The right tire makes all the difference in the performance of a light truck or SUV
Braking, accelerating, steering and suspension have one thing in common: The quality of your tires affects them all. A bald set of tires can lead to rough rides or -- even worse -- cause you to lose control of your vehicle. The wrong set of tires isn't much better. The right rubber, on the other hand, "will offer the responsiveness necessary for obstacle avoidance, short stopping distances that aid panic braking situations, and road-holding grip under both dry and wet conditions," says the Car Care Council.
Though tires often appear to be very similar, the difference in performance and handling can be night and day between sets. The best truck tires and SUV tires are strong in specific categories, but none of them excel across the board, according to professional comparisons. That's why experts recommend that buyers consider how and where they will drive, and then pick the type of tire that best fits their needs. For trucks, SUVs and crossovers, three main types of tires are available to choose from: all-season, all-terrain and mud tires.
All-season tires are designed with pavement performance in mind and deliver a quieter, more car-like experience. The best all-season truck tires combine a comfortable ride with safety features for stability on curves, short braking distances and adequate traction on wet streets. They have the lowest rolling resistance of the three tire types to boost mileage performance. Top models can manage light snow and ice, but if your region gets heavy snowfall, consider switching to a winter truck tire, which will give you the best grip on slick and snowy roads. Our report on snow tires includes some recommendations for winter tires for SUVs and light trucks.
All-terrain tires are best for highway driving with occasional off-road adventures. The best all-terrain tires maintain a good balance between highway performance -- quiet and smooth enough to be comfortable for most daily driving -- but with enough aggressive tread to crawl through mid-range off-road trails. According to a leading consumer organization, many models of all-terrain truck tires have enough grip for accelerating on snow-packed roads, but none are very good at braking quickly when roads are icy, so a snow tire is still the better choice for winter driving. The increase in traction does cut down on the tires' rolling resistance, so users should expect poorer gas economy when using an all-terrain truck tire versus an all season model.
Mud tires have maximum grip for rock-crawling and dirt trails. Their open tread patterns are designed to break through mud without getting stuck, and their sidewalls are reinforced to withstand punctures from rocks. On the highway these features increase tread noise and gas consumption while creating a stiffer ride. The flexibility to manage different types of terrain is essential. "A good mud tire will return ample traction where it matters most, and then transition smoothly to the next task you throw at it," says Robin Stover at Four Wheeler Network.
A word on pricing
Unless otherwise noted, all prices in this report refer to sizes that are popular for replacement tires for SUVs, vans and trucks (such as 245/75RT17, 245/75R16, 265/70R17 and others, depending on the tire model and application) and are per tire. These prices are a guideline only and are provided to show relative value between choices. Actual prices may be higher or lower for different sizes, and for tires designed for heavier loads (designated with an LT -- light truck -- prefix). See the buying guide for more information on tire sizes and load capacities.
Finding the best SUV and light truck tires
ConsumerSearch editors evaluated dozens of professional road tests and hundreds of owner reviews for all types of truck tires. We narrowed down the field by focusing on safety features -- including braking abilities, handling on corners and resistance to hydroplaning. From there, we picked truck/SUV tires that combine excellent performance with comfort and durability, and found several top models in a range of prices. Match one of these to your budget and driving needs to find the best tire for you.