Nuts & Bolts: Tire Tech

    Nuts & Bolts

    First off, I have to say thanks a lot for all of your great and varied info. You guys make it much easier for those of us who haven't tried most everything already to make informed decisions on getting into wheeling. It's a little pricey to play completely by trial-and-error in this hobby. My question is, are the performance differences between similar class and design tires from reputable manufacturers really noticeable for most users (for example, A/T to A/T or similar M/Ts)? And have there been tires you really regretted? Not looking to call out names, just anecdotes.

    Matthew Pulizzi

    We appreciate the kudos, and you pose some interesting questions. For starters, we admit that some of us around here put more stock in actual tread design and compounds than others. Some of us swear that they can tell a huge difference from one tire to another, while a few of us think that if a tire is round and holds air, it's more about the driver and the vehicle than which tread shape or pattern does better in what terrain. Tire manufacturers spend millions of dollars developing and marketing tires, and without question there is quite a bit of science and technology behind a tread pattern that works well and is quiet. But when pitting two well-designed tires against each other, determining which is better is going to be difficult and will likely boil down to deciding which is better in certain terrain rather than overall performance.

    There are some obvious performance differences between tire types, such as an all-season tire versus and all-terrain or a mud-terrain. Each type of tire is designed to excel in specific environments, and the attributes that make it do well in one environment often come at the cost of some performance in other environments. But you're specifically asking if we can feel a difference in the same type of tire among different manufacturers.

    So for example, can we tell a real performance difference between the Toyo Open Country A/T and the BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2, and do we think that the average user could as well? Unfortunately, there's no simple answer to the question because, for starters, there's such a broad range of tires out there. We'd be willing to bet there are probably over 100 tires on the market that are classified as all-terrains alone. With that kind of variety you are sure to have tires that clearly perform better than others, but where and in what conditions? We would need to narrow the field somewhat and perhaps separate well-known brands that have been around for a long time from the no-name bargain tires that we're seeing more and more at small, independent tire shops. You get what you pay for, and our limited experience with the no-name Chinese import stuff is pretty consistent with what you'd expect. With reputable brands, the bar is quite a bit higher but still no easier to define.

    Among the reputable brands, for sure we have experienced tires within the same class that were amazingly quiet on the street and performed well off-road, and we've also had tires that were annoyingly loud on the street and sucked off the pavement. Luckily the market seems to sort them out because the bad ones usually aren't around very long. One of the author's personal pet peeves is tire balance, and there are a couple of very well-known manufacturers who shall remain nameless that seem to be incapable of making a round tire. Some tires excel in the dirt but at the cost of road manners, and vice versa.

    It's really more about what your primary uses are and your priorities in terms of which types of terrain you need the tires to perform well. A desert guys doesn't care about snow and ice performance, while a snow wheeler probably isn't as concerned about puncture resistance. This is why we always encourage people to talk to their local wheelers and off-road shops. There's a reason we see a lot regional popularity among tires.

    With all of this said, at the end of the day it all boils down to opinion, and you know what they say about opinions. How's that for a convoluted non-answer to a complex question?