The tire: Probably the most abused part of your 4WD and the component that plays the most substantial part in road safety. Obviously, if you intend to hit the “roads less traveled” on the tires that came with your 4X4 straight out of dealership, it just wouldn’t cut it; as it is usually a road biased street tire that just wouldn’t work in off-road driving.
‘All-terrain’ tires are basically ‘compromise’ tires, that will try to do everything on any driving surface condition. The thread pattern on these tires can range from the near useless off-road, to the near ‘mild mud’ terrain performance depending on which brand you get. They are basically designed as a compromise for sound, comfort, and long tire-wear life. Like any compromise it will not perform very well in specific conditions like mud for example, and it only gets worse as road inclines get steeper. But that doesn’t mean ‘All-terrains’ have no purpose in off-road conditions, on sand, and volcanic lahar; like those found around volcanoes. In these type of road condition, the not so aggressive ‘All-terrain’ tires will perform much better than aggressive ‘Mud Tires’. Do take note that the purpose of the thick and deep threads of a ‘Mud Tire’ was specifically designed to dig deep into the ground or mud, to get traction. If this set of tires is used on sandy surface, it might get you become stranded much faster as it will dig into the sand faster.
Naysayers, hold on. I can hear you say defend the use of ‘paddle tires’ on sand trails. Yes, they do use paddle tires, but do remember that the modified 4X4 vehicles used by hardcore off-roaders are extremely light, with very strong axles to manage the extremely high torque and horsepower. Also keep in mind that those paddle tires are very wide; thus spreads the weight of the vehicle on soft surfaces. These modified 4X4s used by hardcore off-roaders have extremely high horsepower engines that make them skim off the surface, rather than dig into the groud. Thus, regular 4WD vehicles with a normal power to weight ratio will have a much higher tendency to sink in sandy surfaces.
The next category are ‘Mud-terrain’ tires. Like its name, it is primarily designed for soft, muddy and sticky surfaces and comes in two kinds; the mild mud terrain and the extreme mud terrain. The extreme mud terrain tire gives a new meaning to the term road noise. If riding comfort plays a big part part of your concern in driving, then this tire is not for you. Extreme mud terrain tires handle and brake poorly on regular road conditions. These tires are definitely dedicated for off-road use only. Its milder variation, the ‘mild mud terrain’ type, has a bit better road-driving qualities and will perform substantially well on properly prepared 4WD vehicles; what these preparations are, we will deal with in future articles.
Being called ‘mud tires’ does not necessarily mean they are exclusive for mud use. Mud terrain tires can also be quite useful on rocky surfaces. Their large lugs, with their gaps between lugs, act like little fingers on rocks and cling to them quite well. With a little tire air-pressure tuning, or by lessening the pressure for the tire to deform and take the shape of the rock surface, these mud tires will truly ‘rock.’
The new kid on the block are the “All-weason” tires. Originally developed for cold and wet climates, these tires are borderline snow tires, with a provision for steel lugs that can be installed for icy surfaces. These tires, nowadays, are designed to be driven even in tropical climates thanks, to new rubber technology and are best on scree driving surfaces. Scree is a best described as unpaved roads that are covered with pebbles, like the kind we normally see here in gravel covered dirt roads that gets reported as paved hard surface by some contractors. When scree gets wet, it is like driving over a ball-bearing surface covered with grease. A good example this tire is the newly introduced Nitto All-weather Tire.
In the end only you can say what kind of 4-wheeling you will be doing and on what driving surfaces. Some people actually keep different sets of tires for their vehicles. They will slap on the preffered tire type depending on what the surface they will be driving on. So if you’re serious in getting into off-road driving, think like an athlete and wear the right kind of shoes/tires. ‘Till the next time.