How do you choose the best tire for your pickup? Tires are referred to as the shoes of your truck for a reason. Not only will your truck tires communicate your own sense of style, but it will be a foundational component of your intended truck performance in whatever adventure you seek. Is your adventure racing up dirt trails to seek secluded views, long over-the-road hauls on pavement, or something in between? Understanding where your path will take your truck, and the terrain conditions it may hold, is the foundation to selecting the right truck tire for the journey.
While there are many factors to take into account, understanding the standard convention for identifying tires will help point out some of the major aspects of a tire’s construction to take into consideration.
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Truck Tire Basics – Understanding the Code
The first step in how to choose the best tire for your pickup is understanding the code. All tires have an alphanumeric code molded into the side wall. While the standard will vary slightly depending on the tire’s global geographic region of origin, the code identifies tire type, tire size (nominal width and aspect ratio), tire construction, rim diameter, load index, and rated speed. Below is a diagram to help identify the code sequence and possible options.
The most common tire types for trucks will be Passenger (P) and Light Truck (LT). Most mid-size to full-size half ton trucks are issued from the factory with P type tires because they are designed for better ride comfort. Mid-size and full-size trucks include popular models like the Ford F-150, Ram 1500, Chevy Colorado, Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Titan, and Jeep Gladiator. LT tires are typically issued on full-size ¾ ton trucks or larger. Examples of the 3/4 ton trucks and larger include 2500 and 3500 series pickups such as Ford Super Duty F-250, Ram Power Wagons, Chevrolet Silverado 3500, and the GMC Sierra 2500. LT tires are constructed with thicker side walls than a passenger rated tire. The result is less ride comfort but a higher rated load index.
Tire width is the nominal dimension measured from one sidewall to the other. The number shown can be in inches or millimeters. Millimeters are the most common. This dimension should loosely correlate to the rim width.
The Aspect Ratio (A) equals the Sidewall Height (H) divided by the Tire Width (W). By multiplying the Aspect Ratio by the Tire Width, you can identify the sidewall height and, by extension, the overall tire outer diameter. The taller the sidewall, the more impact absorption and protection against rim damage from curbs, potholes, and debris. Too high of an aspect ratio (resulting in a taller, narrower tire) will result in a decrease in handing ability due to the sidewall flex. Tires with a smaller aspect ratio will typically weigh less and generate less rolling resistance, resulting in better fuel efficiency, but will be less forgiving in harsh terrain.
Tire Construction Type
This part of the code identifies the basic geometry of the tire ply construction.
B: bias belt (where the sidewalls are the same material as the tread)
R: radial (most common)
Note: if this code is omitted, it is a cross-ply tire.
The Rim Diameter number (typically shown in inches in the US) specifies the outer nominal diameter of the tire mounting surface of the wheel rim.
The load index is the rated load capacity per tire at a specific air pressure. The alphanumeric code on the tire correlates to a specific load rating in a table created by the manufacturer. Some LT tires will have two alphanumeric codes separated by a “/”. The second of the two alphanumeric codes identifies the rated load should a vehicle with a dual tire configuration have a tire fail. It is important to note that any new tire you select should, at a minimum, match the vehicle manufacturer recommendation. This should also be higher than the vehicle’s gross vehicle weight rating.
You will find the OEM recommended minimum tire load index inside the driver door jam.
Similar to the load index, the speed rating on the tire is an alphanumeric code that correlates to a table produced by the manufacturer that identifies the maximum rated speed. It is important to note the speed ratings do not increase alphabetically. Be sure to reference the manufacturer table.
Tread Patterns and Types
Now that we have covered the basic aspects of tire sizing, construction, and performance ratings, the next step in how to choose the right pickup tires is understanding the tread design options. The parameters discussed above are fairly truck size dependent. Tire tread type is your opportunity to customize your truck performance for your adventure. Tread design will affect tread life, fuel economy, road noise, and most importantly, traction capability. When choosing a tire, there are (3) major tread patterns to consider: Highway Terrain, All Terrain, and Mud Terrain.
Highway Terrain (HT)
Built for the road warriors and daily commuters, tires with highway terrain are specifically designed to give you maximum comfort, control, and performance on paved roads. Highway terrain tires are constructed with harder materials featuring shallower tread depths. This creates a tire that emits less noise, is more fuel efficient, and typically wears evenly, resulting in a longer tread life. All season tires are popular to ensure proper traction and road performance all year round. HT tires are offered at a lower price than the other tread types. Lower price point, increased tread life, and better road comfort all culminate to the best bang for buck tire tread to consider.
All Terrain (AT)
Looking for a versatile tire that is ready for almost any adventure? Look no further than the all terrain tires. Built for the weekend warriors and truck drivers who value reliability and performance in almost any condition. This tire is just as at-home racing up dirt and gravel roads as it is on the pavement. The AT tire is made with moderately softer materials, deeper tread depth, and larger shoulder blocks. Unfortunately this results in lower fuel efficiency, reduced service life, and a tendency to emit more noise. At a higher price point these tradeoffs may not seem appealing, but this is the most popular truck tread type. It’s obvious that most truck drivers value versatile performance above all else, and I don’t disagree!
Mud Terrain (MT)
For the those looking to spend more time off road than on paved roads, a mud terrain tire will get you nearly anywhere. MT tires are built with with soft compounds, thick sidewalls, deep tread depth, and large shoulder blocks – or, as an enthusiast might say, they’re meaty. Due to their heavy duty construction, many MT tires will sport an LT rating. Additionally, their construction will promote lower fuel efficiency, have decreased tread life, and generate louder road noise. MT tires typically have larger widths and higher aspect ratios to allow for greater flex at lower tire pressures. This improves the tire’s ability to grip uneven surfaces, helps protect the rim from damage, and provides a larger outer diameter to increase ground clearance.
MT tires are fine to be driven on pavement. Their softer material and aggressive tread will have accelerated uneven wear, reducing their service life. As generally the most expensive tread type, MT are often reserved for dedicated off road vehicles.
Changing Your Tire Size – Considerations
Truck manufacturers typically choose the best tire to optimize mileage and driving comfort. It is common to select a different tire size when replacing the OEM provided tire. While larger tires can increase ground clearance, drivers should take into consideration wheel well clearance, changes in the vehicle’s center of gravity, and the effects to drivetrain and steering components. If your tire is more than 3″ larger than the OEM provided tire, consider lift kits (see our list of best lift kits for Ram 2500) and other suspension modifications (see our list of best shocks for Ram 1500) to improve the stability of the truck and reduce negative impacts to the drivetrain and steering components.
Any tire diameter size change will also impact the accuracy of your speedometer and odometer. Most modern trucks incorporate an electronic adjustment. Consult your owner’s manual for instructions, and you can read our post about calibrating your Chevy speedometer for larger tires.
When is it Time for New Tires?
The U.S. Department of Transportation mandates replacing tires when they reach a tread depth of 2/32”. Many tires include wear bars that indicate when the tread has worn and should be replaced. Some states will require a greater depth than this during the winter months. Visit your local state department of transportation to review local traction requirements laws. Be mindful of your terrain and weather conditions. Replacing your tires is always cheaper than an accident that could have been avoided with proper tire traction.
Whatever your adventure, there is a tire that is right for you and your truck. To ensure driver and passenger safety, evaluate your tire load index, size, speed rating, and terrain conditions. Be sure to review tire manufacturer warranties and rated tread life when evaluating tire value. Choose the best tire for your pickup adventure!