There’s a lot to be said for the little rubber tyres that your vehicle sits on. Only a small patch about the size of your hand on each corner of the car makes it accelerate, brake, steer and continue the momentum in the direction you want to go. When it comes to a 4WD though, tyres are even more important, and you should be making sure that they are up to scratch, and ready to do the work you require from them.
Ironically, the tyres that come on most new 4WDs from the factory are not suitable, or up to scratch for the 4WD tracks that so many of us enjoy doing. They are designed for fantastic comfort, good traction on the road and limited noise, and that’s where their benefits end. Take one of these tyres on a nasty gravel road, or up a track full of sharp rocks and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll end up needing a replacement.
With that being said, if you never take your 4WD off the bitumen, they are the perfect solution. Cheap, quiet, readily available and they’ll do the job well. For the rest of us though, who like to explore this fantastic country, there are a few things that you should be considering before heading away.
4WD tyres take a lot of punishment.
Please don’t underestimate the importance of tyres that are in good condition and up to scratch. It doesn’t matter what sort of safety systems you have in your vehicle, how good your brakes are or how powerful your motor is, if your tyres can’t direct your vehicle safely, you can be in a world of trouble.
That, and experiencing a blow out at high speeds is not something you’d wish upon anyone. It can be extremely dangerous, and often results in vehicle accidents. Making sure that your tyres are suitable before you head away on a trip is imperative for everyone on the road.
Are your tyres up to scratch?
Let’s start with tyre construction, not to be confused with the tread pattern. Tyre construction refers to the designation given to the tyre. For the purposes of this article, you’ll usually find LT, or Light truck, or P for passenger.
If you are taking your 4WD off road, you should have LT or light truck tyre designation. These are built much stronger and are designed to take the heavyweight of a 4WD on nasty terrain without the issues that a passenger tyre will give you.
Make sure you look after your tyres.
This is particularly the case if you have a GVM upgrade or a much heavier vehicle than when it rolled off the floor. For example, our Toyo Open Country A/T II tyres have a load rating of 123, which means they can carry 1550kg on each tyre. If a tyre has more weight on it than the load rating allows, you risk all sorts of problems, including tyre failure.
Pick the right tread for your driving.
The actual tread pattern is something most people will be well aware of. You can get the normal road terrain tyres (like what most new 4WDs come with), then all-terrain tyres, and then mud-terrain tyres.
There are a number of tyres today that grey the boundaries a lot, and this makes life a bit easier for finding the most suitable tyre. If you want an aggressive all-terrain, there’s a few on the market. You don’t have to go to a full-blown mud terrain tyre to achieve aggressive traction, which is great.
It’s important that you match your tread pattern to where you are travelling. For example, taking a 4WD with road terrain tyres down a mountain with slippery clay as its primary surface is going to land you in trouble. If you are going to do much mud work, especially where it’s sloping, get a set of mud terrain or all-terrain tyres.
Road terrain tyres are great for beach and bitumen work.
Age and wear
Tyre age is a factor that a lot of people forget about. Over time, rubber deteriorates (especially in the sun), and a very old tyre will have obvious cracks in the rubber. The general recommendation is anything over 5 years old should be a bin job. Sometimes you can see evidence of perishing, and others you won’t see a thing – the tyre will simply blow up whilst you are driving. Not good.
Now, please don’t for a minute think that the moment your tyre ticks over 5 years it’s going to self-destruct, but if you are driving around on tyres that are 7 – 10+ years old, the risk of a nasty failure is quite high, and not worth the risk.
When it comes to wear, taking a tyre that is nearly down to the wear indicators on a long and punishing 4WD track across Australia is probably not a good idea. On the same hand, buying a new set of tyres for every trip you go on is not plausible either, so meet somewhere in the middle.
The tyre wear should reflect how far you are travelling, and how much you depend on the tyre. If you blow a tyre an hour from your house, it’s much less concerning than if you blow one in the middle of the desert, where you haven’t seen a soul for 7 days!
Getting new tyres on our Dmax.
Running the right tyre pressures
Possibly the most important thing within your control when you hop in a 4WD is the tyre pressures that you choose to run. On the bitumen, this is less important, but on a rough corrugated gravel road, or soft beach it will make or halt your progress very quickly. The right tyre pressures absorb bumps (and provide more comfort), increase floatation and traction and decrease the chance of punctures and track damage. You can read more about 4WD tyre pressures here.
Good tyres can be of limited use if you run them at the wrong tyre pressures!
Beach driving can be done with any tread pattern.
Pick a common size
If you are heading off the beaten track, it’s a good idea to pick a tyre size that is regularly available. If you run some obscure tyre size and need to replace one in the bush, you can be in for a rude shock. Not only will it cost you an absolute fortune, but you could be waiting a long time to get one, or worse still not being able to get that size.
Your local tyre shop can help you with picking a tyre size that is common, but in general anything over 17-inch wheels is going to be harder to get, and lower profile tyres are less common too.
Pick the appropriate size that is also regularly available.
Stick within the law
If you’ve never had a look at the little sticker on the pillar next to your driver’s door, now’s the time to do so. This tells you the original tyre size of the vehicle, and from that, you can work out what size tyres you can install.
If you install tyres that are too big, you can be deemed to be driving an illegal 4WD. Worse still, it can affect your insurance and personal liability in the event of an accident. Ring your local road authority and find out what the regulations are before fitting new tyres.
Look for the sticker on the pillar.
Choose reputable brands
There are a lot of tyre manufacturers out there. Stick with those that are reputable. I’m not suggesting you must go for the biggest manufacturer out there. But at least pick one that you’ve seen more than a handful of people run for a number of years without any issues.
There are plenty of import tyres being brought into Australia today that aren’t proven, and could potentially lack the quality required for driving on our roads. In my opinion, a cheap, unproven tyre is simply not worth the risk.
Poor quality tyres will result in terrible traction.
Look after your tyres
Caring for your tyres correctly will ensure they have a long, healthy life and perform how you need them to. Tyre pressures are the start, but ensuring that they don’t get too hot on rough roads, that you rotate them regularly (including the spare!) and that you monitor how they are wearing (to prevent scalloping and wear in one particular spot).
If you are happy to spin your tyres significantly on rocks and give them a hard time on the bitumen then expect that they won’t last nearly as long, and 4WD tyres aren’t cheap!
Rotate your tyres regularly, including your spare.
Modern tyres are fantastic
If you are feeling a bit unsure about what tyres to run, don’t be. Know that millions and millions of dollars go into tyre research and technology every year and that tyres you purchase today are significantly better than what you would have been running 15 years ago.
Puncture resistance has improved, as has traction, fuel efficiency, self-cleaning ability and plenty of other factors.
Living the dream on the beach.
There’s no perfect tyre
Lastly, there’s no perfect tyre. Some people run two sets of tyres for this reason. No matter what you buy, it won’t be perfect for every terrain.
Mud terrain tyres are brilliant for wet, sloppy tracks and some rock work, but they aren’t as good as an all-terrain on gravel or wet bitumen. They are also considerably noisier, and those running mud terrains would be familiar with the whirring that they develop!
Next time you head off for a trip, have a look and make sure your tyres are up to scratch! See you out there.
Are your tyres in need of an upgrade?
About the writer...
If it involves four-wheel driving, Aaron loves it. When he isn’t writing for his blog, 4WDing Australia or the Snowys Blog, you’ll find him camping and driving around Western Australia.