A Guide to Choosing the Right Tires for Your Truck or SUV

choose a truck tire

Every vehicle has an ideal tire that will maximize its performance and safety. It's important to find the best tires to buy before buying new tires that might not be the best fit for your vehicle's performance or the road conditions you're likely to face.

Tire specifications can drastically affect a vehicle's performance, so it's critically important to find a tire size that properly fits your truck or SUV. For instance, not only will an incorrect outer diameter possibly not fit your rims, but torque, traction control, and gear settings are all determined by the distance a wheel travels in one revolution and an incorrect diameter can damage these important systems. The wrong tire size can also alter the weight distribution and handling of your vehicle, making it harder to control. Poor weight distribution also applies stress to different areas of the vehicle, and this stress can burn out the transmission or differential. Tires that are too large or small, too narrow or wide, or too short or tall can also have a dramatic impact on the accuracy of your speedometer and odometer readings and your gas mileage.

Our guide to choosing the right tires for your truck or SUV can give you all of the information needed to make an informed buying decision.

When to Buy New Tires

worn tire

When deciding whether or not it's time to replace your tires, it's important to consider the milestones of tire wear.

  • 6 Months: Tires should be rotated every six months in order to distribute wear and make them last longer. A truck's rear tires are bearing the weight of whatever is hauled in the bed, while the front tires take the weight of the vehicle when it brakes. These factors, paired with issues like poor suspension and tire alignment, can cause tires to wear unevenly. Rotation can remedy that problem.
  • 5 to 6 Years: Many tire manufacturers recommend tire replacement after six years. After the five- or six-year mark, it's best to get your tires checked yearly and follow the guidance of your mechanic.
  • 10 Years: If you don't drive much, it's possible that your tires will wear very slowly. Even so, tires and spare tires should be replaced after a ten-year period, as the rubber itself deteriorates over time.

The Tread Test

Tire treads are important, especially if you are driving in rain or snow. Once the tire tread wears, your vehicle may slip and slide in poor weather conditions, and worn treat can also throw off the vehicle's weight distribution. Luckily, there is a quick and easy way to determine how your tire treads are faring. All you need is a penny.

All you need to do is set a penny into the tire tread with President Lincoln's head pointed down. If any part of his head is covered by the tire, your treads are in good shape. If you can see all of Lincoln's head, the tread is too shallow and it is time to think about buying new tires.

Other Warning Signs of Tire Wear

The penny test is a great way to check for wear, but it's not the only indication that's it time for new tires. Check for some of these other signs:

Wear Indicator Bar:

These are bars that appear when the tire tread wears. They run perpendicular to the direction of the tread, and once they are flush with the rest of the tread, this is a sign that tires should be changed. The wear indicator bar might be more visible within tire tracks than on the tire itself.

Sidewall Cracks:

Cracks, cuts, and grooves in the sidewall are as big of a concern as problems with a tire's tread. These flaws mean that a tire could be developing a leak or on the verge of a blowout. It's best to be safe and change tires when these appear.

Bulges and Blisters:

Like cracks, these imperfections are visible in the sidewall, but they are an even more urgent issue. Weak spots can cause sudden blowouts.

Vibration:

Most people with driving experience can tell when their vehicle is experiencing an unusual amount of vibration. Vibration can be caused by a lot of different factors, but tires can be a source of the problem. Misaligned or unbalanced tires or worn shock absorbers may be at the root of a shaking vehicle.

Tire Noise:

Listen for unfamiliar or new sounds from your tires that may indicate inner or outer wear due to over or under inflation. Any roaring or humming should be checked out; never ignored.

new tire

How to Choose Tires for Your Truck or SUV

Choosing tires that are right for your truck or SUV involves more than simply finding the correct size. The following factors should all come into play when choosing tires for your vehicle:

Tire Code

Ever notice the numbers running along the sidewall? They're not just for your mechanic. You can use them to learn more about a tire's specs. Following the set of numbers and letters from left to right, you'll see these indicators:



  • Tire Type: If the sequence begins with a "P," that means the tire is intended for passenger vehicles in the United States. If the sequence begins with "LT," that means the tire was designed for light trucks or SUVs.
  • Tire Width: The next set of numbers is the width from sidewall to sidewall measured in millimeters.
  • Aspect Ratio: Next, you'll see a slash followed by numbers that measure the height of the tire from cross section to width. If there is a 70 on your tire, this means the height is equal to 70% of the tire's width.
  • Construction: A letter "R" means that layers run radially across the tire.
  • Wheel Diameter: These numbers are the size of the wheel the tire is meant to fit. If you see a 15 at the end of the sequence, for instance, the tire is made to fit a wheel with a 15-inch diameter.
  • Load Index: The last group of numbers and letters here starts with a number that equals the tire load index. The higher this number is, the more weight the tire can bear. Note that if you see two numbers here, the first is for a single tire, while the second is for when two tires are mounted next to each other.
  • Speed Rating: This last letter represents the maximum speed the tire is appropriate for, which increases from "A" to "Z" (though "H" is mysteriously placed between "U" and "V" in this scale).

Types of Tires

Matching a tire type to your truck should be based on factors like vehicle size, performance needs, climate, and driving conditions. The main types of tire to consider are:

  • Summer Tires
  • All-Season Tires
  • On/Off-Road Tires
  • Winter/Snow Tires
  • Trailer Tires

This chart will give you an idea of what types of tires best match different vehicles and conditions:

If Your Truck/SUV … Then Consider Because …
Needs to have dry and wet road performance and won't be driven in a cold climate Street/sport summer tires These wide tires increase traction and handle well in dry or wet conditions. They are not intended to be driven in freezing temperatures.
Is driven in warm climates on highways and requires more heavy-duty tires Highway rib summer tires These tires are designed for highway use and emphasize even wear and low noise while demonstrating good traction on dry or wet roads.
Has a sporty appearance and you would like versatile performance Street/sport all-season tires These tires cosmetically enhance a vehicle while offering traction in a diverse set of conditions, including light snow.
Does a lot of highway traveling and you want a predictable and comfortable handling experience Highway all-season tires These tires have independent tread blocks with extremely versatile traction when it comes to highways, dirt and gravel roads, and weather conditions that include light snow.
Is used for off-roading or you drive on rough terrain On/off-road all-terrain tires These tires have equal on- and off-road capabilities with multi-faced tread blocks for all-direction traction in all conditions, including snow. Your truck will be ready for the highway or the trail.
Is used for serious off-roading on the most challenging trails Off-road maximum-traction tires The aggressive tread lugs give maximum traction on muddy surfaces, loose soil, and slipper rocks.
Is driven in snowy conditions, but you want to avoid the inconvenience of studded tires Studless ice and snow tires These tires are available in standard and heavy-duty sizes. Studs damage roads and make a lot of noise, but this tire can give your vehicle plenty of traction and durability in heavy snow without the use of studs.
Is driven in heavy ice or snow in a state that does not prohibit studs (Learn More About State Restrictions on Studded Tires) Studded winter/snow tires While some states have banned studs because they damage roads, studs offer the highest level of safety and traction on icy roads or through heavy snow.
Needs to haul a large trailer or payload Trailer tires The stiff sidewalls on these tires control the sway of the trailer and offer bruise resistance. Note that these tires are only intended for use with trailers.
A Guide to Different Types of Tires

The Price Component

Tires vary greatly in price, and this will naturally influence a buyer's decision. Generally, a tire's price is based on the size, quality, and brand.

Fuel Economy

With rising fuel costs and the increasing popularity of hybrid cars, tire manufacturers have also found ways to increase fuel efficiency. Tires with low rolling resistance reduce internal friction and improve gas mileage.

Where to Buy Tires

Most people dread buying new tires. But we've learned that good tires are important to a vehicle's safety and handling. With a little knowledge and planning, buying tires does not have to be a painful experience for your mind or wallet. We don't lack for options when it comes to buying tires for trucks and SUVs, and a look at the pros and cons of different tire sources can help you decide who you should turn to for your next set of tires.

Dealership

  • Pros: Shop at your dealership if you like their consistency and have confidence in their selection. Dealerships will likely carry the tires that are made for your vehicle specifically, and it's handy to get tires while you're already there for other services.
  • Cons: The tires from a dealership are more likely to be priced higher than tires bought elsewhere, and they will have less selection.

Local Shop

  • Pros: It's likely that your favorite local mechanic or independent car dealer has as much expertise in selling and servicing tires as a big retailer. They may be able to offer you a bargain.
  • Cons: Your local shop will probably have a smaller selection, but they are often able to order you whatever tire you need upon request. You may be expected to know exactly which tire you'd like to purchase.

National Chains

  • Pros: The employees in the tire shop will be well-trained and knowledgeable about what kind of tires will suit your car best; this is a good option for those with a limited knowledge and limited budget.
  • Cons: Chain shops can have a fairly standard and some focus on a single brand of tire. If you're looking for a specific or unusual tire, you may have better luck elsewhere.

Online

  • Pros: Shopping online is convenient and offers a huge variety of options and lots of information for people who want to research and make their own decision. Tire sites tend to be more objective than a human salesperson.
  • Cons: Some site designs might make the tire buying process confusing, and having a wealth of options means that you might need to do some research to figure out what to buy. Most sites charge shipping fees and use stock images that may not accurately reflect the tire being purchased. You also will still have to visit a local shop to have the tires installed.

Discount Retailers

  • Pros: Discount retailers are going to offer the best prices possible.
  • Cons: Discount retailers carry a large inventory. But in some cases, the tires purchased may be old because they have been sitting in the inventory for a while.

All About Off-Roading Tires

Tires are an especially important purchase for off-roading enthusiasts, as tire and thread construction can have a big impact on your off-roading experience. You'll also need to think about the type of terrain you're likely to head out on.

Tires are constructed in three ways:

  • Radial Ply: The casing is usually made from polyester, which gives a smooth ride on highway surfaces. These tires can be used for some light trail use, but aren't the best tires to buy for off-roading due to weak sidewalls that don't resist impact well.
  • Bias Ply: The casing is made from nylon and stands up better to abuse. The flexible tread gives a smooth ride on off-road surfaces. These are not ideal for blacktop because they will tend to wear faster.
  • Bias Belted: Fiberglass or steel support the tire and offers a ride as smooth as a radial tire but more supportive on off-road terrains.

Also consider what kind of terrain you tend to off-road on:

  • Sand: Wide tires are ideal for driving in the sand because they provide flotation, without which your wheels would sink. When the sidewall flexes with lower air pressure, this causes flotation.
  • Rock: Rock-crawling tires require flexibility and durability, with bias-ply tires being the favorite among rock-crawlers. The addition of silica to the rubber helps reduce the effects of sharp rocks, and Kevlar can reinforce the tire's sidewall and carcass.
  • Snow: Your snow tires should be made of a rubber compound that allows them to stay flexible in freezing temperatures. Tires with siping provide optimal traction in the snow.
  • Mud: Mud tires need a lug design that allows the tread to throw mud out as the tire rotates. Keeping the lugs unclogged will give the tire as much as traction as possible to prevent slipping.

What to Do When Your Tires Are Stuck in the Mud

No matter how good your tires are, off-road enthusiasts are bound to get stuck from time to time. When it happens to you, try not to get too embarrassed! The following tips and tricks will help get you out of the muck.

4x4 truck stuck in mud

Be Prepared

Gauge the mud and you can either predict that you'll get stuck and avoid it or bring the necessary tools to free your truck. Before heading out, check out the mud and ask these questions:

  • Are there rocks in the mud?
  • Is the mud fresh?
  • How deep is the mud?
  • How wet is the mud?
  • Are there ruts in the mud?

Sometimes, there's just no avoiding getting stuck, but paying attention to the conditions will make you much more likely to avoid it.

Rock the Tires

When your tires are stuck in the mud, the instinct might be to power your way out, but this can actually make you sink further in. Instead of spinning the wheels, try rocking your truck loose from the mud.

First, put the vehicle in reverse and tap the gas. If you don't get far, put it in low gear and go forward as much as you can. Keep doing this in an effort to get the vehicle to move forward a little more each time. If the tires spin, turn the wheels to the side to try to get more grip. If you're making headway, alternate between these methods until you get out.

Give the Tires Some Grip

When rocking fails, those tires might need more traction. You can do this by placing solid, dry objects in front of or behind the tires depending on which direction you are moving. Rocks, tree limbs, wooden planks, and floor mats can get the job done. You can also drop the tire pressure for more traction if you have a portable compressor to re-inflate them before returning to the road.

Use a Winch

A winch is probably the most effective way to get out of the mud. Attach the tow strap to a tree trunk or other land anchor that will be stable enough to support the vehicle. If you have a jacket or blanket, place that over the tow line to weigh it down in case it snaps.

Phone a Friend

When all other methods don't work, you'll need a friend to tow you out with their vehicle. Remember to only attach towing equipment to tow hitches and frames. Use as few vehicles as possible to avoid tearing up the ground even more. You wouldn't want your rescue vehicles to get stuck!

The bottom line when it comes to off-roading is to travel prepared. Make sure that your vehicle is equipped for the trek and that you've packed equipment that can help rescue you from a sticky situation.

A Simple Guide to Getting Unstuck
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