There are three things you need to go muddin’:
- Usually you want a 4×4
- Adult beverages
- A good set of tires designed to run in the mud
Tires designed for mud usually have big tread blocks with lots of space between and are usually designated as “mud” tires or perhaps “M+S” (mud and snow tires). But there’s more to choosing a good muddin’ tire than just looking at the tread and the designation on the sidewall.
First, Remember That You Have a LOT of Options
Up until just a couple of decades ago, mudders had only a few viable tire options. Today, the combination of affordable imported tires and advanced manufacturing makes it possible for dozens of companies to offer tires designed for the mud in a wide variety of sizes.
In fact, all these choices can get overwhelming. It doesn’t help that every tire manufacturer claims their tires are “the best choice” for off-roading or that they all develop their own nomenclature for tread design, tire design, etc. Still, if you have the right process, choosing a tire will be easy.
What’s Your Budget?
When choosing a mud tire, budget is going to be your biggest limiting factor. If you’ve got an unlimited budget, you can turn your 4×4 into a monster truck, complete with 66″ tires. If you can’t spend more than $500 for a new set of tires, on the other hand, you better take whatever fits.
But regardless, choosing a tire should start with a budget decision. If a set of beadlock rims are necessary to mount the tires you want, you’re looking at a $2500+ expense for four beadlock rims and tires. If you’ve got 28″ tires and want to upgrade to 33″ tires, you’ll want to install a lift kit of some kind. Etc.
Also, when budgeting a new set of tires (and associated upgrades), don’t forget about:
- Labor, if you’re going to pay someone else to install a lift kit, upgraded axle, etc.
- Mount and balance expenses (depending on tire size, you may need to find a specialty shop)
- A set of balance beads (again, depending on size, this can be the only way to balance very large tires)
- Wheel alignment (required whenever you modify the suspension) and speedometer correction (a good idea whenever you alter the OEM wheel size more than 3%)
- A taller, upgraded differential or – if you go more than 3-4 inches over the stock tire – an upgraded axle
- Taxes, shipping, TPMS (tire pressure monitoring sensors), and – depending on your state laws – a set of mudflaps (which are required in some states for any vehicle with aggressive tires)
We don’t want to bring you down here talking about all these expenses, but it’s important to make sure that you know what to expect.
How Big Do You Want To Go?
At the top of the list, we’ve got 66″ monster truck tires. At the bottom, we’ve got a set of stock OEM tires. In between, there are tire options that you can mount on your vehicle with no modifications, and then tires that require varying degrees of modification to install.
Generally speaking, you can increase any vehicle’s maximum stock tire size 3% in height and/or width without penalty. However, every vehicle with stock tires is different. For example:
- A newer JK can accommodate tires up to 33″, with the width of the tire depending on whether or not you have stock rims. This is just about 3% more than the max stock size.
- A new 2015 F150 can’t accommodate a tire taller than 32″ unless a lift kit or leveling kit is installed. A simple 2″ leveling kit, for example, will create enough clearance to run 33″ tall tires, with width depending on rim size. Some people install 35″ tires with a leveling kit, choosing to cut away some underbody trim that would cause rubbing.
- A 5th gen Toyota 4Runner (2009 or newer) can accommodate 32.5″ tall tires without any sort of lift, only you might have to get rid of your mud flaps to do it. Otherwise, 32″ is the practical limit. This is less than 3% greater than the max stock size.
So, basically, you can’t go more than 3% larger than the largest tire available without investing in some sort of lift, and you might not even be able to go that much. Therefore, a tire upgrade usually means that you’re installing a lift kit.
Once you start lifting vehicles, your tire options open up. If you decide to mount a new set of rims, tire size options increase even further. In fact, we would go so far as to say that you should always consider replacing your stock wheels if you’re going to do any kind of lift (even a leveling kit), as after-market wheels can usually accommodate wider tires, and that’s very important for mudding.
Can You Go To Big?
In a word, yes. How big is too big? That’s up to you, but here are some of the disadvantages of going with big tires…and these disadvantages get worse the bigger you go:
Bigger tires accelerate more slowly, partially because they’re heavier, but mostly because they’re taller. Increasing tire size is the same as reducing the axle ratio, which usually means your vehicle is a little slower off the line. The difference isn’t huge, but it’s noticeable if you’re a racer.
Bigger tires burn more gas, with most people reporting a 1-2mpg decrease in fuel economy after installing any sort of upgraded tire. Part of the reason is that aggressive tread tires have higher rolling resistance, and part of the reason is that larger tires change the aerodynamics of your vehicle.
Bigger tires stress your suspension and drive line, especially if you’ve got big tires on a mostly stock vehicle. A late model JK with 35″ tires, for example, almost always needs an axle upgrade. Otherwise, the stock Dana 35 will eventually fail from the strain of the over-sized tires. A set of big tires can also cause damage to stock steering mechanisms, especially on heavy-duty trucks.
NOTE: If you stay within 3% of the largest stock OEM tire size, the odds of you having a problem with your vehicle’s suspension or drive line are minimal.
Bigger tires wear faster, to the point where most dedicated off-road vehicles are hauled on a trailer to and from the trail/mud pit. Otherwise, the hard asphalt roadway will destroy the soft tread blocks in a matter of months.
Are You Really Muddin’ or Just Gettin’ A Little Dirty?
You want to go mudding – we get that – but there’s a difference between diving into a giant mud pit:
and tackling a muddy section of a standard off-road trail:
If you’re going to the mud pit, you want massive tires that offer some level of flotation. You need beadlock rims to mount these tires. You’re probably going to want to invest in a major axle upgrade. You might want to swap out portions of the factory suspension for a setup that’s more rugged (like swapping out an IFS for a solid axle). You probably want to haul your vehicle on a trailer, as it won’t be particularly stable at highway speeds, and the tires will wear out on the highway too fast anyways.
But if you want to tackle a muddy off-road trail, you can probably do that in a mostly stock 4×4 with a set of good off-road tires. You might get stuck if you’re too aggressive, but if you go with a couple of friends and bring along a winch or recovery strap, you won’t be stuck for long.
OK, Now It’s Time To Choose A Tire
You’ve determined your budget, weighed the pros and cons of buying over-sized tires, and made an honest assessment of the kind of muddin’ you’re actually going to do. Here’s how you find a good tire:
- If you’re looking for a tire that will work on a mostly stock vehicle, and that will be capable both off-road and during your daily commute, you want an All Terrain tread style.
- If you’re willing to trade some on-road performance for some off-road ability, so called “Maximum Traction” or “Mud Terrain” radial tires (which usually have the marking “M+S” on their sidewall) are fine. Just understand that they’re going to wear out quickly (25k miles or less) if you drive them on the highway, and that they’re going to hurt your gas mileage. But they’ll be great in most off-road situations and they’ll be acceptable on the road.
- If you’re looking for a serious mud tire and don’t care about wear, gas mileage, or road manners, you’ll want to go with the biggest bias ply tire you can mount on your vehicle. Usually, these tires are 39.5″ or bigger.
Other Things to Keep In-Mind
Last but not least, a handful of tips for tire shoppers:
- Don’t shop by appearance or hype. There are some so really cool looking tires out there, and there are some tire brands that do a great job of marketing themselves as “cool,” but a cool name and/or good style mean precisely zero when you’re stuck. Invest in performance instead.
- Check reviews. This is such a valuable source when shopping for tires. What your fellow mudders have to say about a tire means more than what a manufacturer has to say about their own tire.
- Don’t trust wear ratings, at least not completely. Tread wear ratings are helpful when comparing similar sized tires with similar tread types, but they’re not 100% accurate when comparing one brand to another. This is because each tire manufacturer can measure their tread wear ratings themselves, and because they extrapolate wear from a small sample, there’s a LOT of room for inconsistency.
- Practice good tire maintenance after the purchase. Once you get the tires on, do what you can to make them last. Check tire pressure religiously, avoid taxing the tires on hard pavement (no hard cornering, no peeling out), and rotate the tires more often than you think you should. Also, if your vehicle needs an alignment, do it ASAP. Few things ruin a tire faster than poor alignment and uneven wear.
Now go forth and get your tires, the mud bogs await!