Let us talk for a second about tires. This can be a touchy subject for some. The discussion about which tire is best often leads to fist fights and head locks. I hope to avoid that in this article. This type of passion is understandable because tires are important; they get you where you need to go. Without them, driving would be a lot louder and commute times would be much worse unless you drive a Choo-choo train.
Just like other articles I've written, this is my opinion of what I found worked well for me. I hope you find this information informative and helpful.
There is no "perfect tire" that performs flawlessly in all occasions and conditions. Certainly, some tires do better than others across a wide range of environments, but there is not a perfect tire for everything. It all comes down to what you need them to do and where you are taking them.
Finding the right tire for you and your adventure can be a daunting task and one that you figure out through trial and error unless you need a particular type of tire for a specific kind of environment (snow, mud, race, road, sand, etc). Specialty tires do one job well, but if you give them a different job, it can lead to failure and an expensive phone call to a tow truck.
First, before choosing a tire, try to identify your adventure and some of the places it might take you. Next, try to find a tire that can accomplish multiple jobs while going from one environment to another.
This is the method I used when selecting my first set of tires for the FJ, which were 285/70/17 Toyo Open Country A/T II, mounted on stock rims. At first, I was happy, but as I added miles on them, my opinion changed. They were good for road use but wore quicker than I was expecting. Off-road, they seemed to hurt more than they helped,
especially in muddy terrain, which we have a lot of down south. On the positive side, they were quiet and did not affect my fuel economy much.
I put around 23,000 miles on them before deciding to change. I'm not saying the Toyos were bad tires. Numerous people have told me that those same tires met or exceeded their expectations. I'm simply saying they weren't right for me at the time.
I wanted a tire that was more aggressive but also had a decent life span. Now that I had a better idea of what I was looking for, I have revisited the above-mentioned process of selecting a tire that suited my needs.
After doing some research, I became interested in the Nitto Trail Grappler. I decided to pull the trigger on five new 295/70/17 Nitto Trail Grapplers, which were mounted on stock rims.
Right away, I noticed how heavy they were, which negatively affected my fuel mileage. Not a big deal driving around town, but the old pocketbook took a hit after taking long road trips (10,000+ miles). Where I would spend extra money on gas, I would later save on tire repairs or replacements.
I remember running a trail in Texas where myself and two other rigs hit something protruding out of a small dirt wall. All of us hit our passenger side tires on this object. Once we reached the top of the hill, one rig had two flat passenger side tires, and the other had one. The sidewalls on all three tires were gashed open. I don't remember what tires they were running, but I know they weren't Nittos.
I looked at mine and saw visible rub marks, but no penetration. Of course, there is a lot that needs to be taken into consideration to make it a fair comparison. Some things to consider would be the difference in speed, tire pressure, sidewall thickness, the way the object hit, etc. Nonetheless, I was still impressed with how well they took the hit and held air.
When you go off road, it helps to air the tires down some. By doing this it allows for a larger "footprint," which helps the tire move around an object that could puncture it and allows for a more comfortable ride across rough terrain. I would occasionally air down more than I probably should, especially on stock rims. There were a few times I would drop down to 10-12 PSI (pounds per square inch). I would run them fairly hard at the lower PSI and put the tires in hard angles without popping a bead or causing other issues.
In Texas, while at the 2016 Lone Star Toyota Jamboree, I got a little crazy on a trail (too much Mountain Dew) and almost put the FJ on her roof. When I came to a stop, the front end was down, and the rear end was getting Jordan hang time. The steering wheel pinned hard passenger and most of the weight of the FJ was on the front passenger tire. The incline angle caused water to leak out of my cooler, onto the passenger floorboards and
pour out of the passenger door. People watching from the side didn't know if something had spilled or if I peed a little…they were correct with both assumptions!
The only way out of this situation was forward. I could feel the tension in the steering wheel but did not know just how much of a bind the passenger wheel was in until looking at pictures later. To this day I am still amazed that I did not break anything or at a minimum, pull the tire off the rim. Needless to say, it was an exhilarating experience and one that I won't soon forget.
In the top left picture, you can see the tire is folded up and touching the rim. In the top right picture, you can see the water pouring out from the door. There were other times I should have popped a bead but did not. I'm not sure how much of it was tire performance or luck. Either way, I am impressed at how well they held a bead at low to medium PSI, especially on stock rims.
Some people could tell you; I was known for wheeling (off-road) in two-wheel drive when I probably should have been in four-wheel drive. I know that's not always the best for the transmission and other components, but I wanted to see how far she would go without help from the front tires.
The FJ did well in wet, muddy or snowy terrain in two-wheel drive. There were several times I could feel the tires biting (getting traction) and pulling me through without hesitation. A few times, it seemed like the FJ was having fewer issues than others who were in four-wheel drive. Some of those same rigs were running different tires. I'm not saying my tires were directly responsible for the success, but in my opinion, they did play a large part.
When I needed to put it in four-wheel drive in those same environments, I usually didn't have any problems. I wasn't that concerned about getting stuck because of a tire issue; I was more concerned about it being a driver issue. If I did get stuck or had a problem with an obstacle while wheeling, it was usually caused by me taking the wrong line, not enough momentum or getting hung up on said obstacle.
To me, the tires did well everywhere I put them. I had them in rain, snow, mud, sand (hard and soft packed), gravel, loose dirt, and whatever else I drove through on my adventures. If there was a place I wanted to go, I went. I had all the faith in the world that my tires would get me there and back. My driving, now that's a different story.
I also noticed they held together well. Rocky or other hard/sharp environments can cause a tire to lose pieces of its tread or lugs. Some know this as "chunking." Although I did see this happen with my tires, the "chunking" did not seem as horrific as with other tires. Again, not a fair comparison because I do not know all the conditions the other tires were in or tire compounds used. This opinion is just an observation I made while visually comparing tires.
I attribute the success of the tires to how well they cleaned (able to get debris out of the tread), the meaty tread lugs, sidewall lugs, and tire size. Even though they cleaned well, there were times the tires would get "gummed" up with dirt/mud. When this would happen, I could still feel parts of the tires grabbing and pull the FJ through.
There were very few times where I contribute the loss of momentum to the tires. More times than not, it was caused by suction, bottoming out, rear differential hitting, or other types of drag. The environments I noticed the most slippage or lack of traction in would be snow or ice. Depending on the depth of snow, I could feel the tires still getting traction. Ice, on the other hand, the tires would struggle. Having said that, they still did ok in snow and ice. Granted, I put the FJ belly up in those same conditions, but I do not blame my tires for that. It was more of driver error on my part.
What impressed me the most was their life span. My set of tires saw pavement and dirt in all lower 48 states and parts of Canada. At the time of the rollover, I had about 60,000 miles on them. Most of those miles were highway, but they also saw heavy use off-road. Two of the tires had plugs in them; one of the plugs had probably 20,000 miles on it. I know, not the best idea running a plugged tire for that long, especially running two of them, but I wanted to see what these tires could handle. I wanted to push them until they failed. Not so I could bad-mouth them when they finally did fail, but so I could talk about how well they held up.
The fact that a large, heavy off-road tire had fewer signs of wear on them than some all-terrain tires shocked me. Given the size and aggressiveness of the tires, they were relatively quiet at highway speeds. As the tires wore, they did get louder on the road, but not by much.
I believe one of the leading factors into the longevity of the tires was that I rotated them every 3,500-5,000 miles. I have seen a few Nitto Trail Grapplers with fewer miles than mine that were in worse shape. When speaking with the owners/drivers of those tires, they admitted to not rotating their tires regularly.
After the rollover, I gave the tires and rims to my neighbor. Now they will continue with their life on his FJ. I would estimate he should safely get another 10,000 miles out of them. If he rolls his FJ like I did mine, then those tires will last longer.
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Baker and Ashlie are the owners of Bourn Adventure and together they author the majority of the articles and content found here.