What You Need to Know About Daily Driving on Mud-Terrains
By Jerrod Jones
It’s no secret that your 4×4 looks cooler with meatier tires. The more aggressive the knobbies, the better your build will look. But we must remember that old adage: Function over form! And if this is something that you need to drive to work or a jobsite Monday morning, then a bias-ply competition tire isn’t gonna be your best choice.
You need a tire you can live with…which has generally spelled out “all-terrain” in the past. But the term “mud-terrain” is not what it used to be. While there are always the ultra-aggressive bias-ply and competition mudders, many modern radial mud-terrain tires are as versatile as all-terrains were twenty years ago. Thanks to ever-evolving technology, new compounds and computer-designed tread patterns have made mud-terrains quieter and able to perform on-road better than ever before. Not only that, but customers are seeing upwards of 40,000 and 50,000 miles of use before replacement! The new tread designs and compounds are making them excel in ice and rain, the carcasses are better (and generally three-ply on M/Ts these days) and have higher load ranges, and the rolling resistance on many models has been decreased.
While an all-terrain tire will always be a better choice on
the highway, the modern mud-terrain has improved its on-highway manners over
the last decade while still excelling off-road, making it a great choice for
those who see dirt on a semi-regular basis.
Not all mud-terrains are the same! Use your best judgement (it’s gotten you this far, right???) and take a look at the selection of mud-terrains available and examine the tread patterns. Typically, the larger the spacing (void) between the tread blocks, the louder the tire will be. If you see the tread pattern laid out with centered tread blocks and/or lots of siping in the tread blocks, then there’s a good chance it’ll have good street manners. Check out the load rating and make sure its enough for the work your 4×4 does. Is the tire profile more rounded or squared off? A larger contact patch (area that touches the pavement) will generally mean better handling, but it likely also means it can track more when hitting different road surfaces or lines in the pavement.
Always think about how you’re going to use your 4×4 when you choose your tires. If your drive to work is three miles away and it’s all rough dirt roads, then you might as well get some of the meatiest lugs you can buy! But if you’re spending 28 days per month on the highway and just a few days per month in the dirt, you may want to look into a milder mud-terrain tire or even one of the newer “in between” tires that aren’t quite mud-terrains but they’re more aggressive than all-terrains. If you’re hitting a lot of
Of course, there is a point of size vs. size—as in the size of your vehicle versus the size of your tire. If it’s your daily driver that sees a lot of highway miles, it would behoove you to stay closer to the original tire size. In other words, don’t go too big. Even if you re-gear your 4×4 to match your tires and get some of the power back, the increased mass of the tires will decrease your fuel economy.
This Cherokee Chief on 47” mud-terrains was fun to daily drive on the freeways for a bit, but it was utterly excessive, handled poorly, and ate fuel. The tread started to show wear on the corners of the tread blocks after only a few weeks. And the tires were only about a foot more than reasonable daily-driver status. Some 35” mud-terrains—like the ones on this black fullsize Jeep—are still big enough to be great in the dirt, but will cruise nicely down the road.
This Super Duty is wearing modern 37” mud-terrain tires that are a great choice for it because they are E-rated (load range), barely bigger than the stock 35” tires that came on it, and have a tread pattern that suits the conditions the truck is put in. Ironically, the sand the truck is pictured in here would be better navigated in an all-terrain tire that would give more floatation and not dig as much, but this truck also spends a lot of time in deep snow and heavy dirt/mud where the mud-terrain is needed.
Because these mud-terrains are mounted on a very heavy truck, the tread blocks show signs of feathering and uneven wear much faster than on a lighter 4×4. This makes regular tire rotation on a large 4×4 even more important.