Whether you drive a truck, SUV, or crossover, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the varying types of all-terrain tires. But what do you do when your adventures take you a little further off-road? Your next step is to consider a mud terrain tire. Mud terrain tires have much larger voids between the tread blocks, to easily handle mud, rocks and snow much more effectively than the usual all-terrain tire.
Buying new tires can be a tricky thing, and is even more complicated when it comes to upgrading with off-road or mud terrain tires. There are a variety of sizes, price ranges, and intended uses, so it’s important to understand what you’re getting into. Stick with us as we walk through the best off-road and mud terrain tires in various sizes, and go in-depth on why and when to replace your tires.
We chose the tires above for their ability to provide traction and stability in harsh off-road settings. We also focused on selecting tires that achieved at least a four-star customer rating, and chose to bypass tires with few or no customer reviews.
All of these tire picks were ranked using Car Talk's unique methodology based on over 30 different data points:
Consumer Satisfaction: Consumers provided data about what their experience was using tire models within each of these brands.
Industry Professionals: Car Talk researchers performed a nation-wide survey of over 800 mechanics and industry professionals for their opinions.
Government Reporting: Statistics reported for safety and durability.
Tire Quality and Engineering: A tire brand’s overall quality and engineering or innovation influenced a consumer’s decision to purchase.
Performance: Car Talk looked at how tires from these particular brands performed in a variety of weather conditions.
Even if you purchased an off-road vehicle, you may decide that a change in tire is appropriate for your rig. The 2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited, for example, leaves the factory with 17-inch wheels and tires sized LT285/70R17 116/113 Q C. All of the potential factory tires for the Jeep are focused for off-roading. The BFGoodrich Mud Terrain KM3 K02, and Falken Wildpeak M/T are tires that we’d recommend as an off-road upgrade for any vehicle, but as a tire shopper you’d have to decide if replacing those OE tires with the same brand and model is the right call. Several other tires with better road manners fit the Jeep and may provide a more civilized ride on the road.
Most major tire manufacturers offer a dedicated off-road tire, and those that don’t usually offer a stand-in tire that bridges on- and off-road capabilities. When you set out to purchase replacement tires for your rig, you’ll have to decide if you spend enough time in the woods to justify a hardcore replacement, or if a more middle of the road tire will do the job.
Just because all-terrain and off-road tires look beefy, that doesn’t mean that they don’t wear out. In fact, many of the things that the tires are designed to do wear them more unevenly and can damage them in some circumstances. Rock crawling and off-roading is tough work, and can make the tires wear much more quickly.
In general, off-road tires are designed to last around 40,000 miles. The best tires have warranties that stretch well past 60,000 miles, so there is a longevity spectrum here. Depending on what the tire is designed for and how it’s used, the rubber may last much longer than the warranty or may wear out well in advance.
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:
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.
Many vehicles leave the factory with tires that are well-suited for their intended use, but off-road tires are one area where buying a replacement tire could completely change the personality of your vehicle. If you want a more rugged tire or one that is more refined on the road, your tire selection may veer drastically from the choices your vehicle’s manufacturer made.
It’s perfectly fine to stick with the brand of tires that came on your vehicle from the factory, don’t get us wrong. We’re just saying that you should evaluate your driving habits and your needs before making the decision. If you find that you spend most of your time driving on the road instead of off, you might want to opt for a tire that has a heavier focus on fuel economy and treadlife, but driving off-road is a different task altogether.
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.
Tires come in all sizes and types, depending on what they’re intended to be used for. Off-road tires typically have much taller sidewalls than standard tires, so the sizing looks a bit different here. As you’ll see below, there are some differences in how off-road tires are sized compared to their road-going counterparts.
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:
Some tires will have additional information after the wheel size, such as the “121/118R” on many all-terrain tires.
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 mud terrain ires almost exclusively. There are several types of tires, though, and it’s worth knowing the general attributes of each:
Online tire prices are usually less than in store
This is a matter of taste. We’re particularly fond of the old-school white-lettered tires, but that doesn’t make them the most effective off-road or the longest-lasting. In the same vein, it’s impossible to look at a tire’s tread and decide how well it will perform, especially if you’re shopping on visual appeal. Choose a tire like the BFGoodrich Mud Terrain KM3 for both beauty and beastly performance.
Mud terrain or off-road tires are dedicated to performance off the highway. They have large tread blocks with big voids in between, in order to eject mud and rocks. They also have much stronger sidewalls that resist punctures on the trail, and typically even have tread on the sidewalls that help the tires to grip large obstacles when climbing.
Right now, that award will land with the Falken Wildpeak tires. They carry one of the longest warranties of any tire on the market, regardless of cost or type, and consumer reviews are overwhelmingly positive.
There are much better choices if you spend a large amount of your time on the highway. Mud terrain tires are going to be noisy, they’re not going to grip the road surface as well -- especially in the rain and the snow -- and are going to wear out much faster. If you want a tire that can handle some off-road punishment but still perform well on the highway, an all-terrain tire is a better choice.
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.
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. It’s also important to remember that some four-wheel drive vehicles require special rotation patterns, meaning the tires that come from one corner are sometimes required to go back onto the vehicle in a specific position. Check your owner’s manual for more direction on this process.
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. The other thing to consider when changing an off-road tire is the weight. Most conventional passenger tires are light, in order to reduce unsprung weight. Off-road tires don’t care about that and can easily be twice the weight of a more conventional tire in the same size. You’re going to have to lift that tire in place, so think about how you’re going to do that safely.
Prices often vary by location, but most online stores like Tire Rack offer great deals everywhere. Several online retailers like SimpleTire offer regular discounts and great deals for their tires. Their sites also have tire fit guides and pricing estimators to help you understand what you’re buying. Read more on the Best Places to Buy Tires Online and Save Hundreds here.
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.
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.
Tire installation can cost as much as $50, but you should have an easy time of finding a shop willing to install your new tires for much less than that, especially if you purchased the tires from them.
No. Unless the TPMS was damaged by road use or the tire installation process, it should remain untouched during the tire replacement process.
Yes. If you’re switching between tires seasonally, though, it might be worth looking into a local shop that offers seasonal changeovers and storage of tires, so that you don’t end up with stacks of tires in your garage all winter.
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.
Most do, yes. These rebates may even tie in with local retailers in your area.
Ordering your tires online vs. the shop will save you money