WHY FIT AN OFF-ROAD TYRE?
What’s the best 4x4 on the market?
Of course, before we can venture down this rabbit-hole, we first need to determine what “best” actually means. Are we referring to extreme off-road capability? Or are the deciding factors comfort, economy and price?
Considering the above, most of us recognise that comparison tests are generally flawed, and the reason for this is simple: we all value different things.
But, despite how obvious that may be in the vehicular sense, various media publications continue to compare tyres that are vastly different from one another, particularly light-duty SUV / Passenger tyres against Light Truck (LT) alternatives.
Making this mistake is no different to conducting a comparison test between a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, a Land Cruiser 76 Series, and a Defender 110, and then declaring the winner a Toyota RAV4 because it’s “lighter on fuel and nippy in the dunes”.
Much like the vehicle market, it’s not a question of one model versus another. Rather, it’s a question of which product matches your needs. Comparing a RAV4 to a Land Cruiser 76 is going to outline many extreme “strengths and weakness” in both vehicles, largely because the application of each is so vastly different from the other.
The same goes for tyres, in which your choice of rubber will act either as a strength for your 4x4, or potentially as a weakness; it’s all matter of knowing your application and matching the right tyre qualities to your needs.
That said, for the next six months we’ll cover several off-road tyre topics that will help you decide which tyre is best for you, and we’ll also be looking at some of the most common tyre facts and fables. But, before we get to those, let’s cover the 3 primary reasons for fitting an off-road tyre in the first place, starting with…
The subject of traction is undoubtedly the most controversial of all tyre-design topics; but for now, the important thing to remember is that most off-road terrain types are loose in traction, as opposed to firm – like asphalt. In this way, off-road tyres need to possess design features that address the added problem of loose terrain.
In a later column, we’ll look at what these features may be, but regardless of the design, the primary goal is two-fold: performance and safety.
PUNCTURE RESISTANCE & LOAD INDEX
This is possibly the most overlooked, yet essential, quality of any 4x4 tyre product. A tyre that punctures easily off-road is about as useful as a suspension system that collapses under load.
For this reason, we strongly believe that light-duty SUV / Passenger tyres have no place in the dedicated off-road arena. These tyres are fine for occasional (mild) gravel roads and the odd stretch of sand, but if puncture-resistance is a key requirement, then a LT tyre is an absolute must.
Unfortunately, despite the importance of this feature off-road (especially for overland adventurers who travel to remote regions), it’s a frighteningly disregarded quality in most tyre tests.
We’ll cover more on this topic in the future, along with what differentiates an LT tyre from a light-duty tyre in the all-terrain segment, as well as what to consider in terms of load.
The Cooper AT3 LT boasts excellent cut and chip resistance – an often overlooked (but essential) off-road tyre quality.
Another frequently overlooked (yet pivotal) tyre quality that has never featured in any South African media test.
Cut & Chip is the number-one cause of tyre damage off-road; and the differences here make a light-duty tyre and an LT product incomparable. The use of a highway-terrain tyre on rocks or abrasive gravel roads will immediately highlight the importance of Cut & Chip qualities.
What makes one tyre more susceptible to Cut & Chip than another? Generally speaking, four things:
- Tread compound
- Tread block shape and size
- Tyre pressure and load
We’ll cover more on each of these topics in a future column, but until then, feel free to send your tyre-related queries to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.tyrelife.co.za for more expert tyre advice.
The Tyre Life Team