Tire News & Information

Tire Tread Patterns: Your Ultimate Guide from Car to SUV

It’s essential to pay attention to your vehicle’s tire tread. After all, it’s the largest part of the tire that you can look at to determine whether you need a new set of tires.

But, there's more to pay attention to when it comes to tire tread. Tread patterns can determine how the automobile performs, what conditions it handles best, and ultimately, if it’s truly the best option for you.

What is tread pattern?

Before we drive too far into tread patterns, let’s talk about what a tire needs to achieve. The primary goal is to get as much rubber as possible in contact with the road surface that provides traction. The more connection it can make, the more traction you have.

That’s why race cars have tires that appear bald. The tread portion of the tire is a solid rubber strip that makes continuous contact with the road. If you were driving over nothing but dry, manicured asphalt, this type of tire offers the best possible traction. Unfortunately, chances are the roads you're driving aren't so well-kept, and that race tire would run into serious issues when things like water and gravel are beneath it.

These tires cannot evacuate the thin layer of water between them and the ground, nor can they dig into the loose ground, like snow, dirt, or gravel, to find traction. That’s why tread patterns are essential to daily driving conditions.

Not all patterns are the same, and none are random. Breaking up the design in specific ways is just one way manufacturers can enhance the way a tire performs in given situations. Sometimes the tread pattern is designed to handle summer driving better. Other times the pattern is engineered with winter in mind, and offers excellent performance in the snow and some work to perform well in all environments.

The good news is that the tires available don’t usually use unique or wildly different patterns. While some might make minor changes to a design, manufacturers typically try to stick within the bounds of four basic categories for passenger cars, sport and crossover vehicles, and light trucks.

Types of Tread Patterns

• Symmetrical: Symmetrical tread pattern features the same pattern of blocks, grooves, and any lugs across the tire's surface. This is the most common tread pattern because of its quiet ride, versatility, and affordability. These also offer low rolling resistance, which is excellent for fuel economy. Symmetrical tires have mirrored halves, meaning that both sides match so the tires can be mounted in any position.

• Asymmetrical: This tread design features different halves that are mounted on the wheel a certain way where the"outside" side of tire on the face of the wheel. The “inside” of the tire features a different pattern than the outside. These can be put on the vehicle in any position. Common for sports cars that require enhanced performance under spirited driving but still need to have decent traction on wet roads.

• Directional: Directional tires often offer superior performance in specific driving conditions but offer low versatility. These feature a chevron-shaped or v-shaped tread pattern and are very popular for snow, all-weather, and high-performance tires. They must be mounted according to left and right sides, matching specific positions on the vehicle.

Types of Tread Patterns Image

More than a general pattern.

While the general pattern contributes a lot to a tire’s performance, the finer details are even more critical.

Tread patterns are broken up into parts: independent tread blocks, ribs, grooves, sipes, and the shoulder. All of these parts are laid out in specific ways to contribute to a tire’s characteristics. Their shape, size, and count all help a tire perform in given circumstances.

Performance tires feature wide blocks and few grooves to produce superior performance in dry conditions but are subpar when it’s wet. An asymmetric tread might have an outer portion similar to a performance tire but have an inner portion that features higher block counts with sipes and grooves that resemble an all season tire.

While manufacturing brands do their best to call out a tire's strong points using tire markings, giving you a clear indication of what kind of driving it’s suitable for, one size does not fit all. At SimpleTire, we make your homework load lighter by calling out the strong points and categories of our tires so that you know which ones are best for you and your driving needs.

Types of Tire Elements

Does tire tread pattern truly matter?

The tread pattern is easy to overlook. Anything is going to get you down the road, right? Not exactly.

A fundamental principle to keep in mind is that there's always a trade-off when you change tread patterns. Whenever you seek to enhance a tire's capabilities in one way, you're guaranteed to make sacrifices elsewhere.

In simple terms, when a pattern is laid out to enhance a tire's traction in the summer, it often comes at the cost of the tire's ability to deal with water and snow. The same is true on the opposite end of things.

You can get all-season tires that handle all conditions well—and many people do. But if you're looking for the tire to perform exceptionally well in given situations, you do need to consider tread patterns. That's precisely why people often switch from summer tires to winter tires throughout the year.

What is the best tire tread pattern?

What tread pattern is best ultimately depends on what you're looking to get out of a tire.

That said, symmetric tire patterns are exceedingly popular for a reason. This pattern's inherent ability to handle all conditions well means that it doesn't matter if you're shopping for tires for a compact car, an SUV, or even an off-road vehicle. Or if you're commuting to and from work, it'll do just fine on dry, wet, and snowy roads. It'll even traverse over varying terrain without you having to adapt much.

However, if you're looking for a tire with superior performance in one setting, directional tires are the best bet. You just need to make sure that it is designed to handle snow, performance driving, or whatever it is you intend to use it for because it is designed to handle that one thing well.

Leaning toward directional/asymmetrical and asymmetrical tires works to bridge the gap between the symmetrical tire’s versatility and the performance of a directional tire.

Should I drive with different tread patterns? Is this illegal?

You should not drive with tires with different tread patterns on the same axle. It can provide inconsistent steering, performance and even be harmful to the drivetrain in extreme situations. It is also illegal, so you need to be careful.

Having one tread pattern on the front of the vehicle and a different one on the back, is relatively common on performance front-wheel-drive (FWD) and rear-wheel-drive (RWD) vehicles. However, suppose you are driving an AWD or 4WD vehicle. In that case, you should have identical tires on all four corners as it promotes consistency and efficiency of both the front and rear axles when working together.

Tire tread selection truly is a balancing act, and there is a lot to take into consideration. But don’t solely base your decision on this aspect of the tire. Remember that tires are broken up into categories, and that’s going to help you find out precisely what tire will handle the situations you need it to.

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