What the best truck/SUV tire has
- A long tread warranty. While most tires have coverage against defects, the best also feature a treadwear warranty. Typically a prorated warranty, this guarantees the tread will last up to a set number of miles. The longest warranties cover truck tires for six years or 70,000 miles. However, some tires designed primarily for off-roading have no treadwear warranty at all.
- Good pavement performance. Unless you only use your truck for dedicated off-roading, your truck or SUV tire should deliver a comfortable ride on dry pavement regardless of whether they are all-season or all-terrain. If it's your primary vehicle, you will most likely drive primarily on paved roads.
- Good grip. Off-roading requires a better grip, but the best tires will grip well in any conditions: gravel, wet pavement or mud. Some do a good or at least decent job in snow, but for winter driving in areas where snow is frequent and frequently deep, a dedicated winter tire is your best bet. Our winter tire report includes selections for light trucks, SUVs and crossovers.
- Low rolling resistance. If long-term price or gas mileage is a top priority, look for low rolling resistance, which cuts down a bit on traction, but boosts your miles per gallon.
Know before you go
Do you want street performance or off-road traction? The different categories of truck tires have their own pros and cons -- to decide which is best for you, consider what terrain you will be driving on, your region's weather and your driving style. All-season tires are for pavement driving. All-terrain tires are best for drivers who spend the majority of their time on the street but also do occasional or light-duty off-roading. Off-road tires, known as mud tires, use knobby tread patterns and stiffer sidewalls to climb rocks and track through muddy trails without bogging down or getting a puncture.
Are you getting the best treadwear ratings? Many tires have a Uniform Tire Quality Grade (UTQG), which is a spec for treadwear, traction and temperature. The theory is that the higher the treadwear rating, the longer the tire will last. This isn't always the case, however, and experts warn buyers to be cautious of this number. Because tires aren't rated by an impartial third party, editors with TireRack.com say "they are open to some interpretation on the part of the tire manufacturer." The treadwear rating is also an indication of how hard the tire compound is -- the harder the compound, the longer the tire will last. This isn't beneficial for all drivers, though. A softer tire compound generally means more grip -- a high-performance tire has more traction in exchange for a lower treadwear rating and a shorter life span.
What size tire do you want? Experts recommend replacing your tires with the same size as the original set. If you aren't sure what size this is, check your owner's manual or the sticker on the inside panel of the driver's door. And use the same size tires on all four wheels.
LT versus P tires. Tires designed for the weights typically carried by full sized SUVs, vans and light trucks will carry an LT (light truck) prefix -- i.e. LT245/70R17. You will also find tires that carry a P prefix, or no prefix or all, which though sized identically, aren't rated to handle as much of a load. As long as vehicle weights are taken into consideration, you can use these tires on a light truck as well, but with limitations. TireRack.com advises: "When looking at the max load of P-metric or Euro metric tires being used on light truck type applications (full size van, SUV, pickup truck, minivan, etc.) the tire's max load must be reduced by 9%."
Value expectations: The dollars and cents of it
Just like all the components of your truck or SUV, tires need regular maintenance. Tires need to be rotated periodically to help them wear evenly. While suggestions for how often to rotate vary (we saw estimates ranging as widely as 3,000 to 8,000 miles), your best guide is your tire warranty or owner's manual. You may need to periodically rebalance tires as well; some models are more prone to getting out of balance than others. Maintaining proper tire pressure is also essential to extend tire life and get the best fuel economy.