marker Winch - PE8000 Electric Winch offered by AutoAnything. (see photo at the top right)
The real purpose of installing larger tires is primarily to give you more ground clearance. This makes it easier for your vehicle to climb over boulders, wade through mud, and travel through other areas where obstacles would be too high for you to otherwise make much headway.
Of course, properly chosen off-road tires will give you better traction in mud or snow than all-season tires, but make this choice after you've considered other traction-improvement alternatives.
Some people compare installing bigger (taller) tires on a 4x4 to a marriage. This kind of move involves a tremendous commitment, changes and sacrifices, and on-going care and upkeep. The only difference, they say, is that you don't end up in the doghouse when you forget the anniversary.
To begin your upgrade to bigger tires, you're likely going to have to consider making changes to other parts of your vehicle too. You'll need extra clearance so that your tires won't rub against the fenders or other parts. Sometimes a suspension lift will be the best solution, other times either a body lift or a combination of the two works best.
If you're planning serious off-road travel, you'd probably want to give considerable weight to going the suspension lift route which gives you greater wheel movement range, while a body lift simply provides the space needed for a bigger tire but does not affect performance much.
These days the tire industry has all but abandoned bias ply tires in favor of radial tires. Bias ply tires are usually rare exceptions, but there still are people who consider that bias ply tires have some advantages over radials for off road use.
In extreme conditions, bias ply supporters claim they offer superior performance in deep mud, on rough terrain, or areas where sharp rocks abound. Self-cleaning of the tread is better leading to improved traction and softer rubber compounds are able to provide a greater grip. The undisputed fact of having greater reinforcement in the sidewalls helps avoid damages in this area.
On paved surfaces, bias ply tires do not ride or wear nearly as well as their counterparts. They are uncomfortable and noisy at high speeds and it is unlikely that this kind of tire will get more than 20 or 30 thousand miles. If they are used with lowered pressure off-road for greatly improved handling, the center area of the tread will still suffer.
While many purists still hang on to the idea of using bias ply tires off road, the latest generations of radial tires are producing some excellent results, particularly providing greater versatility and much better handling when used at higher speeds.
For many people the sacrifice in traction or performance given up by using radial tires is made up by longer life, better handling and smooth quiet riding on paved roads. For a week-end off-roader who doesn't wish to be changing tires for their regular driving, this is often the best choice.
Choosing the best size is often a matter of luck and guessing. Obviously the first question that must be dealt with is whether or not your 4x4 can manage with the size of tire you'd like to use, even if you're prepared to make some modifications. This is often a matter of trial and error, which can be aided by talking with others who have done modifications similar to what you're planning. Today with specialized forums and internet searches, it is easier than ever to discover others who have had similar experiences. Also, don't over look factory service manuals, off-road magazines, and local 4x4 clubs for ideas.
Doing a bit of homework and planning can pay off big in terms of making the best choice and getting a good deal.
Some questions to ask yourself:
All weather, or all season tires are usually too fragile for off road use, but when they are used mostly on paved roads --either wet or dry-- they will provide the longest life and excellent ride. This is the kind of tire new vehicles generally have installed at the start. The greatest drawback is that they don't offer the rugged, macho look which is very popular for some.
Flexibility is what is aimed at in all terrain tires. They're sort of the Swiss-army knives of tires capable of doing a lot of different jobs a bit of the time, and most of them farily reasonably most of the time. Often you will find certain mixes suggested, such as 25% highway, 75% off road, or 50% on/off road use. These are simply guides to help you choose a mixture which is close to what you intend to use.
These are the class of tire which are made especially for specific uses and you'd not usually expect to get anything more than mediocre results in other uses.
You'll find very aggressive treads which often wrap around to the sidewalls. There are deep depressions and gigantic lugs which will grab onto different surfaces. Often extreme mud and rock tires share many similar characteristics and may serve quite well in both areas.
You'll find extreme tires in both radial and bias ply construction that are durable and resistant to cuts and punctures, but will wear quickly when used on paved roads, especially at higher speeds.
Take your time in making your choice, and if you're just starting down the road to making big changes, look around to find others who have done the same to give you some ideas of what works best and what pitfalls to avoid. See the article on making good use of your dealer for some ideas.
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