Get A Grip: All-Terrain Tires For Your Adventurous Spirit
There are streets, and there are dusty roads. Most trucks and sport utility vehicles encounter both--often in the same day.
Enter the all-terrain tire, designed for drivers who travel nicely paved surfaces and also like to adventure off road. Those gravelly, pock-marked, rough and tumble roads call for a different kind of tread.
“If you drive on gravel you can get a lot of chips on the edge of the tread,” said Will Robbins, director of consumer product strategy at Bridgestone Americas. “All-terrain tires are designed to resist chipping and cutting.”
All-terrain tires also deliver the kind of grip needed when towing a trailer or hauling a load. That is especially true when traveling across unpaved roads, where the soil is loose and sometimes wet.
Most vehicles ride on “all-season tires,” tread designed for wet as well as hot roads. All season tires use thin slits called “sipes” that flex and increase the tire’s ability to handle wet weather and winter conditions.
Take a closer look at all season tires and you’ll see narrow grooves and treads stacked neatly in rows. The uniform pattern across the tire surface helps channel water away from the tire.
In contrast, all-terrain tires use large blocks of tread and staggered tread patterns. Wide gaps, known as “voids,” improve grip on loose soil and prevent rocks from wedging into the tread.
Tread patterns for all-terrain tires enable tread blocks to grip the surface like the lugs on a pair of good hiking shoes. In short, the tread design makes all-terrain tires a better choice for adventurous drivers.
“There’s a wide range of all-terrain tires and a product for just about every application,” said Robbins, who works with design engineers to address different tread applications.
What’s the first thing drivers should ask themselves when purchasing all-terrain tires?
“What would you like to do with your vehicle?” Robbins said. “Are you going to use your vehicle to and from dirt roads on the weekend? The answer comes down to performance and priorities.”
For example, some truck or SUV owners use their vehicles around town but not on dirt or gravel roads. They may want a tire designed for long wear yet offer the rugged styling of an off road tire.
Perhaps you visit the mountain occasionally and need extra grip for towing or driving on unpaved roads. Or maybe you need extra grip for hauling loads or towing a trailer.
“There’s an all-terrain tire suited to meet every need,” Robbins said.
Bridgestone Americas has a long history of developing specialized tires. It began making vehicle tires at the dawn of the automobile age under the Firestone brand. The company was one of the early pioneers of air-filled treads, known as “pneumatic tires.”
Firestone became a household name when the brand was used by every winning vehicle of the Indianapolis 500 between 1920 and 1966. The company merged in 1988 with Bridgestone, a global manufacturer headquartered in Japan. The combined companies continue to supply tires for a wide variety of applications such as motorcycles, aircraft, commercial vehicles and heavy equipment.
Bridgestone and other manufacturers introduced all-terrain tires to address the growing cadre of drivers who venture on unpaved surfaces.
“All-terrain tires offer confidence that extra traction provides,” said Robbins, who likes the way all-terrain tread complements a truck or SUV. “They look great.”
Some all-terrain tires use a “rim guard,” a line of contoured rubber around the sidewall. A rim guard helps protect the sidewall and also helps prevent stones from getting wedged between the tire and rim.
Selecting the right all-terrain tire for your vehicle can get a bit daunting. Robbins explained some of the important considerations when buying all-terrain tires:
- Application. Decide where you want to drive your vehicle. Are you going to and from work on paved roads? Highway driving? Going off-road? How often do you encounter muddy or gravelly roads?
- Aesthetic appeal. Sometimes, drivers simply want a tire to enhance the overall look of the vehicle. Make sure it provides the kind of handling and longevity you need, especially if for city/highway driving.
- Performance. If you like adventure, find out if the all-terrain tire is designed for the kind of roads you expect to encounter (wet, muddy, loose soil, sand, gravel, cobble).
- Load rating. Ask how much weight your new set of tires can handle. Hauling a truck bed full of building materials may damage your all-terrain tires unless they are designed for heavy loads. The safest choice is staying within guidelines recommended by your vehicle manufacturer.
- Ply rating. Most tires offer two-ply design; that is, they have -dual bands that go around the tire. Usually, ply is made from polyester. Industry standard is two-ly although some manufacturers offer three-ply designs. "If you pick the right size of tire for your vehicle, then you’re going to get the proper ply rating.”
- Treadwear warranty. Off-road tires are designed with softer rubber to grip loose surfaces. Drivers should not expect the same mileage as they get from all-season tires. “All-terrain tires typically have a shorter treadwear warranty than all-season tires,” Robbins said. “If you do a lot of driving on the highway, the treadwear warranty becomes important.”
- Look for the alpine mark. The three-peak mountain with a snowflake symbol (3PMSF) denotes tires which can handle some snowy conditions. “The alpine mark gives you extra confidence for traction on surfaces with some snow,” said Robbins with a note of caution. All-terrain tires with the 3PMSF symbol are not intended as a substitute for winter tires, Robbins said. Rubber compounds and tread patterns found in winter tires make them a better choice for climates with freezing temperatures.
- Tread design. If you do a lot of off-road adventure, consider tires with large tread blocks and aggressive pattern geometry. “The more gap--void--you have, the better your tires typically will perform off road,” Robbins said. There’s usually a trade-off between off-road performance against noise and driving comfort.
- Tire size. Find out the size of your original manufacturer’s tires before you choose an all-terrain replacement. “Original equipment sizes are always the best starting point,” Robbins said.