Your truck likely sees hard use. Whether it’s new, old, or somewhere in between, your pickup truck is your solid, trusted companion. It is likely an extension of yourself in many ways too. Trucks come in many shapes, sizes, and with varied capabilities. In this article, we’ll look at tires that match your truck’s needs and your needs as its owner.
Car Talk recently launched our Golden Wrench Awards for excellence in tires. Below are our overall picks for the top truck tires on the market in 2021.
The Defender LTX MS is our Golden Wrench winner for light truck tires due to its high quality, long tread life and reliable year-round traction in dry, wet and wintry conditions, Including light snow.
The TerrainContact A/T is one of our Golden Wrench winners due to its excellent off-road benefits, long tread life, and impressive all-terrain performance.
The Discoverer AT3 4S from Cooper receives our Golden Wrench for its impressive off-road capabilities, excellent grip and traction in all types of weather conditions.
The Wrangler TrailRunner AT from Goodyear is our Silver Wrench due to its good ratings and reviews, as well as solid durability and year-round traction.
Pirelli’s Scorpion All Terrain Plus features impressive, reliable off-road capability in a number of different weather conditions, along with long tread life and durability.
The Dueler AT REVO 3 from Bridgestone offers solid value and dependable performance, as well as great handling in dry, wet and wintry conditions, including light snow.
Every tire listed above is amazing, and vetted by the Car Talk team. Every tire listed below is an honorable mention or writer's personal pick. These tires are available in wheel sizes ranging from 17 inches to 20 inches, so whether you have a hardcore working truck, a beefy off-road pickup, or a highway-cruising daily driver, we will have you covered here.
Our goal here is to cover pickup trucks in the half-ton (1500), three-quarter ton (2500), and one-ton (3500+) classes. Whatever size or capability your truck might be, we have tire suggestions and options for you. Here are our honorable mentions and writer’s personal favorites for truck tires depending on size and budget.
With trucks coming in many shapes and sizes, specific tires for a specific truck are hard to name without delving into more detail. But certain tire brands stand out, as our list above shows, in the realm of pickup trucks. Whether a half-ton or larger, some brands of tire are just more often chosen than others. Our top brands here have been picked based on consumer reviews and popularity as favorites. This is a good place to start with your truck and all of the brands listed have tires sized in 17 to 20-inch wheel sizes and plied for half-ton, three-quarter ton, and one-ton use.
When most people think about tire replacement, they think about wear. The most common reason to replace tires is because the old ones have, frankly, just worn out. We measure wear, nominally, in terms of the mileage put on the tires. We should also, however, also think about time. Time is also a factor in tire replacement, though many people are unaware of that. Tires have an expiration date.
The expiration date on a vehicle’s tires is usually five years after its manufacture. Because most people drive 12,000 or more miles per year and most tires are rated at 50,000 to 70,000 miles of usage, tires generally wear out faster than they will expire. By law, every tire sold in the U.S. (and most of North America) has a date stamp indicating when it was made. After that point, the compounds in the tires can break down to the point that the tire may become unsafe.
Every tire has several markings on it that indicate not only size and design, but also its capabilities and date of manufacture. These are a combination of the UTQG (Uniform Tire Quality Grade) and DOT (Department of Transportation) embossments. These appear on the sidewall of the tire somewhere near the tire’s size and the maximum inflation (pressure) ratings.
The UTQG is a combination of a three-digit number followed by two or three letters. This usually appears right next to the tire’s name, so it will look like “Michelin LTX A/T 2 118R E”. The 118R E is the rating for this particular tire. Truck tires, as opposed to car tires, have different UTQG codes. Cars have codes ranging from 100 on up and using the letters A, B, and C. Truck tires, on the other hand, have numbers in the 100-200 range and letters designating the tire’s capabilities for weight bearing and letters that indicate its speed rating. Truck tires only rarely have indications for treadwear, stopping power, or temperature tolerance.
So using our example, the information on the tire tells us:
Because many truck tires will not have tread life expectations on them, most owners should assume a life of 30,000 miles or so for each tire. Some have higher expectations, of course, and many will outlast that rule of thumb by almost double. As a general rule, though, the more all-terrain or off-road the tire is designed to be, the less mileage it will bear before requiring replacement.
Beyond the UTQG indication on the tire’s sidewall, there is also a raised set of numbers preceded by “DOT.” This DOT rating has a bunch of information in it, but the most relevant are the last four digits. These indicate the week and year of manufacture.
For example, if your tire’s date code is 3217, the tire was made on September 11-17 (32nd week) of 2017. Five years from that point (September 11, 2022) would be the expiration date for that tire.
The tires that came from the factory on your pickup truck are good, general use tires that find a compromise between all of the points the manufacturer wanted to make. The engineers who designed your truck had a list of expectations for how that truck would be used and chose tires based on that list plus the company’s relationships with tire manufacturers. Most truck tires are optimized for all-weather capability, some off-pavement use, load bearing, and fuel economy. Not always in that order. The more off-road packages of a truck, for example, will not have all-weather or fuel economy as fortes. Similarly, the more towing/hauling packages of a truck will not likely have off-pavement as a focus. How you use your truck versus how the designers and engineers predicted it would be used may not coincide.
Most truck owners purchase new tires every three or four years. It can be a sizable investment. So picking the right tires is very important. For some truck owners, the OEM option is what they need and it’s a no brainer. For others, though, their needs may differ and something else might fit better.
Trucks come with a lot of tire options, a lot of wheel options, and plenty of aftermarket modification options. Pickup trucks are, in fact, the most modified class of vehicles on American roads. If you plan to change tire sizes, change wheel sizes, or look for a lift or other change, you have to consider what this means with your tires and truck.
Tires and wheels have an overall diameter that is inherent to the truck’s design. Modifying that requires more than just swapping out components. It changes the physical dynamics of the truck, safety, and how some of the truck’s electronics can function. Going with a larger or smaller diameter tire and wheel combination means, at the very least, you’re no longer getting accurate speedometer and odometer readings on the truck.
There is nothing wrong with changing tire or wheel sizes for aesthetics. It’s just a matter of keeping the overall dimensions the same. So a smaller tire wall should mean larger wheel diameter and a smaller wheel diameter should mean a larger tire wall. The overall diameter should remain consistent.
There are benefits to downsizing wheels:
Going up with wheel size also has benefits:
Tire sizes aren’t universal globally, but they are generally universal for North American sales. Truck tires generally come in two bents: standard and flotation. The “flotation” scheme is quickly fading as standardized measurements become the norm.
The numbers on a truck tire will always have two sections of digits followed by a tire type and wheel (rim) size. Numbers like 33x12.5 R17 and 285/70R17 are examples of what will be seen on tire sidewalls.
In the first case, the numbers are a “flotation” size and indicate the tire tread width and sidewall height in inches (33 inches by 12.5 inches) in a radial design and fit for a 17-inch wheel.
The second set is standardized and indicates a tire with a 285mm tread width and a sidewall at 70 percent of that size (the “aspect ratio”). The R still means radial and the 17 still indicates the tire is designed for a 17-inch wheel.
When going up or down in wheel size, the aspect ratio of the tire will also change accordingly. The larger the wheel, the smaller the aspect ratio will be. This ratio keeps the total diameter of the tire and wheel the same.
Knowing how to read tire sizes is just one aspect of tires. It’s also important to know what the different tire types generally mean about the tire you’re considering for your truck.
There isn’t a simple answer because there isn’t a single best tire that meets every need. Some truck owners are looking for super-quiet performance on the highway. Others are looking for off-road grip. Those two customers are looking for polar opposite tires. Same for people who value high mileage over outstanding grip in the wet weather. The best bet is to start asking yourself what your top tire requirements are, and then finding a tire that meets those needs within your budget.
Probably one you don’t want on your truck. You can find a tire that will last approximately forever, but it’s going to be hard as a rock and offer little grip in the rain. If you live in Arizona and spend 100% of your time on the highway, that might be the tire for you, but for people in other parts of the country, a tire that can handle weather is a more pressing safety concern.
Start by asking yourself what you use your truck for. If you spend a significant portion of your time off-road, we can eliminate dozens of all-season or sport tires because they are not going to meet your needs at all. Conversely, if the closest you get to off-road is parking in front of Eddie Bauer in the mall parking lot, you’d do best to avoid the dozens of mud terrain tires on the market.
Inside the driver’s side door of your truck will be a white and yellow label that indicates tire pressures for your model. Some have the same pressure on all four (or six) tires, others have different pressure levels for each axle. Some even have different tire pressures for different load levels. Off-road vehicles may also have a minimum tire pressure meant for deflation during off-pavement use. Note that the pressure listed on the tires themselves are MAXIMUM numbers, not recommended numbers.
Rotating tires is more about the tire than it is about the vehicle. A typical rotation interval is 5,000 to 7,000 miles or so, but for practical purposes, tire rotation is often done when normal vehicle maintenance (oil change, filter change, etc) are done. That usually coincides fairly closely to tire make and manufacturer recommendations. Be aware that on some trucks, the tires used on the steer axle cannot be put on the drive axle (rear) and vice versa. Use the truck’s owner’s manual for recommended tire rotation pattern.
Every truck comes from the factory with a simple jack and lug wrench designed for swapping out flat tires. Most are barely adequate for the job. Those who do their own roadside tire changes will definitely want to upgrade to a larger jack more fit for the truck and a better lug wrench to make the tire change easier. Adding a roadside emergency kit with flares/markers and other safety equipment is also a good idea.
Online retailers like Tire Rack and others have good prices. Even if you are not buying from those sites, they can give a good ballpark budget for your tire purchase and a lot of information about tires that may help you make a decision before going to the shop. Watching advertisements and looking for deals can also help.
When buying online, most shipping is included in the price. Some retailers will charge shipping to some locations or if your purchase is to be sent to a shop they do not have an agreement with. This is usually the exception rather than the norm.
Shipping can take up to a week, but most online retailers can ship tires to a location within 3 business days. Some offer same-day at some affiliated shops and some offer overnight service for a fee.
This depends on the shop. Some truck tires, especially on heavy-duty trucks in the 3500 class, are much more expensive to mount and balance than are lighter-duty tires for half-ton trucks. Most shops charge between $15 and $50 for light truck mounting and between $30 and $70 for larger trucks.
Only if it’s been damaged. Most TPMS sensors are built into the wheel and do not require replacement when tires are changed.
Definitely! It may be the best way to shop for them “off season” for better deals as well.
There’s definitely no harm in doing so. If you are planning to purchase wheels with your tires, combining them into one purchase can mean savings. Many retailers offer special pricing for tires upon wheel purchase or, conversely, free services (mounting, balance, rotations, etc) when they’re combined.
Yes, nearly all of them do. Most rebates are part of a promotion that either the retailer or the tire manufacturer are putting on.
Ordering your tires online vs. the shop will save you money