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Do You Really Need All-Terrain Tires? Pros, Cons, and What They’re Actually Good For

Do You Really Need All-Terrain Tires? Pros, Cons, and What They’re Actually Good For

Own a SUV, truck, or an all-wheel-drive vehicle and trying to decide if all-terrain tires are a necessary addition to your equipment? We want to help you make the right decision, so we’ve answered some common questions regarding the good, the bad, and the unexpected of all-terrain tires.

all terrain tire on wet rocks

What Are All-Terrain Tires?

All-terrain tires are for all road surfaces, from paved highways to off-road gravel and dirt roads. They incorporate the open tread “knobby” design of off-road tires with the road handling capabilities of street tires.

The tread on all-terrain tires is deeper, and the sidewalls are reinforced for off-roading, but the rubber is softer, so the tread will wear quicker. All-terrains give drivers of sports utility vehicles, trucks, and all-wheel-drive cars more options to travel on and off the road. 

All-Terrain vs Rugged Terrain vs Mud Terrain Tires

Why Might You Switch to All-Terrain Tires?

Compared to a “street” (ST) or ‘highway”(HT) tire, all-terrain (AT) tires will offer a greater range of traction on more surfaces. Keep in mind that these tires do not excel at any one task as they are designed for multiple, but can give you the best of all worlds.

If you drive a light truck or a full-size pickup and periodically travel off-road, all-terrain tires might be an excellent addition. These tires typically have reinforced sidewalls to help handle cargo loads up to 4,000 lbs while driving in mud or gravel.

A sports utility vehicle could use an upgrade to all-terrain tires if you use the car to haul payload on dirt, gravel, or muddy roads. Additionally, all-wheel-drive vehicles can benefit from these tires since these vehicles might be in areas where rock or mud is prominent or in situations involving snow and ice. The traction on the tires is better on these surfaces.

Truck camper overlanding with all terrain tires
If you enjoy off-roading or overlanding, all-terrain tires are perfect for you.

Keep in Mind All-Terrain Tire Load Ratings and Air Pressures

Load and size ratings for all-terrain tires come in four varieties: Euro-metric, P-metric or LT-metric and Flotation . These metrics help designate how much load a tire is rated to handle at speed. The P/Euro-metric measurement comes in two categories. The standard load has 36 psi, and the extra load takes 42 psi. 

LT loads are for light trucks and any vehicle up to a commercial one. LT loads are measured as B, C, D, E, or F. They are designated by the materials in their construction. Flotation sizes are more expansive and you usually fund them used on modified trucks.

Before purchasing tires, know which load ratings your vehicle requires and how and where you will be using your vehicle.

Close up of all terrain tire
All-terrain tires can be used on any road surface like paved highways, off-road gravel and dirt roads.

What Are the Benefits of All-Terrain Tires? 

There are several reasons to add all-terrain tires to many vehicles. If you need better ,traction in settings like gravel, dirt roads, ice, or snow, all-terrain tires can help. Because these tires have reinforced sidewalls, they can better support vehicles carrying a payload and take the stresses of uneven off-road driving.

You can use all-terrains year-round, so there is no need to change tires by season. For example, adding snow tires in the winter, then reverting to summer tires. Additionally, the supple all-terrain tread is open, making them more self-cleaning as you drive in mud and snow.

Pro Tip: Quality tires aren’t the only thing you need for an epic off-road adventure. We uncovered the 11 Top Essential Gear You Need for Overlanding.

What Are the Disadvantages of All-Terrain Tires? 

A notable disadvantage to using all-terrain tires is their tendency to be rather noisy. Because they have block tread with one distinct pattern of symmetrical grooves, the way they strike the road and the air that passes through them makes more noise than an all-season tire road tire.

With softer tread, the life of an all-terrain tire is usually shorter than other types, with a rating of no more than 40,000 miles. But it is this softness that gives the tread traction and allows it to perform well over rocky surfaces.

With more tread on the road, you will get poorer gas mileage from an all-terrain tire. The lower fuel efficiency is due to more wind resistance and the grip and tread patterns of the tire. You will find that they are heavier than their on-road counterparts.

Tread pattern on all terrain tire
Due to its tread, you will get poorer gas mileage while driving with all-terrain tires.

What Tires Are Best for Off-Roading?

The best off-road tires are going to be the ones designed for the terrain you are on. This will not be an all-terrain tire but one designed for mud, sand or rocks. With extreme, off-road use users will change tires based on the terrain, but this is not doable for most people so a good set of all-terrain is what most choose.

To determine the best tires for off-roading on your vehicle, you should know the size and load rating of the tires you need. Then look for the most recent products with those measurements, as tire construction is constantly changing and updating. Based on the type of vehicle you drive, where you plan on driving, and the size and load rating, you can select the best performing all-terrain tires for your situation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Tire selection can be somewhat confounding because tire usage will differ for each driver. So let’s answer some of the most pressing questions about picking the right tires for every situation.

Truck with all terrain tires installed
Keep in mind, all-terrain tires are not ideal for highway driving.

What Size AT Tire Should I Get?

When changing to all-terrain tires, it is tempting to get taller tires for your ride. Taller tires give you more clearance and help with rolling over obstacles. However, larger tires will add a high fee for a suspension kit and new wheels, plus the hassle of adapting existing equipment to your vehicle. Stick with the same size all-terrains as the road tires that came with your truck or SUV. You won’t have to worry about adjusting anything but the roads you run on.

Do All-Terrain Tires Wear Faster?

All-terrain tires have softer rubber which grips better on road surfaces. Because of this more malleable substance, the tread will wear out quicker than comparable all-season tires. Put thought into how you’ll use the tires and on what surfaces you’ll travel most frequently before you commit.

Pro Tip: We uncovered How Often Do You Need to Check Tire Pressure to ensure your wheels keep you safe on your adventure.

Jeep overlanding with all terrain tires
Cruise down bumpy dirt roads with ease with all-terrain tires.

Do All-Terrain Tires Slow You Down?

Because these tires have excellent handling capabilities, you won’t have to slow down much to make that turn. With softer rubber on the treads, the ride over rough terrain and down bumpy dirt roads will be smoother than all-season tires. Consider slowing down a little on paved surfaces, if only to improve gas mileage, because otherwise, your all-terrain tires will lose about 3% fuel efficiency compared to other tires.

Are All-Terrain Tires Good for Highway Driving?

All-terrains can be for highway driving, but remember, your fuel efficiency will decrease because more tread surface space is on the road, as the rubber is softer and will grip better. An AT tire is designed for all conditions so it wont be as good as a highway tire or bad as an off-road tire. We have run all types of tires and can assure you an AT tire is fine on the road and much better than off-road tires. We attempted to run off-road tires, but they were so loud and uncomfortable on the highway we had to change to a set of AT.

Troubles With Mud On Our First Overland Adventure In Utah - Truck Camper Adventures Episode 2

Do You Really Need All-Terrain Tires?

If you spend most of your time on the road with occasional gravel and snow, then probably not, stick with all-season road tires. If you do any off-roading and still want a comfortable highway experience then AT tires are for you. If you expect the best off-road performance then an AT tire will still not cut it.

All-terrain tires can make a challenging ride much more comfortable and give confidence to drivers in slippery situations, but they are not for everyone. Only you can decide if you will spend enough time off-roading to balance out your driving time on paved streets, making these tires a valuable investment in your daily adventure commute!

Where would you travel with your all-terrain tires? Tell us in the comments!

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Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
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