Originally published in 2015 / Updated in 2017
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 car 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.
Car Tires for Overlanding in a Nutshell
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.
- 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.
Read More: Doing an Off-road Training, or Not?
For these conditions I look for the following when buying a tire:
- Good mileage.
- As little noise as possible.
- High ply rate.
- Little wear and tear on the axles, differentials, and gearboxes as possible.
When those car tires have also the ability to:
- Raise clearance,
- go really low on tire pressure [and inherit fat tire symptoms],
- 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. So why shouldn’t this be the case for overland car tires?
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.
Read More: The Journey
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 car 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.
Read More: Chile’s Northernmost Desert
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.
5. Roadstone Radial A/T 10PR
Two years later, just before we set out to cross the infamous BR319 and the Transamazônica in Brazil, 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.
Read More: Driving the Transamazônica
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
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.
Read More: Traversing Los Llanos in Colombia
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.
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.
Read More: Wildlife on Hokkaido in Winter
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].
- 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].
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 as 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 cartires 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 methods 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.
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