Maybe you’ve driven past a two-track road and felt the pull of adventure, or you’ve unceremoniously discovered the limitations of your street tires by giving in to that off-road adventure… (“Hey man, it’s me again. You still have that tow strap?”)
Perhaps your OE truck or SUV tires are wearing out and it’s time for an upgrade. For one reason or another, you’ve decided that it’s time to up the versatility factor and realize the full potential of your 4×4 with a set of all-terrain or mud-terrain tires.
But the question is, how aggressive do you want to go? Will all-terrain tires allow for enough off-road fun, or are mud-terrain tires required if you really want to go off the beaten path?
As with many other tire-buying decisions, there’s no “right” answer. The choice of all-terrain or mud-terrain comes down to your personal driving contexts and intended uses, as well as your tolerance for the daily on-road compromise in exchange for off-road proficiency.
Let’s begin with the important intended use factor –
Personal honesty is important here. Like many other enthusiasts, we may have Dakar Rally daydreams, but often the only sand we encounter was dispersed by plow trucks. If you’re in the same boat and willing to admit it, then an all-terrain tire is the most likely fit.
This advice offered by the subject matter experts at BF Goodrich is worth paying attention to: They suggest that if you split time on-road and off-road (50/50), then an all-terrain tire like the BF Goodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 is a good choice. If you spend the majority of your time off-road (80%+), then you’ll want to step up to a tire like the BF Goodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM2.
Can you take the Mud-Terrain T/A KM2 and similar tires out on the open road more than 20% of the time? Sure, but not without compromise. Reaching the pinnacle of tire performance in any one area almost always requires performance sacrifice elsewhere.
Take a road trip with dedicated mud-terrain tires and you’re likely to experience at least a couple of those compromises:
- Increased noise. Bulky tread blocks and significant tread depths aren’t conducive to quietness on pavement.In Europe, tires are evaluated according to noise levels. Dedicated mud-terrain tires are exempt from this testing, but where select off-road tires have been evaluated they are notably noisier than most all-terrain tires, which in turn are noisier than street-oriented truck/SUV tires.
You probably don’t need objective decibel data to know this, though. Most everyone has heard the “hummm-wahwahwahwah” (trademark pending) of a mud-terrain tire roll by.
- Decreased fuel economy. Additional energy is required to motivate that bulky mud-terrain tread to get (and keep) rolling, and so a drop in fuel economy is almost inevitable. Test data demonstrates that a ~3% drop in fuel economy is possible when comparing all-terrain tires to all-season truck/SUV tires. Mud-terrain tires are another step down on the efficiency scale.
- Tire manufacturers’ mileage warranties are another thing you’ll generally have to sacrifice with a more rugged mud-terrain tire. Take a look at the examples below – the first tire in each set below is an all-terrain tire; the second is a mud-terrain tire.
- Falken Wildpeak A/T3W: up to 55,000 miles
- Falken Wildpeak M/T: n/a
- Nitto Terra Grappler G2: up to 65,000 miles
- Nitto Trail Grappler M/T: n/a
So mud-terrain tires are a compromise on-road, but are all-terrain tires equally compromised in an off-road environment? In other words, are the “all-terrain” classification and more prominent tread characteristics really just window dressing?
As of the writing of this article, the all-terrain tire category has never been better. Manufacturers have responded to increasing consumer demand for balanced on-road/off-road 4×4 tires with truly excellent, versatile all-terrain products, including many tires that are undeniably capable off-road.
The aforementioned BF Goodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 is renowned for its off-road capabilities. We experienced dramatic off-road performance improvement (and very little compromise) after transitioning from an OE all-season SUV tire to the Continental TerrainContact A/T. Recently at an off-road park, we had more fun than should be legally permitted with the Cooper Discoverer A/T3. And while we didn’t conquer the punishing mud pits or rock gardens, just about every vehicle with mud-terrain tires that did was brought in on a trailer – seems like that tells us something.
To add to the all-around appeal of modern all-terrain tires, many now meet the objective standards for winter/snow performance as set by the Rubber Manufacturers Association and the Rubber Association of Canada. The “Mountain Snowflake” symbol distinguishes these all-terrain options.
In conclusion, if you’re pondering the question of all-terrain vs mud-terrain at all, then it’s likely that you spend enough time on-road to really benefit from the more civilized characteristics of an all-terrain tire. The current status and health of the all-terrain tire category should probably motivate drivers who split their time on-road and off-road to consider one of the many excellent all-terrain tire options.
But hey, if you’re one of those ranchers depicted in the truck commercials, or if you live for limitless off-road adventure and aren’t intimidated by on-road compromise – go for the mud terrain tires.