Trucks are versatile vehicles with numerous on and off-road tire options. But how do you choose the right tires for your truck?
For cold climates, studded and studless winter truck tires are the best option for rear-wheel-drive pickups. Mud terrain tires work well for off-roading in wet climates, whereas rock tires are great for the mountains. All-season highway tires are ideal for highway driving.
In this article, we’ll go over each major type of truck tire to help you choose the best for your pickup and driving style. Additionally, we’ll compare off-road tires, fuel economy, tire longevity, and tire types. We’ll cover the best kinds of tires for 1/2-ton, 3/4-ton, and 1-ton trucks, along with wheel and tire sizes for compact pickups.
We sourced the information used in this article from automakers and tire manufacturers. Additionally, we drew off the experiences of truck owners to find the best tire types and sizes for different vehicles.
How Are Truck Tires Different?
Truck tires are larger and taller than car tires. They have taller sidewalls, as they’re an integral part of the ride comfort of the truck. Pickup trucks have a greater ability to absorb bumps and greater ground clearance to increase their load carrying capabilities.
How to Decode Truck Tire Sizes
Truck tire sizes are easy to understand once you learn what the numbers mean. Let’s use a typical 225/75R15 tire as an example. The first number, 225, is the width of the tire in millimeters.
The second number, 75, is the aspect ratio. That means the height of the tire is 75% of the width. The larger the aspect ratio, the taller the sidewall is. Taller sidewalls are found more often on older trucks with smaller wheels.
The letter R stands for radial—if there’s a dash in place of the R, it’s probably a bias-ply tire. We’ll get into that later. The number after the R, which is 15, denotes the wheel size in inches.
So this P225/75R15 is a radial tire that has a width of 225 millimeters, an aspect ratio (or sidewall height) of 75%, and fits on a 15-inch rim.
Bias Ply and Radial Truck Tires
Bias-ply tires used to be the preferred choice for pickup trucks, and they were used frequently until the 1990s. If you ever visit a junkyard or see an old farm truck in a field, there’s a good chance it’s equipped with bias-ply tires.
Bias-ply tires use rubber reinforced with strands of fabric running across each other. Think of it as cloth that's woven into rubber. These strands act like rebar in concrete and give the tire rigidity. Bias-ply tires, when new, are perfectly safe—but radials have greater puncture resistance.
Radial tires are by far the most common today. Radials use reinforcing strands too, but they also have a strong steel band around the tread to prevent puncture and give the tire its shape. If you’re buying a new set of tires for a truck, there’s a 99% chance they’ll be radials.
Big Rims on Modern Trucks
Modern trucks have much larger rims than older trucks did, and this is true across the board. Modern truck tires are wider and have thinner side walls than earlier trucks. This increases traction, fuel economy and works better with modern truck suspension.
Here’s an example. A stock 1981 half-ton Chevy truck came with 15-inch steel wheels. A brand new Chevy truck optioned out the same exact way (single cab, base model) comes with a minimum of 18-inch wheels, and some models have 19-inch or 20-inch wheels.
So, what effect does this have on the ride and driving characteristics of the truck? For one, it’s a rougher ride. Old trucks used large tires to help the suspension absorb shock. It’s part of the reason why they had a ‘floaty’ feel on the highway.
Additionally, it hampers off-road capabilities for the same reason. But on pavement, where most new trucks live, large wheels and wide tires have a clear advantage.
Types of Truck Tires
Pickup trucks have the most versatile tire options on the market. You can get almost any wheel and tire combination for any kind of driving. But which is best, and what tires should you choose for your truck? Here are the most common types of truck tires and what they’re made for.
Highway tires are what you get when you go to the tire shop and say, “just put some new shoes on it.” Highway tires are medium-tread radial tires that are designed for use on pavement. They’re cheap, basic, and work well in standard driving conditions.
But what are highway tires? Are they all-terrain or all-season tires? It depends—and usually, they’re all-season or summer tires. Below, we’ll differentiate between the two and show you which is best for your truck.
Summer tires are inexpensive and provide excellent dry-weather traction. They have a non-aggressive tread pattern with lots of road contact, which reduces stopping distances and increases fuel economy. Summer tires are also great for performance trucks.
Summer tires have relatively soft rubber, which causes them to wear out a bit faster than winter tires or all-season tires. That said, they provide a comfortable ride and safety in good weather.
Summer tires are ideal for hot or dry climates, such as southern Arizona, New Mexico, and California. They’re also popular in the South, though frequent rains make them less ideal in this region.
All-season tires are the best all-around highway tire for most regions. All-season, or A/S tires, are made with several design tradeoffs that make them a great medium between summer and winter tires.
They have a stronger rubber compound and deeper tread, which makes them superior for wet surfaces and even light snow. They’re safe on hot days, cold days, rainy days—and everything in between.
The downside of all-season tires is that they’re not ideal for real winter weather. They’re better than summer tires in light snow but too stiff and slippery for full-on northern winter use. As a result, all-season tires are ideal for driving in all but the coldest and snowiest states.
Truck Tires for Snow and Ice
Winter tires seem like a miracle when compared to summer tires. These tires are completely different in almost every way. Winter tires use a special rubber blend that keeps them soft in cold weather, as suppleness is key to traction on snow and ice.
Additionally, the tread is designed to grip on packed snow and to reduce stopping distances and hydroplaning on slush and ice. And it makes a huge difference in safety and performance.
Winter tires are especially important for trucks, which tend to default to rear-wheel-drive. Trucks are particularly prone to spinning out on wet surfaces, and a good set of winter tires can help the lightweight rear end stay on track and avoid fishtailing.
Studded Winter Tires
Most winter tires are studless, meaning the tread is just rubber. But for severe winter weather, studded tires are the way to go. Studded tires have steel contact points embedded into the tread, kind of like soccer cleats.
Studded tires offer the best performance on ice, as they break the thin layer on top of the pavement and create traction. These tires are ideal for trucks in northern states like Montana and Wyoming. But there are a few key downsides.
Studded tires cause lots of road wear, especially on heavy pickup trucks. They’re banned seasonally in some states, which means you’ll have to remove them after each winter. This is why studded tires fall short in many regions, and it may be worth investing in a high-quality set of studless truck tires.
All-Terrain Truck Tires
All-terrain tires are the most popular ‘hybrid’ tire for trucks, as they provide a good combination of on and off-road traction. These tires are designed to grip on dirt and gravel, but their tread isn’t too soft or too aggressive for long highway drives.
All-terrain tires have a noticeably wider tread pattern than highway tires, which is why they’re easy to distinguish. They cost about the same as a good all-season truck tire, and they’re great in most weather conditions.
Just because all-terrain tires have more tread doesn’t mean they’ll be safer than winter tires in the snow. Quite the contrary—especially for trucks. However, they tend to perform better on snow than most types of highway tires. Just make sure they’re rated for cold temperatures.
Trucks are built to go off-road. They have superior clearance, tougher suspension, and often heavy-duty 4-wheel-drive systems. But without the right tires, a truck is just waiting to get stuck in the mud or slide back down the hill. Here are the different types of off-road tires for trucks.
Truck Tires for Mud
Mud tires, or mud-terrains (M/T), are a popular option for lifted trucks. They have an aggressive tread pattern, they’re big, and they look super cool. But what sets mud-terrain tires apart from other off-road tires?
For one, mud-terrain tires have super wide tread and deep crevices in between. They are designed to work more like paddlewheels or tank tracks and provide both traction and thrust in loose, sticky mud.
The tread gaps are also big enough to prevent sticky mud from turning the tires into drag slicks. Mud tires are the best option for areas with clay, frequent rainfall, and sticky soil. Mud tires also tear up fields with ease, so don’t use them on grass that you care about.
Truck Tires for Gravel and Rocks
But what about dry climates with gravel, rocks, and loose soil? Rock tires are the best choice. These tires are designed for climbing both hard and loose terrain, and they’re an excellent choice for dirt roads in the mountains.
Rock tires are tough as nails. They have reinforced rubber throughout, tougher tread, and puncture-resistant sidewalls to prevent sharp rocks from slicing them open. These tires, while useless on ice and slush, are ideal for deserts and steep off-road trails.
Do Trucks Have Run-Flat Tires?
Run-flat tires, also known as ZP (zero-pressure) tires, are designed to be used for limited distances if they go flat. These tires are popular on new production sedans and coupes, as these vehicles have omitted a spare tire or inflator kit for quite some time.
But what about trucks? Can you drive on flat truck tires, and are they a popular installation on new-production pickups? Nope! Run-flat tires are rarely found on new or used trucks because virtually every conventionally-powered new pickup comes with a spare.
But you can buy run-flat tires for some trucks if you really want to. But why? Trucks are heavy and somewhat unwieldy on the road. Do you really want to drive 50 mph in a pickup truck with a flat tire? It’s not the safest idea—and you probably have a perfectly good spare under the truck bed.
Tires for Compact Trucks
So, what are the best tires for compact pickup trucks like the pre-2005 Tacoma, Ford Ranger, and Nissan Frontier? These trucks, when configured in a 2-wheel-drive, get the best fuel economy and traction from summer tires or all-season tires.
These vehicles usually have the same size wheels as earlier half-ton pickups. With a 15-inch steel or alloy wheel, you can run virtually any type of tire in 225/70R15, 225/75R15, or similar sizes. This includes A/T and A/S tires.
Tires for Midsize Trucks
Mid-sized trucks are the next generation of compact trucks. Vehicles like the 2005-current Toyota Tacoma, the new Chevy Colorado, and the new Ford Ranger fall into this category. These vehicles now use wheels similar in size to modern full-size trucks and thus require tire sizes like P255/65R17 or P265/60R18.
Mid-sized trucks with big wheels can accommodate all kinds of tires except giant mud-terrain and rock tires. There are off-road tires available for these vehicles, but the larger ones need spacers or a lift kit to fit and avoid rubbing.
Tires for Half-Ton Trucks
Half-ton or 1/2-ton trucks have the most numerous tire options because they’re the most popular kind of truck. Half-ton trucks include the F150, the Silverado 1500, Sierra 1500, Ram 1500, C10, F100, and so on.
Half-ton trucks can run any kind of tire that fits on their rims. Typically, half-ton trucks have rims no smaller than 15 inches and no bigger than 20 inches in diameter. The larger the rim, the wider the tire (usually). These trucks usually have five-lug wheels.
Tires for 3/4-Ton and 1-Ton Trucks
Three-quarter ton trucks include the F250, Ram 2500, Silverado 2500, C20, and so on. These vehicles have stiffer suspension and eight-lug wheels, which are generally wider than half-ton truck wheels.
Many 3/4-ton trucks have greater ground clearance, which means you can run larger tires without modifying the suspension.
A stock 2002 Ford F250 has 16-inch wheels with a 7-inch diameter. A truck like this can run tires as large as 285/75R16s without any trouble and possibly up to 305s with a bit of rubbing.
One-ton trucks like the F350 and Ram 3500 are configured much like 3/4-ton trucks and accept many of the same wheels and tires.
However, some of them have even larger wheels and fit bigger tires from the factory. For example, a stock 2005 Ram 3500 with 17-inch wheels can fit 315/70R17 tires or larger without a lift.
Tires for Classic Trucks
Many classic truck owners choose to run bias-ply tires for originality. Classic trucks, especially those built before 1988, run much thinner and taller tires than modern trucks.
A stock 1965 Ford F100 came from the factory with skinny 215/75-15 bias-ply tires—despite using the same 15x7-inch rim as much later trucks.
You can purchase replica skinny bias-ply tires, radials that look like bias-ply tires, and whitewalls of various types for your classic truck. There are no rules against using replica tires, as long as they’re actually made for the road.
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