SUVs are versatile vehicles with lots of uses. But without the right tires, your SUV may not reach its full potential.
SUVs benefit from true winter tires in cold areas. Warmer climates offer more choices, such as summer tires and all-season tires (for longevity). Off-road tires, such as mud tires, are ideal for rural areas, whereas standard highway tires are a great choice for daily driving.
In this article, we'll cover everything you need to know about choosing SUV tires. We'll go over the different kinds of tires available for SUVs, their best uses, and when to consider something different. Additionally, we'll review a few examples of the best SUV tires on the market today.
We sourced technical information from trusted automotive guides. Additionally, tire specs come directly from distributors and manufacturers to ensure accuracy.
Are SUV Tires Different?
SUV tires are not fundamentally different from car or minivan tires. From a materials standpoint, car and SUV tires are made the same way and with the same materials, with some variance between manufacturers.
SUV tires are very similar (and sometimes identical) to truck tires—specifically, if the truck in question is full-size (or mid-size in the case of mini trucks). Many SUVs are built on truck platforms.
For example, the Chevy Suburban is built with many of the same components as the Chevy Silverado, and so on. As a result, you can use SUV and truck tires interchangeably in many cases.
The same can be said for mid-size vehicles like the Nissan Pathfinder, which can usually utilize the same tires as the Nissan Frontier.
Car and minivan tires almost never work on SUVs for a number of reasons. For one, they're physically smaller—and these days, the sidewall heights can be much too low.
Additionally, these tires aren't rated for the loads an SUV can be subjected to. Load is a very important factor to consider, as the SUV itself is heavier, and the tires should be rated for beyond the pickup's maximum load.
Radial Vs Bias Ply SUV Tires
Radial tires are the standard for modern cars, trucks, and SUVs. Radial tires are made of rubber that's reinforced with fiber strands, and they also have one or two strong steel support belts in the tread.
Bias ply tires are considered 'old school' today and are rarely found on new trucks and SUVs. They use woven strands to form the shape and reinforce the tire, though they lack a steel belt. There are still some bias ply SUV tires available, though they're rarely used today.
Radial tires offer a number of advantages for SUVs. For one, they're much more puncture-resistant than bias ply tires. The steel band is rigid and helps the tire retain its shape but also protects it when you run over nails. Additionally, radial tires are available in many more configurations, which we'll explain in detail below.
Types of SUV Tires
There are many kinds of SUV tires, which range in size, design, and also price. Here's a breakdown of a few of the most common categories of SUV tires and their best uses.
SUV Highway Tires
Highway tires are used interchangeably with summer tires in some regions, though the general purpose of a highway tire is a bit different. A highway tire is an SUV tire rated for the load of the SUV or higher and designed to be cheap and last a reasonably long time.
Highway tires are designed for just that—driving on paved highways. They're inexpensive and safe in the rain, though they usually don't perform well in the snow. A set of highway tires is a great option if you need a tire for daily driving that won't break the bank.
SUV Summer Tires
Summer tires are similar to highway tires. These tires are designed for hot and dry climates. They have a significant amount of road contact, which gives them excellent traction on dry surfaces. These tires are inexpensive, though they don't last nearly as long as other kinds of SUV tires.
Summer tires should never be used in the snow. They don't have sufficient tread voids, and their rubber composition is inadequate for cold temperatures.
SUV All-Season Tires
All-season tires are the most popular choice for pickup SUV owners for a number of reasons. For one, these tires last a very long time. 50,000-mile warranties aren't unheard of on all-season tires, which is a big selling point.
All-season tires have decent road contact but also fairly large tread voids. This allows them to run well in most weather conditions, including dry pavement and light snow. All-season tires are better than summer tires for rain and cold weather and a good compromise for driving in variable conditions.
All-season tires are pricier for SUVs than summer tires, but their prices are still relatively low for large vehicles, at least when compared to a specialized sports car or SUV tire.
SUV All-Terrain Tires
Some people use "all-season" and "all-terrain" interchangeably, though this is incorrect. All-terrain tires are designed to operate on dirt, pavement, and rocks—not necessarily different kinds of pavement.
All-terrain tires typically have larger tread voids and softer rubber compounds, making them perform better on loose surfaces like mud, dirt, and gravel. They perform well on the road, though many all-terrain tires are not rated for cold weather.
SUV Winter Tires
Winter tires are exceptionally important in many parts of the country, especially on SUVs. SUVs are large and top-heavy, and most of their weight is over the front wheels. Winter tires help keep these vehicles stable and tracking straight on slippery terrain.
If you have all wheel drive, this is less of an issue, as you can operate on the pavement during the winter more easily than a rear wheel drive vehicle. Four-wheel-drive SUVs benefit greatly from winter tires, as traditional 4x4 systems shouldn't be used on the pavement in most cases.
Winter tires use special rubber compounds which stay supple in cold weather. This is essential, as summer tires get hard and lose traction much more easily. Additionally, the shape of the tread on winter tires is designed to bite into snow, ice, and slush much more effectively.
Winter tires are available in studded or non-studded varieties. Studded winter tires have steel studs embedded in the tread, which breaks road ice and improves traction on packed snow. However, they're illegal to use during the spring and summer in many states.
Studless winter tires are legal everywhere, and they're great—but they usually don't provide quite as much traction as studded tires. Winter tires generally last longer than other kinds of tires, which means you don't have to swap them out after each season.
SUV Off-Road Tires
Off-road tires are designed specifically for use on non-pavement services. These tires are generally quite pricey, but they offer the greatest capability and (arguably) the best look. There are numerous kinds of off-road tires which we'll cover here in detail.
Mud Terrain Tires for SUVs
Mud terrain tires are some of the most popular kinds of off-road tires. These tires are designed specifically for deep, slippery mud. They feature large tread voids, which allow the tires to pack with mud and gain traction.
Mud tires are the best choice for many parts of the country. But despite their popularity, they have some notable drawbacks, especially when used on pavement. They offer very poor road handling on pavement, and they also wear out exceptionally fast when used on the highway.
This is because mud tires use softer rubber than all-season tires, as they have to be more flexible. These features make them perform in harsh terrain where no other tire can. Mud tires also give SUVs a unique 'off-road-capable' look, which is a benefit in and of itself. But for primarily highway operation, it's best to avoid mud tires.
Rock Tires for SUVs
Rock tires look similar to mud tires at a distance. They're usually quite tall and have a large Sidewall, which is a key design feature of many off-road tires. However, rock tires are not designed for wet surfaces. Instead, their tread patterns are made to grip on the loose surfaces and also uneven hard surfaces.
The pros and cons of rock tires and mud tires are essentially the same. Like mud tires, rock tires wear out quickly when used on the highway. However, in environments such as mountainous roads and expedition trails, having a good set of rock tires on your SUV is an absolute necessity.
Most Economical SUV Tire
If you're looking for an affordable set of tires for your SUV, then consider all-season or summer tires. Summer tires are almost universally less expensive than any other variety, especially for SUVs. They're great on dry pavement and offer excellent traction.
However, if you live in a cold or wet area, you're better suited with an all-season tire. Due to their popularity, all-season tires are highly affordable and usually only cost 10% or 15% more than summer tires.
Michelin Pilot Sport 4 Tire
The Michelin Pilot Sport is an excellent example of a great all-around affordable SUV tire. This is one of the most popular tires on the market for all kinds of vehicles, including SUVs. They offer a long lifespan, great warranty, and the kind of performance that satisfies many SUV owners.
Michelin is one of the oldest and most well-known tire companies. As a result, most SUV owners regard their tires as high-quality and reliable. At first glance, these tires have fairly mild tread and wide bands. These features increase road contact, which provides positive traction on dry surfaces. They also shed rain effectively.
Michelin Pilot Sport tires can be purchased from Discount Tire for between $195 and $515 each, and they come with a 20,000-mile warranty.
Best SUV Tire For Longevity
All-season tires generally last the longest. These tires are designed for general-purpose use and contain a well-balanced rubber compound. All-season tires also maintain good road contact, which distributes wear along the whole tread area instead of concentrating it on larger, more spaced-out tread blocks.
Winter tires also benefit from increased road contact and use a stronger and more refined rubber composition. Winter tires last exceptionally long when compared to summer tires and are a good year-round choice for northern areas. However, they'll probably cost more than a comparable set of all-season tires.
Nokian WR G4 A/S Tire
Are you looking for the best all-season tire for your SUV? If so, the Nokian WR G4 is an excellent choice, and it comes with an astounding 60,000-mile warranty. It's commonly ranked as one of the best all-around tires for SUVs in all areas, and it's surprisingly affordable.
This asymmetric all-season tire is engineered for traction in most weather conditions, yet its minimal tread voids ensure a long lifespan and great dry-weather road grip. Additionally, it features large water-shedding channels closer to the outside of the wheel, which prolongs tire life.
Interestingly, this all-season tire is also suitable for winter conditions. It's not quite a 'snow tire,' but its unique tread compound and design make it grip well on snow and ice. According to the company, many people in colder areas can use these tires year-round and avoid time-consuming tire swaps.
Nokian WR G4 all-season tires are available on Discount Tire for between $140 and $267 each.
Best SUV Tire for Winter
Choosing an SUV tire for winter weather driving depends a lot on where you are and what kind of conditions you experience. For example, somebody who lives in a state with mild winters may want to consider an all-season with good winter performance, provided snow and ice aren't common.
However, colder and harsher conditions demand a true winter tire. Studded winter tires provide the best overall grip, and in states like Wyoming, you can use them year-round. However, many states ban studded tires during the summer, so a studless tire is the most flexible option.
Champiro IcePro Studded Tire
For harsh winter conditions, a studded tire is one of the best options. And the Champiro IcePro studded tire is a well-respected choice for SUVs that need superior traction on snow and ice. This tire is proven and surprisingly affordable and known for its long life and excellent performance in the snow.
Champiro IcePro tires are available on Discount Tire for between $92 and $164 each, depending on the size and type you choose.
Bridgestone Blizzak W965 Studless Tire
Studded winter tires aren't feasible in some locations. Thankfully, Bridgestone has a studless tire that performs remarkably well in the snow and sleet. The Blizzak is Bridgestone's popular flagship winter tire, and it's the perfect choice for almost any SUV.
Bridgestone developed a remarkably effective rubber compound for cold weather and applied it in tandem with snow-biting tread and dense sipes for superior winter traction. Additionally, these tires have a long lifespan and an excellent warranty.
You can buy a set of Bridgestone Blizzak W965 winter tires from Discount Tire for between $127 and $237 each.
Tips for Choosing an SUV Tire
Choosing a tire for your SUV can be challenging, as there are thousands of options on the market. Before going over your top choices, consider the following: what kind of conditions are you likely to encounter?
If you live in a rural area or if you enjoy camping, hiking, or off-roading, then an all-terrain tire is a reasonable choice. However, this changes if you live in a cold area that gets lots of snow. In this case, a winter tire is a necessity when the weather changes.
If you do a lot of highway driving, then an all-season or summer tire is the best choice. All-season tires last longer and give you flexibility and safety in rough weather. Additionally, most all-season tires are good enough to use on regular dirt and gravel roads.
But if you live in a wet and muddy area, then a mud tire is the best choice. Not only do mud tires look cool on SUVs, but mud tires are also the only kind of tire that can reliably get you through sticky clay and deep mud.
About THE AUTHOR
I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.Read More About Charles Redding