The Magic-number Car Tires

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I hear you thinking, “What, another post on tires? You’ve got to be kidding me! There must hundreds of them on the Internet.”

Yes, you are right, another post on tires.

But this time I am writing it. Why? Because we get many emails and messages from 4×4 enthusiasts and overlanders asking us what type of tires we use, or why our Land Cruiser has such skinny road tires.

Like with all choices in life, a perfect one doesn’t exist. Same with tires. You will always have to accept certain limitations and live with that. There is no manual that will tell you what choice to make. For me, after twelve years on the road, I am comfortable with the choices we make today.

I learned from my mistakes and we continue to acquire knowledge on the subject as tire options are not the same everywhere on the globe, and you must plow with the oxen that you have.

If your journey is less than two years and you are not racing around the globe – driving, say 30.000 kms per year – one set of tires will probably suffice. But if you do plan to buy new tires while on the road, make sure you select the right rim before you start your journey. Find out if the rim-sized tires that you like so much are common on the continent you plan to travel on. This may save you a lot of headaches (and money).

Why My Fondness For a Skinny, High Tire?

I think it all started with my first car, a Citroën 2CV. They had absurdly thin, high wheels. Once, we had serious snow. When driving into town I saw big, luxurious cars swerving into problems in corners. This was mainly caused by the weight of their vehicle and the fact that it had rear-wheel drive. Meanwhile, the 2CV was cornering without a problem.

Okay, I hear you; a big-ass Land Cruiser is not the same as my ‘ugly duckling’. You are right, but the principle remains more or less the same. Stick with me and let me explain.

Some facts:

  • We are driving around 20,000 kilometers a year.
  • Roughly 95% of the time we drive in 2×4, on roads as well as (unpaved) tracks.
  • 70% of the Land Cruiser’s weight is on the rear axle.

For these conditions I look for the following when buying a tire:

  • Good mileage.
  • As little noise as possible.
  • Affordability.
  • Availability.
  • High ply rate.
  • Little wear and tear on the axles, differentials, and gearboxes as possible.

When those tires have also the ability to:

  1. Raise clearance,
  2. go really low on tire pressure [and inherit fat tire symptoms],
  3. have an absurdly strong sidewall protection,

then I am all game. Did you ever wonder why Land Rovers in the Camel Trophy drove on skinny tires? Or why Dakar cars don’t have extremely wide tires? The drivers tested and tested, and came to the same results.

Our Car Tire Choices Thus Far

During our Landcuising Adventure we have bought a variety of tires and while all those tires were different to some degree, I felt confident taking all those tires into the mud, going rock climbing, driving into the dunes, on gravel roads, and into the snow. To a certain extend tire pattern can help you overcome the terrain, but I am convinced that tire pressure, the driver’s capacity, as well as gear choice are of greater importance.

When we arrived at Malaysia’s famous Rainforest Challenge we were laughed at with our Land Cruiser’s skinny, Indian road tires. But during the ten-day event we gained a growing respect as we conquered the terrain and daily rolled into camp.

1. Security TM 718 Off-road Tires 8PR

At the beginning of our trip I bought Chinese, aggressive, nylon off-road tires. They looked tough and many off-roaders asked me where to get them. But they were noisy as hell, gave us bad mileage, were bumpy and uncomfortable although they were only 8 PR.

On the plus side, these tires were regroovable so we brought them to a shop in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. We could select a different pattern if we wanted to, but stuck with the existing pattern in order not to destroy the underlying fortifications.

You may not be familiar with regrooving tires or retreading but in Asia and South America it is not uncommon. It is a viable option to keep your tires going for just a little longer.

2. JKTire Steelking Radials 14PR

In India the thread started to show so we had to replace the tires. There wasn’t much choice so after a day’s search we bought lovely JKTire radials with a road pattern. Those tires gave us the most bang for our buck and, in fact, we were so content with them that I tried to get another set in Iquique (Chile) a couple of years ago.

Good mileage, no noise and very comfortable. They brought us to the finish of the Rainforest Challenge and got us rock-climbing on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos.

JKTire Steelking Radials 14PR
Pirelli AS22 12PR

3. Pirelli AS22 12PR

We obtained our third set of tires in Paraguay, the tax-free haven of South America. We made a strange but good choice buying Brazilian-made Nylon Pirellis, as we knew we were in for two years of rípio in Patagonia, and no matter what tires we would buy, they were going to be discarded after those two years.

A salient detail is that these tires were 50% cheaper in Paraguay than in their production country of Brazil. Thanks to a 14-ply rate we had no sidewall punctures. They were a bit noisy on asphalt and affected a little on the mileage. For a nylon tire this one had a pretty good comfort. But we decided that from then on we would stick to radials.

4. Apollo Dura-Mile LT 14PR

Next up: Iquique (Chile). Here I tried to get my hands on some JKTires but couldn’t find them. However, I stuck with the Indian thought and got a nice set of Apollo radials. I had the choice between a high miler [highway pattern] and a dura miler [mixed pattern]. We opted for the last.

I think this has been a solid choice with good comfort and mileage and no noise. Only downer: a few weeks later we discovered could have gotten genuine French made Michelins ZXY for 80 U$D! in La Paz, Bolivia.

Apollo Dura-Mile LT 14PR
Roadstone Radial A/T 10PR

5. Roadstone Radial A/T 10PR

Two years later, just before we set out to cross the infamous BR319 and the Transamazônica in Brazil (read about them here and here), we needed new tires and found ourselves in Manaus. Strangely we couldn’t find our magic numbers so we set out to find the best next thing, a 235/85R16.

Selecting the right tire.
Tire pattern close-up.

Many say these have the same height and width of the 7.50R16, but I beg to differ. These tires might look the same but are actually a tad wider and give less mileage and more wear [tie rod ends and center arm wore prematurely]. Also, the 235/85R16 generally come with less sidewall protection and a lower ply rating, resulting in more sidewall punctures when aired down.

On the plus side they are very comfortable. One thing that really annoyed us were the many rubbing punctures we got during their second and last year. I don’t know whether this was due to the fact that we used tubes while it said tubeless, or not. We had been using tubes in tubeless tires before with no problem. Then I thought it was due to the fact that the tubes were more than nine years old and replaced them all. But the rubbing punctures kept on happening and drove us nuts.

6. Roadshine RS604 14PR

Roadshine RS604 14PR

Time to get our sixth set of tires. Initially the idea was to get new tires in Venezuela where they should be cheaper than in Colombia. But after checking various sources we concluded that it would be difficult to get tires in Venezuela (due to political situation) and pulled the trigger on getting them in Bogotá.

We are very happy with that decision. Although we have seen our magic-numbers-tires in Venezuela for bargain prices, the old tires wouldn’t have made it across Los Llanos in Colombia (read about it here).

Do you see the regroovable marking on the side of the tire? This means these tires have plenty of rubber on them and when they are becoming worn and slick you just go at them with a gauge and you are good to go.

7. Bridgestone Blizzak 12PR

We found ourselves heading into some real cold snow and our Japanese friends told us flat out not to head out onto the icy and snowy roads of Hokkaido without proper winter tires. Masa helped us out and found a great deal on these 7.50R16 Blizzak tires.

Unbelievable how these tires kept us on the roads throughout the harsh winter in sub-zero temperatures. Everything cold we put under these tires, it handled without a hick-up. Really impressive how we could climb small mountain roads that were completely iced over.

Shopping for Car Tires

Once you know where the tire shops are, be prepared to bargain and look beyond the obvious. My criteria, after 12 years, has boiled down to the following:

  • Size 7.50R16 [note the R and not a -] so not 7.50-16 [that would be nylon].
  • Radial.
  • Ply rating of 12 and above [due to the weight of the car]. 14 ply is indestructible.
  • Pattern [everything a bit more blocked than straight highway lines].
  • Cheapest.

This gave me the choice between the excellent Japanese Sumitomo highway pattern or a Chinese B brand with a bit more Mud + Snow pattern. Prices were almost the same with the Chinese being a bit cheaper. Time will tell if I made the right choice. For now we are super happy!

Let me know in the comments below what your criteria are for your new tires.

Tips for Keeping your Tires in Shape

Once you have found your favorite tire, you want to keep that tire in perfect condition. One of the most important things is to keep track of its pressure. Keeping your tires on the right pressure, will save fuel, avoid excessive heat that will lead to increased wear and could even lead to a blowout and thus you having to buy new tires.

I use a simple Tire Pressure Gauge to check the pressure. Even if a service station—or anyone else who is providing me with air to inflate the tire—has an integrated pressure gauge, I still check the final pressure with my own gauge, to avoid calibration errors between devices.

Remember: always check the pressure when your tires are cold. Before setting out in the morning is best.

Another option is to install a more automated Tire Pressure Monitor System, that allows you to monitor your tire pressure and temperature while driving, and even put out a warning signal before things go wrong.

Because every overland vehicle is different in weight and size and most of us drive around in a modified car, it could be difficult to find out the perfect tire pressure for your set-up. There are numerous methodes but I prefer the one that is called the Chalk Test. I’m not going to write about it here, as there are good explanations on some fora and even a few YT’s – Google is your friend.

(Originally published in 2015 / updated in 2017)

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Thank you for your support — Karin-Marijke & Coen

15 thoughts on “The Magic-number Car Tires

  1. It’s very interesting seeing the different patterns that aren’t available here in the US. The bias ply sizing is also practically non-existent here. Here, tires keep getting wider and lower-profile (and less off-roadable). It’s a good thing the rest of the world has good availability of tires that are made for work.

  2. BF Goodrich AT are my favorites. 50% off road 50% hiway. Not so expensives as Michelin tires. Good mileage, too good I’d said. I’d used in Jeeps, Cherokee& Wrangler, Daihatsu Feroza (Rocky) and Chevy Luv pickup. Different sizes, 215/75R15, 235/75R15, 225/70R16 , excellent when aired down, acceptable noisy.
    Worse experience Bridgestone MT, too noisy.
    Althought I realize there are excellent and very affordable chinese AT tires like WestLake, good mileage, my son recommends them for desertic and salted terrains.

  3. Worst tire decision I ever made was buying Chinese tires. Lasted about 30,000kms. Switched to Michelins now. Picked them up in Bogota for a price similar to in the US.

    I agree 100% with the narrow tire rational and your other criterion. But on price/quality I’m a convert to the top brand name tires.

  4. Coen I don’t think tubes have an impact on tire life or performance, other than when punctured. The advantage of a tubeless tire is the air can only escape through the hole created whereas a tube allows escape from around the tube. This is where the term “blowout” comes from. The only way to get a blow out with a tubeless tire is a rip rather than a puncture. There is a huge difference in tube and tire manufacture. Cheap is usually what you get, cheap. Use of which is usually followed by multiples of curse words:). Then again I’m more of a motorcyclist. My research indicates the Hankook MT tire preferred over the Goodrich. I agree with your assessment regarding tall/skinny tires. The vehicle weighs X, the tires are Y wide. The wider the tire the less pounds per square inch on the contact patch. Fat tires work great on pavement on race cars that need the friction.

  5. Hello! I really love your post. Your blog title is the most interesting itself. I didn’t know so much about the vehicle tires, in fact I never notice for these things. After getting through this blog, I understand how much dumb I’m. There are lots of things to know about the vehicle but we people just using its primary function and that’s it. It’s shocking to know that there are so many types of tires and each having their own specialties. Thanks for updating me.

    • Olivia, I (Karin-Marijke) find that shocking too… I also continue to find it shocking how guys can FOREVER discuss car tires and simply can’t agree on the issue (well, good for business, I suppose…). After 12+ years I am very content to leave the subject entirely to Coen. I still don’t have a clue about tires, lol.

  6. Im running a set of BF Goodrich ATs and a set of Toyo open country MTs depending on my destination. Both of are in a 285/75 x 16 and that was the best tyre for where I lived and travelled to. Now Ive moved, and am looking at going back to standard 7.50 r16 hence reading this article for the second time haha. Im also looking at crossing the Madigan Line in the Simpson Desert here in Australia. I ran my ATs across that desert in 2013 but it was on a formed track and they performed great at 16PSI but the Madigan is a different story. you need tough tyres for that trip. Love the article and your Instagram, im Carrangarra who you have replied to more than once on there.

    • Heya Steve, tanks for chiming in. Well I’m all ears what you come up with for your crossing of the Madigan Line. In my mind tough tires mean plenty of plies, so if you can find have a look at 12 or 14 ply tires.

  7. I’m also a big fan of skinny tyres. Love a 7.50×16. Currently on my HJ60 I’m running 235/85/16 BFG as I happened to have a set! They are a good 4+cm wider than 7.50s. I ran 7.50s driving to the Gambia on steel split rims like your and found the number of punctures just ridiculous, 12 in total while the other vehicle on tubeless had none. I ran split rims assuming it would make DiY tyre changing easier, but the reality was I just got plenty of practice changing wheels and left the tyre changing to the numerous tyre shops along the way! If you move away from splitties to a standard steel rim you’ll save loads of hassle on punctures, and a massive load on your unsprung weight, which in turn will pay off in savings on wear and tear on other components like wheel bearings etc

    • Thanks Andrew, I think that you cannot relate the number of punctures to having split rims or not. It will depend on the tyres and the PLY rate as well. What kind of punctures did you get? Rubbing inside, sand inside, nails, cuts or rocks? I will agree with you on the weight.

  8. I have an ex Australian army land rover currently fitted with good year hi miller in the magic 750 16 size split rims currently have a few spare of the good year and some Michelin xzl at home but with neither available on the Australian market anymore the search for new tyres continues most tyre shops hate me when I tell them I’m sticking with that size running tubes and keeping my split rims

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