The Ultimate Truck and SUV Tire Buying Guide
There’s nothing worse than buyer’s remorse after getting a new set of tires put on your vehicle. Finding out after the fact that tire tires are too noisy, perform terrible, or simply are not rated for your truck or SUV can be an annoying (and expensive) lesson to learn. In this article, we will breakdown the different tire categories and features that are critical to know before purchasing new rubber. To ensure there’s no crossover confusion, our focus will be on tire attributes intended for the truck and SUV market.
Standard Load VS Light Truck
How much the tire is engineered to support is critical for safety and performance. In the truck and SUV world, there are two tire categories that you need to be aware of- Light Truck and Standard Load. LT’s are designed to carry higher loads. If your truck or SUV came with an LT on it from the factory, that’s what you need to go with. An LT is easy to spot as the letters LT generally come before or right after the tire size on the sidewall of the tire. Tire manufacturers will also put this designation online under tire specs.
The good news about an LT tire is that it’s a bit more durable than a Standard Load tire. The stronger sidewall not only means it can handle weight with greater ease but will also be less susceptible to damage for those times you choose to go off-road (or smack a curb navigating a parking lot). If your vehicle came with a Standard Load range tire, you can always move up to an LT.
Before you take the leap from a Standard Load tire to an LT, you must consider the disadvantages. LT’s are heavier and come with a stiffer sidewall, which can rob performance and create a firmer ride under the vehicle. On vehicle’s designed for an LT, this isn’t an issue, but can be very apparent on something engineered for a Standard Load tire. Only opt for an LT if you need the increased load capacity or want a more durable tire for off-road adventures.
If your vehicle came with a Standard Load tire and it continues to meet your vehicle’s needs, go back with that when possible. Most new trucks and SUV’s have shifted from LT’s to Standard Load tires in an effort to increase fuel efficiency, ride quality, and performance. A Standard Load tire is going to be lighter with a more compliant sidewall. This equates to a better ride and less performance loss over an LT.
All-Terrain Vs All-Season
All-terrain tires are off-road oriented, and as the name implies, designed to handle all-terrains. All-season tires are more on-road focused. All-season often come in different tread compounds and patterns to optimize performance in wet and winter conditions. For the truck and SUV market, all-terrain tires are offered a greater variety of sizing.
True To Size
Despite the same size being printed on the sidewall, tires can vary wildly from one tire manufacturer to another. This is why you hear the term “true-to-size” thrown around at tire shops. A true-to-size tire is one with dimensions that are more in line with the sizing printed on the sidewall. This is why one companies tire may rub under your vehicle, while another may not. Tires such as the ones from Nitto Tire tend to run more true-to-size.
The newest tire category is Hybrid Terrain, which blends attributes from an all-terrain and mud-terrain tire. These tires will often have deeper and larger lugs over a traditional all-terrain tire, which is great for off-roading. Unlike a more aggressive mud-terrain tire, hybrid terrains tend to be fit with increased sipes and a uniformed tread pattern, making them roll smoother and make less road noise. These are ideal for those needing more off-road performance over a traditional all-terrain tire, without going with something as aggressive as a mud-terrain. A great example of this is the Nitto Ridge Grappler shown here.
While the Hybrid Terrain category is the newest, the mud-terrain category is the one that’s evolved the most since inception. In the early days, mud-terrains sacrificed on-road manners for optimal off-road performance. These days, it’s a better balance. In fact, many people opt for modern mud-terrain tires for their daily driven vehicle. In terms of road noise and handling, they have come a long way. But, they will still be the loudest option compared to the hybrid and all-terrain categories. If you are a serious off-road enthusiast, or simply like the look of a mud-terrain, we wouldn’t rule it out for your daily driver. Just know that it likely won’t last as long, could be noisy, and will affect your fuel economy the most compared to the other categories.
3-Peak Mountain Snowflake Rating
If snow is part of your commute, it will be worth checking to see if the tire has a 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake rating (symbol shown here). This rating represents that the tire meets a certain traction index on packed snow. This does not mean the tire will grip better on ice as the rating does not evaluate for that. Many 3-Peak tires often have a unique tread compound better fit for winter driving conditions and some even have provisions for studs.
Those small lines you see in the tread block are called sipes. They are put there to increase grip and are especially helpful in wet and winter-mix conditions. You will generally find these in abundance on 3-Peak rated tires and all-terrains. If you frequently drive in rain or winter mix, look for a tire with a good assortment of sipes.
A great indication of road noise can be found by looking at the tires tread spacing. Larger spacing and increased tread stagger are signs that this tire will create a roar or hum going down the road. The tighter the tread pattern and more uniformed the pattern, the less noise the tire should make. For off-roading purposes, the larger spacing is preferred as it does a better job of cleaning out debris between the lugs. This is why mud-terrain tires tend to be louder than all-terrain tires.
Want to know a good place to start your tire buying adventure? We recommend checking out the entire Grappler line from Nitto Tire. There, you can browse through 8 different tires in the Grappler family, all of which are designed for modern trucks and SUVs. We especially like the fact that Nitto offers many of its tires in Standard Load and LT configurations. So, you can get the tire that best fits the needs of your vehicle.
More From Driving Line
- How do all-terrains do off-road? Check out our review on the Recon Grappler A/T to find out!