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In this report

Finding the best tire tests

This report, part of our three-part series on tires, covers all-season and all-terrain tires for SUVs and light trucks. We have a separate report on tires for cars, as well as a report on snow tires, which includes winter tires for all vehicle types.

TireRack.com is a retail website that sells tires, but its staff also conducts rigorous tire tests and hosts head-to-head comparisons, using roads, racetracks, highways and even ice rinks to grade tires. We are impressed by the editors' comprehensive knowledge and by the fact that they release negative results about the products they sell. However, TireRack.com does not test as many SUV tires and truck tires as it does car tires, and staffers don't perform any off-road, mud or loaded-truck testing.

TireRack.com encourages owners to rate SUV and truck tires, and editors compile these ratings into detailed tables that rank the tires from best to worst within each category (all-season, all-terrain, etc). These surveys are more current and comprehensive than TireRack.com's expert tests, but they still do not include extreme mud tires. The best sources of reviews for those are two enthusiast magazines, Petersen's 4Wheel & Off-Road and Four Wheeler. Both publications evaluate mud tires in swampy, hilly mud pits. See our What to Look For page for more on mud tires.

By far the most thorough, expert and unbiased source of tire ratings is ConsumerReports.org. Editors test more than 30 all-season and all-terrain tires for light trucks and SUVs on dry, wet, snowy and icy roads. Each tire's braking ability, hydroplaning resistance and snow traction is measured, and editors judge each tire's quietness, comfort and handling feel. ConsumerReports.org is one of the few sources that tests tires' rolling resistance, or the amount of drag they create; less drag can result in better fuel economy.

Tread wear: Tests tell the true story

Not content to take manufacturers' treadwear ratings at face value, ConsumerReports.org conducts accelerated-wear tests of light truck and SUV tires. The results show substantial differences among the tires -- and sometimes, the manufacturers' treadwear ratings are out of sync with ConsumerReports.org's findings.

"For example, results from our test showed one tire model wore out at above 100,000 miles; the fastest wearing tire model lasted less than 50,000 miles," tester Gene Petersen writes in a news post that's available to anyone. "Despite the difference, you wouldn't know it by the treadwear warranties on those tires, which are only 5,000 miles apart (65,000 and 60,000 miles, for the long- and fast-wearing tires, respectively)."

Yes, the longer-wearing tires cost more -- but you can save money in the long run by buying long-wearing tires, ConsumerReports.org points out. By the time the 100,000-mile tire wears out, you'd have bought two sets of the cheaper tires -- and paid twice for installation, too.

That said, experts caution buyers against choosing tires solely because they'll last a long time. "Always put safety before price -- even above tread life," ConsumerReports.org advises. Look for good handling, braking, hydroplaning resistance and winter grip, if you drive on ice or snow. "Let tread wear, ride comfort, noise, and rolling resistance be tiebreakers."

In search of good ice grip

All-terrain tire treads look rough and fierce. Sure, they can claw through snow -- but on ice, they slip and slide in tests, year after year. In one recent comparison, only a couple of all-terrain truck tires grip ice relatively well. One otherwise excellent tire, the Kumho Road Venture SAT KL61 (*Est. $145) , is judged downright poor on ice.

All-season truck tires do better. Despite their milder tread patterns, experts find that plenty of all-season tires plow through snow as effectively as knobby all-terrain models, and they aren't too shabby on ice, either. Both of our Best Reviewed all-season picks, the Michelin LTX M/S2 (*Est. $225) and the Continental CrossContact LX20 EcoPlus (*Est. $165) , offer acceptable ice grip in tests, plus top performance on dry, wet and snowy roads.

That said, you can find tires labeled "all-season" that are likely to leave your SUV or truck stuck when the snow flies, if expert tests are any indication. For example, the Pirelli Scorpion STR A (*Est. $195) offers good grip on wet and dry pavement, but it does a poor job accelerating through snow and braking on ice.

"Bottom line: If icy conditions are common in your region, a good set of winter tires might make the difference in getting to your destination safely," ConsumerReports.org concludes.

Unless otherwise noted, our price estimates for truck tires and SUV tires are based on a tire size of 245/70-17 (or the next-closest size, such as a 245/65 or 235/70 when 245/70 is not available). These sizes are found as original equipment on popular models such as the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander SUVs, as well as the Ford F-150 pickup truck.

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