There are many options out there for good tires for your Ford Explorer. Yet which model is the best will depend largely on you: how you drive, where you drive, and how much budget you have for replacements. The factory tires, while perfectly fine for the average driver, are sometimes not rugged enough for the adventurous Explorer owner.
Making things more complicated are two more factors in Ford Explorer tires. One is wheel size, which on the Explorer ranges from the base model’s 18 inches to the 20- and 21-inch wheels found on other trim levels. Plus the fact that the Explorer is rear-wheel drive by default and four-wheel drive by option.
So we’ll break things down accordingly. Take a look at what we found.
Online tire prices are usually less than in store
The current generation Explorer is sold in multiple trims with several tire sizes:
The Ford Explorer has three wheel sizes and we’re recommending three tires for each of those sizes. Our recommendations are for either two-wheel or four-wheel drive models in each wheel size category. We start with a budget, give a moderately-priced, and finish with any price for the best available. All of our recommendations are winners in consumer surveys and ratings.
The great decider for tire replacement will be either mileage or time. Because most passenger vehicles average about 12,000 to 15,000 miles per year in usage and all tires are rated with five years of lifespan, it’s more likely that the mileage will be the deciding factor. But most consumers are not aware of the time factor.
Over time, the compounds that make up your Explorer’s tires begin to break down. Of these, the chemicals that provide UV protection and rubber solidity are the ones which generally break down the fastest. The lifespan for these is five years (a minimum federal requirement). As those compounds degrade, so will the capabilities of your tire, causing a safety concern. For this reason, all tires are required to be stamped with their date of manufacture.
That date is usually in raised lettering on the sidewall of the tire and takes the form of the letters “DOT” (for Department of Transportation, the entity which requires the stamp and sets the code parameters for it) and three sets of four numbers. The first two sets of numbers are the compound types and manufacturing location for the tire. The third set is the date code. The first two numbers are the week of the year in which the tires were made. The second two are the year itself. Tires with a date code of 4419, for example, were made in the 44th week of 2019 (October 28-November 3, 2019). The expiration date for these tires, therefore, is the 44th week of 2024.
The mileage milestone for a tire is different. There is no set point at which it clocks out based on miles driven. Instead, mechanics and tire techs use tread depth measuring tools to determine if a tire is still viable. The safety laws of many states have specifics on what that tread depth must be. Suffice it to say, the more tread depth there is, the better the tire. As a tire wears thin, however, its capabilities and properties begin to degrade as well. The question most consumers have is not whether their current tires need replacement, but how much they can expect out of the new tires they’re about to purchase.
The life of a tire can be broadly predicted by its Uniform Tire Quality Grade (UTQG) rating. The UTQG rating is usually found on sales brochures, online tire listings are reputable tire shops, and on any wraps or stickers that come with new tires. This rating will look like three numbers followed by two or three letters (e.g. 500 AA A).
As it happens, the above example rating is pretty close to the actual rating of the original equipment tires on a Ford Explorer equipped with 21-inch wheels. The Pirelli Scorpion Zero All Season tires have a 500 A A UTQG rating.
Most tires sold are equipped with wear bars between each tread. These bars are the absolute minimum amount of tread required for the tires to still be safely operated within their design parameters. Some tires will wear faster than expected and others will last longer than expected. The variances in driving styles, road types, and average speeds are all part of the variables that make up the real life tread wear for tires.
Are you heading out to check the UTQG code and date codes on your vehicle’s tires? It’s a good idea for you to do so.
Most people replace their car or truck’s tires about every three or four years. It’s a relatively big investment all in one chunk, but it’s a part of vehicle maintenance. The original equipment tires that came with your Ford Explorer might have been great for you, but it’s worth looking at the UTQG code and checking how closely you managed to make that tread wear expectation at the very least. If your driving habits and the things you do with your Explorer are not the “average” that Ford aimed for in choosing OEM tires for your SUV, you may need to consider something different.
The other consideration for you may be budget and need. Perhaps safety or long tread life is your ultimate goal and price is secondary. Or perhaps price is more important than anything else. Or maybe there’s a great deal at the tire shop right now and you’d like to get in on it, but it’s only for a specific tire make and that’s not what came with your Explorer. Whatever the reason, there are plenty of considerations beyond just “this is what mine came with.”
Changing Ford Explorer Tire Sizes Whatever year and model of your Ford Explorer, you might be looking at switching things up a bit. The tires that came with or are currently on your Explorer are made to fit a specific wheel size. Yours may have 16-inch, 18-inch, or even 21-inch wheels. Or anything in between. The tire size fitting those wheels is also specific to that wheel size and your Explorer’s design.
Remember that, as a rule of thumb, the total diameter of your wheel and tire together should stay the same. If you plan to upgrade your wheels or change up the tire type you want, you will need keep that overall diameter. Thus if you upgrade the wheel’s size to something larger, you’ll need to downsize the tire’s sidewall to compensate and keep proportions the same.
Downsizing wheels has its advantages. Benefits include:
On the other side of the coin, going up in wheel size has its benefits:
Tire sizes are an important part of the overall ratio and total diameter we’ve been talking about. The Explorer’s 21-inch wheel option, for example, comes with 275/45R21 110W tires. Let's dissect those numbers and learn what they mean:
Most models of Ford Explorer made in the same year (or generation) will have similar aspect ratios as the wheel sizes expand or contract, giving them the same diameter no matter the wheel size. There are exceptions, of course, but it’s generally how manufacturers keep costs down and allow dealerships to upsell on larger wheels without requiring reprogramming of the Explorer’s speedometer and other sensors.
Tire sizes and aspect ratios are one thing, but tires also have titles which explain their uses. There are, in general, four types of tires broadly defined on the market. These are:
Online tire prices are usually less than in store
There are a lot of great tire choices for the Explorer. We’ve outlined several here. The best tires are, universally, the proper tires for your needs and vehicle.
Tire sizes vary by what year your Explorer was made, what wheels it is equipped with, and whether any modifications have been made to the vehicle.
Opening the driver’s side door of your Explorer, you will see a yellow and white sticker on the sidewall. This sticker will give appropriate tire inflation numbers for your year Explorer when equipped with factory tires or the equivalent. DO NOT use the maximum pressure number found on the tire’s sidewall, as this is a safety number for maximum inflation, not the normal running inflation to be used.
That depends on the tires, but most manufacturers recommend tire rotations at 5,000 to 7,000 miles. Rotating the tires keeps their wear even from one to the next and allows a technician to check their balance to ensure maximum safety.
Your Explorer came with a basic tire change kit that includes a scissor jack, lug wrench, and instructions for using them. Upgrading to a full roadside emergency kit with a better lug wrench, emergency jumper cables, and emergency markers is recommended by many emergency response and highway patrol units.
Shopping online is a good start and may net you the best price, but shopping locally can also snag some good deals. It’s worth shopping around as you only buy tires every few years and it’s a big investment.
Many online sellers have partnerships with local shops and will ship for free. Others include shipping in their overall tire price as standard practice. Some offer faster shipping or even overnight shipping if the tires are to be mounted at a partnered shop.
Most online tire retailers ship tires to arrive within 3-5 business days from purchase. If you live in Timbucktoo, though, you might expect it will take longer.
This depends on location and shop, but most shops will install tires purchased from them free of charge. Otherwise, a nominal fee of $5 to $50 per tire may be charged, depending on the tire and wheel combination or other factors.
No. The TPMS is separate from the tires, so unless it’s been damaged, it should not require replacement. When tires are rotated the TPMS system needs to be updated on some models. Tire retailers can handle this.
Yes! Some offer special deals or combination deals with tires and wheels in one package. Read more about the Best Place to Buy Tires Online and Save Hundreds here. Don’t forget to add TPMS sensors. Don’t worry, the cost is not as high as you fear and they last the life of the vehicle.
Ordering your tires online vs. the shop will save you money