Best All Terrain Tires

Best All-Terrain Tires (15- or 17-inch):

Best All-Terrain Tires (18- to 20-inch):

With pickup trucks, sport utilities, and many four-wheel drive vehicle owners, paved roads are optional. When going off the road and into less hospitable terrain, your vehicle’s tires are its most important piece of equipment when it comes to capability. Most all-terrain-capable vehicles will have wheel diameters ranging from 15 inches to 20 inches. Vehicles with serious off-road capability will have 15- or 17-inch wheels while those with a less intense mixture of on/off-road may have 19- or 20-inch wheels instead. For our purposes, we’ll focus on 15/17 and 19/20 as two separate needs.

Original Equipment All-Terrain Tires

Most all-terrain-ready vehicles have good mid-priced options as their original equipment manufacturer (OEM) tire choice. Which are chosen depends on your rig, of course, but common options from major tire makers like Goodyear, Yokohama, BFGoodrich, and others will be found. Most manufacturers do not choose A/T tires for their vehicles based purely on capability or longevity, however. Relationships with the tire maker, availability of stock, and the potential for large purchase deal making also play large roles in which tires are chosen as OEM options for any given on/off-road rig.

In the aftermarket of tires, where consumers are looking for the best options for their vehicles, the OEM choice is rarely even considered when all-terrain tires are the focus.

15- and 17-inch All-Terrain Tires

  • Price
  • Wet performance
  • Dealer network is limited
  • Off-road performance
  • Widely available
  • More expensive unless you find a deal
  • On- and off-road performance
  • Widely available
  • More expensive unless you find a deal

18-, 19, and 20-inch A/T Tires

  • Price
  • Consumer ratings
  • Limited dealer network
  • On-read performance
  • Off-road performance
  • Cost-No-Object: Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac - a staple of off-road for serious enthusiasts who still want to drive on public roads to get to their off-road adventures.

When Should You Replace Tires?

Most people understand that tires wear out. After months and miles of time on pavement (and off of it), tires begin to lose their tread and with it, their traction. This is especially true of all-terrain tires, which often have softer rubber compounds for better off-road grip. Those compounds don’t last as long on pavement when compared to all-season or touring tires. So quite often, all-terrain tires require replacement more often than do more on-road-specific tires.

Most all-terrain tires are rated at about 20,000 of usage. That’s about the average for the more capable A/T options on the tire rack. Weekend and occasional off-roaders can get tires with longer road wear ratings by sacrificing some of that off-pavement capability. And some people keep both on- and off-road tires for their rigs and swap out when hitting the trail and hitting the streets.

What most people are not aware of is that tires also have a usable shelf life. They can “go bad” after their “use by” date. That date, per Department of Transportation standards, is five years from the week of manufacture. To find out if your tires are out of date, look for the raised DOT numbers on the sidewall. These are required by law and consist of three sets of four numbers each. The first two sets indicate compounds and other information. The third set is the date of manufacture. The first two numbers are the week the tire was made and the second two are the year. A date code of 3217, for example, indicates the tire was manufactured in the 37th week of 2017 (between September 11 and 17th).

More information about your tires can be learned from other inclusions on the sidewall and sales information. Tires are printed with Uniform Tire Quality Grade (UTQG) ratings. These are a voluntary standard tire manufacturers have created to give quick indicators of how the tire is expected to be used. The UTQG usually appears after the tire’s name as a three-digit code. This code usually looks like “300 A B” or similar. The number is a durability rating, the first letter is the traction rating for wet pavement, and the third letter is the tire’s high-temperature resistance rating.

Using our example:

  • 300 - The durability rating of the tire, with the control tire having a tread life of 100. Tires are run on a 640-kilometer course for a total of 11,520 kilometers. Tire tread depth is measured every 1,280 kilometers. The projected tread life for the overall course is then translated into this number. A 100 is a tire which is completely used up in the 11,520km. The higher the durability number, the longer the tread life. So a rating of 100 means the tire is good for 7,158 miles. A 300 rating means the tire is rated for about 21,000 miles.
  • A - This is the Traction rating of a tire when stopping on pavement in wet conditions. It’s an indicator of the safety of the tire. The highest letter grade is AA, followed by A, B and C.
  • A - The second letter rating in the UTQG is the high-temperature indicator. This is how well the tire should withstand extreme heat such as that of desert environments and higher speed driving (more on speed ratings later). A is the highest, followed by B and C.

Things to remember about all-terrain tires are that first, their date code is often more important than mileage totals. After a tire gets beyond five years of age, the compounds in it begin to change. Especially those which protect the tire from ultraviolet sunlight and other rubber-destroying things in the environment. This can be far more detrimental to A/T tires than can tread wear. Further, many all-terrain tires do not have a UTQG rating at all, as they often have low life expectations or aren’t subjected to wet pavement tests. Many manufacturers also do not include road hazard warranties with all-terrain tires as they are more likely to be punctured due to rough use than are street tires.

Why Not Replace with Original Equipment Tires?

The original equipment (OEM) tires on your vehicle are probably just fine. What you need, however, may not match what the manufacturer included. You may do more off-road, less off-road, certain kinds of off-road, etc. Manufacturers often find a middle ground in capability, skipping more specialized rubber for something more general. The vehicle maker’s relationship with a certain tire manufacturer may also play a large role in the choice of OEM shoes for a vehicle’s wheels.

Using the OEM tires for your vehicle is an easier choice and it takes a lot of the legwork and decision making out of the process. For many people, that’s just an easier way to do things with the knowns being more predictable than the unknowns. Nothing wrong with that.

Most all-terrain vehicle owners purchase new tires about every three years, depending on driving habits. Those tires are your most important piece of safety and capability equipment and thus are an extremely important part of your rig. Where the rubber meets the terrain is the single most critical thing for both on-road driving (safety) and off-road driving (capability).

So for many buyers, shopping around to find the absolute best tire for their needs is very important and the OEM tread that came with their rig may not fit those needs’ criteria.

Changing Tire and Wheel Sizes

Most all-terrain vehicles like trucks and SUVs come with 15-, 16-, or 17-inch wheels. Some come with larger 19- or 20-inch wheels instead. Regardless of the OEM wheel size, one rule of thumb holds true no matter what is being done to the tires and wheels on a rig: total diameter must remain the same. The only exception to that rule is when major changes to the vehicle’s other components (including sensors, axles, etc) are being made. Any given vehicle, whether a street car or extreme off-road Jeep Wrangler, will have its engineering tuned to a specific diameter of wheel and tire.

What this means is that if the total diameter of your tire and wheel (tire mounted on wheel) is 40 inches, then changing either the tire or the wheel size must result in having the same diameter of 40 inches. Thus a larger wheel means a smaller tire to compensate and vice versa. This relationship between wheel diameter and tire height is very important. We’ll talk more about tire sizes in the next section.

So what are the reasons for downsizing or upsizing wheels or tires?

Downsizing wheels has advantages:

  • Better ride quality – A larger tire sidewall means more cushion when the going gets rough.
  • Cost reduction – Tires made to fit large wheels are generally more expensive than are tires meant for smaller wheel diameters. Especially in all-terrain and off-road tires.
  • Seasonal changes – There are more winter tires available for smaller wheel sizes.
  • Off-road – There are far more off-road tire options in the 18-inch and smaller wheel diameters than there are in larger diameters.

Going up in wheel size has benefits:

  • Better handling – A thinner sidewall profile means better grip and handling because thinner walls are generally tighter.
  • Better looks – While subjective, many people believe that larger wheels just look better, especially on larger vehicles.
  • Better braking – A shorter and wider wheel has better stopping power than does a taller, more forgiving tire.
  • On-road - Because many all-terrain vehicle owners don’t necessarily go off-road very often, a larger wheel and thinner sidewall may mean better on-road comfort and feel.

Reading Tire Sizes

Tires come in one shape and hundreds of sizes. All tires are shaped like a happy baker: round. Some are bigger around than others and some are shorter or taller than others. Tires are measured in two different ways, one being more common than another as the older measurement begins to fade in favor of the new.

Before the more universal, metric tire measurements became common, most tires were measured by sidewall height and/or overall diameter along with a wheel size opening measurement. We still see, especially in off-road, tires measured as “33 x 16.5” or similar. These are inch measurements of the tire’s height and width. This number would be followed by an R15 or just 15 indicating a wheel size--in this case 15 inches. This way of measuring is specific to the U.S., however, and is now deprecated in favor of a more universal, international option for measurement.

Most tires are measured with a width followed by a ratio and then a wheel size. So an LT285/70R17 tire (the LT meaning “light truck”) can be read as:

  • 285 - is the width of the tire from one sidewall to the other in millimeters. This tire is 285mm wide.
  • 70 - indicates the aspect ratio of the sidewall height. This is calculated as a percentage of the tire’s width. In this case, it’s 70 percent or of the tire’s width (70% of 285 is 199.5mm).
  • R - means radial tires. Radials are the most common type of automotive tire and have fabric woven in at various angles with tread that is strengthened with additional layers of rubber.
  • 17 - is the wheel diameter the tire fits on.

Some tires will have additional information after the wheel size, such as the “121/118R” on many all-terrain tires:

  • 121 - is the tire’s load rating, for which a universal chart is used to convert this number into pounds or kilograms.
  • R - is the tire’s speed rating, as indicated on another universal chart which converts the letter to miles or kilometers per hour.
  • Other letters could also be included for tire inflation minimums/maximums, terrain usage, total load range (by weight per tire), etc.

Knowing the wheel diameter and tire size, it’s possible to calculate the total diameter of the tire. Using the information above, we now know that the total diameter of the 285/70R17 in question is 24.85 inches. We get that by converting the 199.5mm tire height to inches (7.85) and adding that to the 17-inch wheel diameter.

Knowing that total diameter, we can calculate what tire size we’d need if we were to go to a 15-inch wheel or a 19-inch wheel. That two inches of wheel would mean adding or subtracting two inches from the tire’s sidewall. It seems like a lot of math, but most tire shops have charts that do all of this for you. Numerous online resources also have tools for doing this without racking your brain for some long-forgotten middle school algebra.

In this look at tires, we’ve focused on all-terrain (A/T) tires almost exclusively. There are several types of tires, though, and it’s worth knowing the general attributes of each:

  • Touring and all-season tires - provide a smooth ride, good wet and dry traction, decent winter traction, and longer tread life. These tires are acceptable for winter use but can’t be expected to provide the traction and stopping power that a dedicated winter tire can.
  • Performance tires - are focused on providing confident handling, better wet and dry traction, and a sporty feel. Their higher grip and speed ratings come with a tradeoff of shortened tread life and reduced ride quality.
  • Winter and snow tires - are made with special rubber compounds that maintain grip and pliability when temperatures drop. They are also built with special tread patterns to maximize the vehicle’s ability to start and stop on very slippery roads.
  • All-terrain tires - are built to maximize off-road traction and provide good durability overall. Their construction means more noise and less comfort on the road, but winter traction and tread wear is acceptable.

All-Terrain Tire FAQ

What is the most aggressive-looking all-terrain tire?

Looks can be deceiving. There are a number of reasons to purchase a tire, and aesthetics can be a part of that, but shouldn’t be in the top 5 characteristics. A well-rated tire like the BF Goodrich All-Terrain T/A K02 has tough looks, but it’s also built to last.

What is an all-terrain tire?

An all-terrain tire is built to provide decent wet and dry weather traction on the road, but can also be pressed into duty in off-road situations. They have stiffer sidewalls to resist punctures, and heavier lugs to discharge snow and mud. They can often have the three-peak/snowflake symbol that denotes a winter-rated tire. They’re a good compromise between a highway-performance tire and a mud terrain tire.

What’s the best all-terrain tire for the money?

Right now, that looks like the Kumho Road Venture AT51, which gets excellent consumer ratings, and is generally available at a pretty reasonable price.

Are all-terrain tires good on the highway?

Years ago, all-terrain tires used to growl on the highway and weren’t generally acceptable for long stretches of interstate. These days, though, a good all-terrain tire is a decent choice for the highway, and will get you to your destination when the road turns to dirt and mud.

What is the best A/T tire pressure?

This will depend on whether you’re on or off the road. Inside the driver’s side door of your vehicle there is a white and yellow label with tire inflation indicators on it. Follow those numbers. Most on-road use will have tires inflated to 32 or higher PSI while off-road may be as low as 15 or 20 PSI for better grip. Note that the pressure on the tire itself is never the correct setting, but rather a maximum.

How often should I rotate my all-terrain tires?

Tire rotations vary by manufacturer, but in general, the recommendations of your vehicle’s manufacturer are a rough starting point while the recommendations of your tire manufacturer are probably more precise. Typical rotation intervals are between 5,000 and 7,000 miles, though off-road use could mean less rotation is needed. It’s important to remember that off-road vehicles are usually rear-wheel drive by default (when not off-road) and four-wheel drive otherwise. So wear will be different according to how much of either you tend to do.

What is the best A/T tire change kit?

Most vehicles come with their own tire change kit, but you may want to carry an extra roadside emergency kit with an upgraded lug wrench, jumper cables, and emergency markers just in case. It’s also a good idea to carry a larger vehicle jack and some gear for digging out of mud and sand when off-roading.

Tire Buying FAQ

Where do I shop for the best prices?

Prices often vary by location, but most online stores like Tire Rack offer great deals everywhere. Local shops often have sales and incentives as well and are worth looking into.

How much is shipping?

Shipping will depend on where you purchased and where you’re having the tires sent. Most online outlets now include shipping in their prices and many have cooperative deals with local shops so that shipping can be the same or next day.

How long does shipping take?

A typical online tire purchase will have a shipping time of 3 to 5 business days. Sometimes this changes, depending on partnerships with local shops or warehouses.

How much does it cost to install a tire?

Most shops include the installation price with the purchase of the tire. Some shops, especially for specialty tires like all-terrain tread or bigger wheels, will charge extra. Typical installation charges vary from $15 per tire to over $50, depending on the services required.

Do I need to change the tire pressure monitoring system with tires?

No. Unless the TPMS was damaged by road use or the tire installation process, it should remain untouched during the tire replacement process.

Can an online retailer help me with winter tires?

Yes.

If I’m changing tire sizes or buying winter tires, should I buy a wheel and tire package from an online retailer?

That is definitely an option. Many winter tire users buy separate wheels for those tires to make the change-out process easier and cheaper in the long run.

Do online retailers provide tire rebates the way traditional stores do?

Most do, yes. These rebates may even tie in with local retailers in your area.

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