When buying new tires for any car, or at least one that you cherish, that’s one of those expressions that has always seemed an appropriate fit. I guess it’s because tires are so important to the looks of your vehicle, not to mention the effects they can have on handling and overall enjoyment. If your beloved human offspring were to need some gym shoes for school and you set out to the store with your heart set on a pair of Dingo boots, the repercussions for your misguided actions would be very real. Your child would no doubt be the last one picked for kickball, they would no longer find shorts as a logical clothing choice and their standings on the ever-important popularity scale would plummet. Buying tires for your Jeep is not much different.
Before you set out to buy your babies new shoes, you have to ask yourself a few questions so that you are more likely to arrive with a suitable answer. What is it that you use your Jeep for? Is it simply a people- hauler used to shuttle family members to lacrosse practice and run errands around town with no plans to drive off the paved roads? If so, a traditional highway or all-season tire might be the best option. Or is it the look of the tire that is of more concern to you? Can you have both?
Highway tires are best-signified by a narrow linear tread design that specializes in channeling water away from the tires patch of contact with the road. Features that are virtually exclusive to these highway tires, such as long tread life and refined car-like handling, slowly fade as you graduate to the more off-road enabled tires. While these highway/ all-season tires will give your Jeep a nice, smooth ride on the highway and around town, they are somewhat ill-equipped for trail duty. If your Jeep sees much more than an occasional level dirt road or gravel driveway, you should probably consider something a bit more unrefined.
If your Jeep qualifies as one that is more-than-likely to be taken off the beaten path, your tire shopping experience should begin with the abundance of offerings that tire manufacturers have developed for the light truck market segment. Jeeps of present day generally come from the factory with a more aggressive breed of tire; one that is commonly referred to as an ‘All-terrain’ in that it has a much less-linear tread pattern; opting for a deeper grooved channel design intended to garner traction on surfaces other than asphalt. If the tires that came on your Jeep were all that you hoped they could be then consider that to be a safe starting point and expand your search from there.
All-terrain tires often incorporate a tread design that extends over onto the face of the sidewall, commonly known as ‘side bite’, to give the tire lateral traction on unstable terrain. All-terrains do a commendable job on a wide variety of surfaces and only find their limits when exposed to the muddy slick stuff, where they are swiftly turned into drag slicks that spin wildly with reckless abandon. While the All-Terrain tire represent a really good compromise between street-friendly road manners and off-road prowess, it’s important to note that their capability relies strongly on the level of air pressure in the tire. In off-road conditions, reducing a tires air pressure is a true no brainer. You just push in on the valve stem, right?
It’s safe to say that an off-road tire should never be inflated to manufacturer’s specifications EXCEPT when it is being driven on the road. The benefits of airing-down a rig’s tires when off-roading is almost beyond compare. An obstacle that seems insurmountable quickly becomes easy work when proper air pressure is applied. The tire gains massive amounts of traction and is less prone to punctures, even when the tire is only reduced to 20 psi. Many hardcore off-road guys will regularly drop air pressures well into the single digits, while paying due attention to maintaining the integrity of the tires bead and its seal to the rim. Failure to do so will have you wrestling yourself into a sweaty tizzy with a grimy black rubber monster determined to ruin your day.
While the prospect of reducing air pressure is attractive and brutally simple, the subsequent need to re-inflate the tires to their proper pressures before returning to the roadway is one that proves troublesome to many. While highly-efficient onboard air systems are expensive, they are not a mandatory implement in order to restore adequate driving pressures on the trail. Small 12 volt air compressors can be had online for well under $100 and offer ample output to get your tires back to a safe operating level until a full-fledged compressor can be located. Sure, it may take you a half-hour to get re-inflated, but that’s time you easily gained while on the trail by not getting stuck on every rock and ledge. Time you can use to ascend to the highest available position, with arm extended upward, in an attempt to gain cellphone coverage. It’s really fun and you should try it.
The final part to this tire option puzzle is the loud & proud mud-terrain. Much like its all-terrain counterparts, the mud terrain foregoes civil street tendencies in favor of a broad, open tread style meant to grip and grapple over the harshest of landscapes. Tire technology has advanced so drastically over the past 10+ years that modern mud terrains are all but equal to most all terrains in terms of on-road sensibilities. They do create a greater amount of noise when on pavement, are more prone to troublesome wear patterns due to faulty suspension components but are otherwise worthy candidates for a semi-dedicated trail rig.
While their overly-aggressive tread characteristics make them a resoundingly bad choice for a daily- driven Jeep, mud terrains are still often the tire of choice for avid Jeep enthusiasts. I think that might be largely due to the fact that they just look cool! If Jeepers were extremely concerned with how many miles their tires get in a lifespan, or how many miles to the gallon they average around town, they just wouldn’t drive a Jeep to begin with. Driving a Jeep is all about the journey so I can easily justify having a tire that sings loudly as the miles go rolling by. I much prefer the “whirring” sound of a mud terrain spinning on the asphalt to the sound of a street tire spinning hopelessly in the mud. When it comes to tires, it’s always good to be a little biased. OlllllllO