Off-Roading 101:

Tire width choice

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The tire width for off-roaders will depend on the preference of the vehicle owner.

The tire width for off-roaders will depend on the preference of the vehicle owner.

Choosing the height and width of the tires to slap on an off-roader is initially a matter of taste and style. And there is nothing more fulfilling for the first time off-roader to see his rig standing tall and wide with those macho-looking tires.

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Tall and wide tires provide more ground clearance and traction and will considerably improve an off-roader’s off-road performance allowing it to go over any type of terrain. Well, not so fast! Depending on one’s school of thought, answers to selecting tire sizes vary, so let’s tackle this issue on a pros and cons basis and try to match which tire width will be most suitable for your needs.

The pros of using wide tires are: they look macho; there’s more rubber on dry, off-road surface which means more traction; best flotation on soft, sandy surface because it distributes the weight of the vehicle, making it less prone to sinking in the sand; better on-road stability; and in rare occasions, it may give enough flotation to let your knobby mud terrain tires to work with a surface condition for traction at the expense of less control (because of a higher probability of skating off a driving surface but a higher level of driving skill is required for this).

The cons of wide tires: on vehicles equipped with stability control and traction control, wider tires will change the dynamics and performance of the systems and can impede the way the manufacturers designed the vehicle to perform on-road and off-road; it will make your dash board light up like a Christmas tree because of the numerous warning lights that will flash on the instrument cluster; they are heavier and will impede the performance of the anti-lock brake system (ABS) and associated systems like stability control and traction control; it will alter your camber angle especially on an independent front suspension-equipped vehicle; more effort is required in recovery because they create a small wall of sand or mud in front of the tires, which generates increased resistance in towing or winching (especially when you’re really stuck deep with more than two tires dug in); usually on 4WD vehicles the front axle is weaker than the rear axle in handling loads, and the front axle is more prone to “grenading” and failing under stress; turning circle is increased; at speeds on wet surfaces, if your vehicle is not heavy enough thick tires may cause hydroplaning or skating on a wet surface; increased fuel consumption from higher rolling resistance; heavier steering; and more expensive to buy.

The pros of thin tires: on slippery hard mud surfaces, there is less flotation and more down force for better traction; they have less rolling resistance so there is less engine power loss on any surface; vehicle recovery is easier when stranded on various terrain because less ground contact and smaller sand or mud berm is formed in front of the tires; there less strain and stress on the axles and drive train components (this is especially true for vehicles with independent suspension systems); better fuel mileage; lighter steering; has less influence on the ABS-related systems in working properly (but be warned a tall and thin tire can also affect these systems but not as so much as a wider tire); cheaper to buy; and less power drain on the engine.

The cons of thin tires: they don’t look macho; they wear out faster because of increased ground contact weight; they will  not make your vehicle handle better on the road; and a wider tire has a higher probability of protecting your vehicle from body damage because they stick out more and act like a buffer from rough terrain (especially when the vehicle is leaning sideway).

The bottom line is to choose the tire width and height for your off-roader but be prepared to accept the consequences of your choice. After all, despite all the driver aids available, it’s still you who will to drive and maintain an off-roader. Till the next time. Happy trails.

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