There you are, driving along the highway in your 4X4 when you glance off to the side only to see an oh-so-inviting muddy logging trail. "Can't pass this one up", you say to yourself, as you tug on the steering wheel and head off to 4-wheeler's heaven. Next thing you know, you're using your cell phone (if it works out in no-man's land) to call a tow truck. What happened? In the excitement of the moment, did you forget you still had highway tires on your truck? Oops!
Most light trucks come equipped with All Purpose tires, which are fine for everyday driving. But if you're an offroad enthusiast, you'll want to take the time to find the tire that's perfect for your offroad adventures. And there are plenty of options.
ALL-SEASON (All-Purpose) TIRES. These tires are adequate for driving in all four seasons. Most carry an M/S designation (Mud/Snow) but are really meant only for light snow. They don't have the proper rubber compound for cold weather, nor the open tread block pattern for the traction provided by a snow tire.
ALL-TERRAIN TIRES. These tires are a compromise for those who use their truck for general daily driving with only occasional off-road use. Surprisingly, they are designed with added grip for "all terrain", dirt, sand, wet surfaces, light snow and light mud. But they are also good for general highway use and are relatively quiet on pavement. If you're going to be driving in heavy snow or thick mud, however, you need to move on to a tire designed with that purpose in mind.
SNOW TIRES. If you drive in light snow sporadically, you don't necessarily need snow tires--all-season tires should do the trick. But if you live in a severe-weather climate (or do a lot of driving in heavy snow), snow tires are for you. Snow tires have an open tread block pattern for better traction and should be narrower. More importantly, they are manufactured with a rubber compound that is more flexible in cold weather. The colder the climate, the less suitable your all-season tire becomes.
STUDDED SNOW TIRES. These are for icy winter conditions. They are "studded" (have metal posts embedded in them), allowing for up to 40% better traction in hard-packed snow and ice than an all-season tire. The downside, however, is the increased noise level as well as the fact that traction is decreased on dry and wet surfaces. Beyond that, due to the fact that they tend to "chew up" the pavement, many regions have either banned them all together or restricted their use to certain months of the year.
WINTER TIRES. Winter tires provide better traction in snowy and icy conditions. Their tread patterns and tread compounds are specifically designed for winter conditions. These tires perform better not only in snow, but also in slush and rain. And they're generally quieter than the snow tire. Look for the snowflake/mountain symbol which means they are certified to have met specific snow traction requirements.
MUD TIRES. If you're mudbogging, you need wide tires with large lugs. The lugs should have deep voids in between to expel the mud, allowing for better traction at each rotation. These tires, however, are generally loud on the highway, although you may find some exceptions. Mud tires are also good for rock climbing, sand and unpacked snow but do not perform well in icy conditions or in rain.
Two additional points to keep in mind ... don't try to cut corners by changing out only two tires. All four tires, whether they are snow tires or mud tires, should be the same. Two just won't do. And while the above list does not include any particular brand recommendations, the quickest, most reliable way to choose a good tire brand is to talk to other offroad entusiasts and find out what they're using in your area.
So there you have it. Tires are the most important truck accessory. Always make sure you have the right tires for the right job and you'll never have to embarrass yourself by calling a friend to come tow you out of an ugly mess.
About the Author:
Debbie Pettitt is webmaster for Truck Extravaganza
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