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What’s So Special About Off-Road Tires?

For an off-road build or journey, one of the major considerations is tires. Tires can have a significant impact on your vehicle’s performance and are a key thing to consider. So what makes off-road tires special?

In this post, we’ll look at their benefits and explain why they may be worth investing in and why you might want to steer clear. Mosey on down the road with us to learn more!

What Is Different About On and Off-Road Tires? 

Most people know the basic differences between on and off-road tires. On-road tires (or passenger tires) are for paved surfaces. In contrast, off-road tires are for unpaved or rough terrain.

However, there are a few subtler differences between these two types of tires that can make a big difference in your driving experience.

For one thing, off-road tires tend to be larger and more robust for slower speeds and puncture resistance. This gives them a better grip and stability on uneven surfaces. They also typically have deeper treads, and sidewall grips which help prevent you from getting stuck in mud or sand.

Extreme off-road tires even have what’s called a cleated pattern. This is where they have wide lugs (wider than the inside tread) on the shoulders that allow biting into off road terrain.

cleated tires
Notice the edge of these tires and how it has a wide-open area. This allows for a better grip on rocks, mud, and sand where the tire is sunken in. This is called a cleated pattern. While amazing off-road, this tire pattern is very loud on paved surfaces.

However, off-road tires are usually not designed for high speeds. Some specialty racing off-road tires can handle high speeds, but many are not even rated for highway speeds. Because of this, sometimes off-roaders bring their special tires along and swap them before hitting the trail.

What Is A Bead Lock Off Road Tire?

Before we discuss the bead lock you need to know what the tire bead is. The tire bead is the piece of rubber that contacts the rim and holds the air in. It’s usually a bit thicker and typically has a steel or nylon interior that makes it very strong.

A bead lock is a device inserted inside the tire that sits between the beads of the tire. It’s usually a thick plastic ring. This device allows the tires to run at much lower pressures without coming off the rim because it physically holds them on. It is not actually part of the tire and many tires can be bead locked.

Sometimes a bead lock is even combined with a run-flat device that is a thick rubber donut that is inserted into the tire to all it to function even if it’s punctured. These are commonly used on military vehicles.

Beadlock Device installed in tire
This is a set of tires with a beadlock device installed in them

These types of off-road setups require a specialized two-piece rim to install them. This is because you need to install the beadlock then slip the tire onto the rim. These rims typically have hundreds of bolts that hold them together.

These are two piece rims designed for a beadlock,
These are two-piece rims designed for a beadlock. All those bolts come off and the rim comes apart allowing the tire and Beadlock to come off.

While beadlock tires allow extremely low pressure to provide excellent grip, they are usually reserved for very heavy rigs that compress the tires more. Running a true beadlock tire is more complex and expensive.

Therefore, most rims you see with a bolt pattern on the outside are just for looks and do not actually have beadlocks in them.

Do Off-Road Tires Last a Long Time? 

Do they last a long time? Well, it all depends. They’ll definitely last longer than your regular tires if you only drive off-road. But, if you’re using them on paved surfaces, they won’t last as long.

The reason is that they have a different compound than regular tires. This compound is softer, which gives the tire more grip on off-road surfaces—but it also wears down faster on paved surfaces.

Running off-road agricultural tires we have seen as few as 20k miles of mixed usage before needing to replace them. If we were using them strictly off-road they may have lasted longer. When considering tractor tires, they typically last until they age out and crack before needing replacing.

Are Off-Road Tires Good in Winter? 

The simple answer is: it depends.

Sometimes a larger tire will “float” in snowy conditions and decrease traction. Ice and snow require lots of contact points to improve traction and the large sections of an off-road tire sometimes degrade traction.

To improve them you can usually sipe the tires. This means cutting little grooves in the tread to add more traction points. Most winter tires have a siped pattern.

SUV driving in snow
Off-road tires can sometimes be helpful for winter driving.

That said, they can still be a good choice for winter driving if you’re going to be off-road. They typically will dig into deeper snow better with deeper tread and possibly grab underlying material.

However, on-road performance may not improve much. Sipe your tires or get a dedicated winter set for better snow traction.

Pro Tip: Planning to hit some off-road trails this winter? Check out our 10 Tips for Overlanding in Winter.

What Features Should Reliable Off-Road Tires Have? 

When shopping for off-road tires, there are a few key features to look for. First and foremost, off-road tires should have a deep tread pattern. This will provide good traction on loose or uneven surfaces.

Secondly, you’ll want tires durable enough to stand up to the rigors of off-road driving. Look for tires made from tough rubber compounds and reinforced with steel belting.

The tire should also be flexible enough to conform to the surfaces it’s rolling on. Make sure you get a properly rated tire for your weight. An underrated tire will fail too soon, while a tire significantly overrated will be too stiff.

Finally, make sure the tires you select are the right size for your vehicle. They’re available in various sizes, so choosing tires that will fit your wheels and provide adequate clearance is important. Many times a vehicle will require a lift to compensate for the larger size of an off-road tire.

Off-Road Tire
Off-road tires should have a deep tread pattern.

Can You Use Off-Road Tires on Highways? 

Off-road tires have a different tread pattern than regular passenger car tires. They also tend to be wider and have deeper treads, which help improve traction in off-road conditions.

That said, you can use them on highways, but be aware of their pitfalls. They can actually cause problems if used on highways. For one thing, the deeper treads can increase road noise and decrease fuel economy.

Their large size may also impact your steering geometry or introduce a wobble or floaty feeling which can decrease steering performance at speed. In addition, they wear out more quickly on pavement, which means you need to replace them more often.

If you’re doing a lot of light off-road driving, but still have to drive paved roads or highways a fair amount, it’s worth considering all-terrain tires. They are somewhat of a hybrid type of tire—think off-road light.

They hold up better and drive more comfortably than dedicated off-road tires when traveling on paved roads. They’re not as good on paved surfaces as passenger tires, but they still provide some benefits of dedicated off-road tires. They also provide better handling and a more comfortable ride.

Does Tire Size Matter? 

Does off-road tire size matter? Many people ask this question, and there’s no simple answer. It depends on several factors, including the type of terrain you’ll be driving on and the weight of your vehicle.

Jeep rock crawling
Bigger tires will give you better traction and ground clearance while off-roading.

Generally speaking, though, bigger ones will give you better traction and ground clearance. They also tend to provide a smoother ride, which can be a big plus when driving over rough terrain.

Of course, there are downsides to larger ones as well. They’re more expensive and can make your vehicle harder to handle. So it’s really up to you to decide what’s most important to you.

Pro Tip: Thinking about installing larger tires on your off-road rig? Find out if Bigger Tires Affect Your Truck’s Transmission.

How Often Should You Get Your Off-Road Tires Rotated? 

Anyone who spends a lot of time off-roading knows that having a good set of off-road tires is essential. But what many people don’t know is how often you should rotate those tires. The answer, of course, depends on the type of off-road vehicle you’re driving, the conditions of the trails you’re driving on, and how frequently you drive off-road.

In general, however, it’s a good idea to rotate your off-road tires every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. This will help to ensure that they wear evenly and last longer.

Installing off-road tires
You should rotate your off-road tires every 3,000 to 5,000 miles.

Are They Expensive?

They can be. First, they’re larger and more aggressive than regular passenger car tires. That means they typically have more tread and are constructed from tougher materials. As a result, they typically cost more than regular ones. If you drive on the pavement they will wear out faster and more frequent replacements cost more.

However, some are for budget-minded consumers. In addition, their price can vary depending on the type of vehicle you drive. For example, tires for a Jeep Wrangler made for rock crawling will typically cost more than those for a Toyota Tacoma hitting back roads to go camping.

Ultimately, the cost depends on the specific product and the type of vehicle you drive.

What Different Types Off-Road Tires are on the Market?

Anyone who has ever taken their vehicle off the beaten path knows that not all tires are created equal. They must be tough enough to withstand sharp rocks, deep mud, and other obstacles while providing ample traction on loose surfaces.

While finding the best off-road tire for you will depend widely on your needs there are specific tires for specific applications.

DOT-rated tires are acceptable for use on public roadways and many manufacturers make off-road tires in this category. You can get these tires in many different form factors and manufacturers typically design them for general off road use.

All around off road tires may also fall into an agricultural category, or “AG” tires for short. These tires may or may not have DOT ratings for on-road applications, so make sure you know before mounting them. People commonly use AG tires on heavier off road vehicles to meet the load requirements.

Military tires are another sub-set of off road options. These usually carry DOT ratings but manufacturers build them specifically for military applications. Usually, like AG tires, they are designed for heavy load applications and commonly run flat installations. Getting military tires is more difficult as there are only a handful of authorized sellers to the public.

Sub-categories are commonly made that designate tires for a specific use.

Sand Tires

Sand tires are commonly found on dune buggies and off-road racing trucks. These tires usually have a paddle design that allows them to scoop sand and propel them forward. Sand tires are not rated for road use.

Off road Sand Tire
Sand Tires are designed specifically for sand

Rock Tires

Rock crawling tires are designed specifically to bite into rock surfaces and usually contain a mixture of rubber compounds to provide the best traction. Hard sections to grab and soft sections to grip can improve rock performances significantly.

Mud Tires

Mud tires are designed to churn through very soft soil. Typically mud tires feature large cleats and aggressive sidewall tread. These patterns help the tire churn out traction even when buried deep.

General Off-Road Tires

General off-road tires are designed to handle all terrain types. While they may not give you blazing fast acceleration in the sand, or climb the steepest rock walls. They can do a bit of everything.

Tire Comparison for your Off-Road Rig

With so many different brands and models on the market, it can be hard to know which tire is right for your vehicle. But some of the best brands include tires from BFGoodrich, Cooper, Mickey Thompson, Toyo, and Nitto.

If you don’t know the model of tire you need, consult the tire dealer and explain how you intend to use them.

Should I Buy Off-Road Tires for My Next Road Trip? 

Unless you’re doing a dedicated off-road build, buying dedicated off-road tires is probably not worth it.

While they offer better traction and stability when driving on rough terrain, they can also be quite expensive. In addition, they tend to wear down more quickly than regular tires, so you’ll need to replace them more often.

If you’re only doing some light off-roading, it would be better to use all-terrain tires. They’re less expensive and will last longer while still providing good traction on off-road surfaces.

So unless you’re planning on doing a lot of off-roading, there’s no need to invest in off-road tires for your next road trip. But if you plan on doing some extensive off-roading, by all means, invest in a good set.

Continental off-road tire

When you’re out having fun on the trails, it can be easy to forget to check your tire pressure before hitting paved roads again. Don’t make this mistake! Before your next trip, find out How Often Do I Really Need to Check My Tire Pressure?

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About Tom and Caitlin Morton

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.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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