Imagine you are taking your truck or 4×4 off-roading on hard dirt, and the clouds above make good on the threat of rain. No problem, you think, the truck will be just fine. It’s fairly heavy, so some mud shouldn’t hamper your fun. Then the mud starts caking on your all-terrain tires. It won’t come off. Now the tires are just spinning in the mud, finding no purchase. Your truck is stuck.
Is it worth it to have multiple sets of tires for different conditions? If you intend to spend any significant amount of time not on pavement, the answer is probably yes. Let’s explore what advantages having different sets of tires gives you, and a few of the reasons that hold people back.
Chances are, if you are going off-roading, you will encounter mud. What’s the point of having a second set of tires just for mud? Mostly to avoid becoming stuck.
Mud tires are specifically designed to tackle loose soil, mud, sand, and rocks, using large tread blocks and wider, deeper voids between treads than on an all-terrain tire. This not only provides better traction, but the voids help mud slide out of the tire rather than caking on the surface. Of course, having the right tires is only useful if you also know mudding tactics, but the tires will make your fun day out much easier.
The Hankook Dynapro MT RT03, for example, has deep, off-set treads for better traction, and nylon belts inside the tire to provide extra durability.
The downside of mud tires is that they are not made for pavement. You are sacrificing a gentler ride for the ability to wade through mud and rocks. There are some all-terrain tires that have some of the features of a mud tire, but this hybrid will do neither mud or pavement as well as a tire meant for one or the other.
In the winter, snow can cover roads, and there may not be a plow in sight. Worse, there may be icy roads to contend with. This is to say nothing of intentionally going off-roading in the snow.
To combat these conditions, snow tires typically have squared-off shoulders, for the same reason mud tires have deeper treads – traction. Snow tires, too, have deep grooves, for siping off slush and water. Combined, these also help prevent lateral hydroplaning and sliding through snow.
Snow tires are designed to operate in 45-degree and under weather. Half-worn all-terrain tires won’t be nearly as efficient on a snow-covered road, and will be a safety hazard. Even compared to brand-new all-terrain tires, snow tires still win when trying not to get stuck in the middle of a residential street after almost a foot of snow dumped down from the clouds.
Unlike all-terrain tires, which can be used in the summer, snow tires use a different rubber compound that is more flexible, for more traction. These tires can still be used on dry pavement when the outside temperature is cold, but will wear out quickly in the summer.
The Hankook i*Pike RW11 is perfect for snowy conditions, with a high density of sipes for removing slush and water. The swept-back grooves also help keep the tire dry, preventing hydroplaning, while providing a better grip on ice.
Also of note, some tires come with studs for extra traction. These metal studs provide excellent traction on clear ice, and are best used in temperatures around freezing. It should be noted that studded tires do make the car harder to stop when there is no ice. Non-studded winter tires are best for snow and clear, dry roads below freezing. Studs come in both rubber and metal varieties.
Unlike winter tires, there are some restrictions on studded tires. Eleven states prohibit studded tires outright, while the vast majority only permit studded tires between set dates. Others only allow rubber studs. Six states have no restrictions.
Why Wouldn’t You Get Another Set of Tires?
There are two obvious answers – money and space. Since extra tire sets follow the “right tool for the job” idiom, it makes sense to buy a new set if you encounter either mud or snow at least part of the year, especially if you go off-roading. But there are drawbacks to getting entire new sets of tires for a specific purpose.
A new set of winter tires can put you back as much as $1,000. It’s a hefty price, considering you will need a new set of all-terrain tires for summer soon. But, this is offset by two factors.
First, since you are using winter tires during the winter, and all-terrain during the summer, both sets wear down slower, and will last longer. You were going to pay for a new set of tires anyway, this just shifts the purchasing timeline.
Almost as important as the cost is space, more specifically, space to store one or more sets of tires that won’t be in use for a portion of the year. Those who live in apartments suffer the most in this situation, while those with a house may simply not have any room in their garage.
For most cars, hauling around an extra set of tires is impractical. Just getting the tires to a retailer who will switch sets for you can be hard in smaller cars. If you are confident, you can switch the sets yourself, but you still have the issue of where to store the extra set.
Pros Outweigh Cons
If you can figure out a storage situation, the cost can be compared to insurance. What is your deductible? Is it more than buying a spare set? This is important, considering you could be in an accident because of the snow, for example, and have to pay for repairs – which could have been avoided if you had the better traction of snow tires. As it stands, in areas where snow is common, many already have a second set of snow tires, simply because it makes driving much easier during the cold months.
Mud tires, meanwhile, will not only enhance your off-roading experience, but will prevent you from getting stuck in the mud. This prevents your off-roading partner from having to winch you out, or calling for a tow truck if you are too stuck for a winch.
In short, while there are a few sticking points to having multiple sets of tires, the benefits more than outweigh the drawbacks.