Quality 4WD tyres are probably the easiest way to change how well a vehicle drives off road. A simple change of tread pattern will take a mildly capable 4WD to the next level, and have it going places you’d dream of taking it before. Anyone who’s ever gone from a set of normal highway terrain tyres to all terrains or mud terrains will back this up. It really transforms a 4WD. Beyond that, a quality tyre lasts longer, resists punctures and will deform correctly off road.
When it comes to picking tyres, its important that you pick a set that is going to suit your requirements. Fortunately for 4WD owners, you really only have two choices – All Terrains, or Mud Terrains. Now, some tyres fall into a bit of a grey area; you can get pretty aggressive all terrain tyres, and fairly mild mud terrain tyres, but at the end of the day they are one or the other.
Now, before I go any further, I will point out that a lot of tyre reviews are not very accurate, or reliable, and you need to do your own research. You can find out more about that here; Why 4WD tyre reviews aren’t accurate.
I’ve always run mud terrain tyres. I loved the traction that they had, the big blocks of rubber and their general hardiness. However, on our Isuzu Dmax, I finally caved and put a set of All Terrain Tyres on, and I’m wrapped with them.
I spent countless hours looking at different tyres, and was very close to installing muddies, but eventually was steered away from them. At the end of the day, its all about what you use your 4WD for. You won’t go wrong with mud terrain tyres or all terrains, but they will suit people differently, depending on how you use your 4WD.
Beyond that, no tyre is perfect, and a mud terrain tyre isn’t great in many situations. Likewise, all terrains are not as good in mud (obviously) and where you need maximum traction. However, they are a great compromise like the name would suggest.
What’s not good about Mud Terrain Tyres?
Muddies weigh more than all terrain tyres. They are built with thicker sidewalls, and more rubber, and as a result, often weigh 2.5 to 7kg more than their alternative all terrains. So what, I can already hear you saying. More weight means less payload, and more fuel consumed. 5Kg extra means 25 – 30kg that you lose from your payload, without even adding anything inside the 4WD.
Of course, the extra weight has some benefits; you get better puncture resistance due to the extra rubber, and they are often a hardier tyre. If you’ve not thought much about what your 4WD weighs, there are lots of good reasons to do so. Check this out – What does your 4WD weigh?
It’s important to remember that when you go to Bigger Tyres the weight also increases, due to more material being used. Couple larger tyres with a more aggressive tread and going from aluminium to steel rims and you can add a fair bit of weight to each corner.
Worse in almost every situation except Mud
I always thought that Mud Terrain tyres outperformed all terrain tyres in a variety of different ways. Turns out I was very wrong. Mud terrain tyres are better in mud, and some rock climbing, and that is it. They have worse grip on the road in the wet, and in the dry. They have worse grip on gravel, are noisier, use more fuel and are less comfortable. They also don’t last as long as all terrains.
Seriously, they are better than all terrains in Mud, some rock work and in puncture resistance, and that is it. As much as I like mud, its one of the worst terrains you can drive your 4WD through in terms of longevity. You can read more about this here; Mud; your 4WD’s worst enemy.
Worse fuel economy
You can’t make your aerodynamics worse and expect better fuel economy. More aggressive tread upsets the way air moves past your 4WD, and as a result mud terrain tyres use more fuel. That, and they weigh more, which means your motor has to work harder to turn them. They say every kg of weight that has to be rotated is the same as having 4 times that weight inside the 4WD.
In terms of fuel economy suffering, If you add 25- 30kg of tyre weight to your 4WD its the same as putting 4- 5 bags of cement in the back of your 4WD. That’s a lot of weight. The reason is pretty simple; your motor has to work harder to turn heavier tyres. Not sure how to work your fuel economy out? Find out here – How to work out your 4WD’s fuel economy.
If you can hear a whirring coming before you see a 4WD, there’s a pretty good chance its running mud terrain tyres (and even more likely that they haven’t worn well!). Muddies are noisier even when brand new, and it only gets worse. When the rubber hardens, and wears in a funny way (like scalloping) you get terrible whirring. I can hear 4WD’s from way down my street, long before I can see them, and its purely because of the big muddies being run.
For some people this isn’t an issue as they have an older vehicle where everything is louder, or they run music to overcome the noise. Modern 4WD’s are much quieter inside, and you will hear the muddies whirring without a doubt, unless you have your stereo cranked!
What’s best then?
If you are into hardcore 4WD tracks, and you love the mud, consider getting a set of mud terrain tyres. If however, you don’t spend a lot of time in the mud and do a lot of touring type travel, an all terrain tyre is going to perform better on average, save you money on fuel and last longer.
Ultimately, you have to pick and chose what you want to sacrifice. You will sacrifice some handling characteristics on a couple of terrains to get better traction on others, or vice versa. Some people are happy to put up with the noise and worse handling of Mud Terrain tyres on many surfaces to get the absolute best traction in really slippery surfaces, and that’s just fine.
If you live somewhere that receives a lot of rain, or you do a lot of rock work, the obvious choice is a muddy. However, if you are trying to avoid the rain and explore this amazing country then usually an all terrain is the obvious choice.
At the end of the day, you run what ever tyres you want. I eventually concluded that the puncture resistance of an all terrain was ample for my use, and that I could live with the 5% of the time where I’d find the muddies better, in return for a better tyre 95% of the time.
If you are seriously going to punish your tyres, and you love mud driving, and can live with the downsides, get a mud terrain tyre.
There are some amazing tyres coming out these days which are the best possible compromise between Mud Terrain tyres and All terrain tyres, like the Toyo RT. Buy the tyres that are going to suit you most, or get two sets and swap them around.
What tyres do you run? Do you love them or hate them? What’s better? Muddies or All Terrains?