Choosing off road tires for your Jeep – What to know before you shop

Whether your seeking out a particular style, looking to conquer more difficult trails or want to convert your vehicle into a lean, mean rock crawling machine a good set of tires makes can make or break your ambitions.  Choosing tires for your Jeep and mission planning is deciding between having a money pit you’re not happy about to having that aggressive, stylish and capable look and functionality you so desire. We dive into everything you need to know to choose on or off road tires for your Jeep.

Tires are essential components of a vehicle, primarily because they are the only parts that come in contact with the road. Don’t go exploring the crazy world of tire shopping without understanding some of the products, choices, and design & mission decisions you will face.

Define your mission

Off-road tires vary in their design and purposes. They can be mud tires, all-terrain, borderline road tires or even rock crawling grade specialized tires. By choosing one set over another, you will be making design choices that have both positive and negative impacts on specific qualities of vehicle behavior, capability and quality of drive. We’re here to help you understand the tradeoffs and choices made while shopping for tires for on or offroad adventures.

Take mud tires for example. They’re often notorious for road noise. While a mud tire works great for off road and mud terrain you are sacrificing some qualities for on the road driving such as their wide tread and wider wheelbase often have an adverse impact on wet road driving.

All terrain tires while not as aggressive of a look that some people strive for offer some of the best trade-offs in capabilities. They can have aggressive tread patterns, strong sidewalls and larger sizing for those seeking higher clearance but have better driveability and lower road noise for those who commute and mall-crawl with their car more than offroad.

Understanding your mission for your new tires will set the entire tone of your shopping experience.  Not only will tread styling and mission style have an impact on the behavior of your vehicle but the sizing of the tires and wheels does too.

Types of off-road tires

There are many off-road tires, but the popular ones are all-terrain “AT” tires and mud tires or “MT” tires. I’m a fan of mud tires because they look mean and aggressive, but today’s newer AT style tires seem to be offering the best of both worlds. We’ll dive into some of the differences below.

All terrain tires

For vehicles that will be driven in highways and off-roads, all terrain (AT) tires are hard to beat. They feature interlocking tread elements, which offer excellent traction on paved roads, snow, dry, muddy as well as ice-covered tracks. They last long and they do not cost as much as Mud Tires.

  • The Open-tread design on the all-terrain improves the traction of the tires on the off-road surface and as well as adequate handling on paved roads.
  • They are usually more aggressive tires made for heavier trucks and more off-road use with Reinforced sidewalls present on some models to help to provide more load carrying capacity.
  • As all-terrain tires are considered all-purpose, they also provide traction on snowy or icy surfaces. But the tires are less noisy than regular tires due to the tread design.
  • All-terrain tires are made of softer rubber which leads to a shorter tread life; though such compounds help all-terrain tires provide adequate performance on all surfaces. They are more long-lasting models of tires with a mileage of 50,000-70,000 and it isn’t lower than the average of 40,000 miles.
  • They are less expensive.

cooper all terrain tires

Mud-terrain tires

For vehicles which are more off-road than on-road, mud tires  (MT) are valuable. The tread patterns are aggressive and have larger lugs.

  • Mud tires mostly come with deep ridges that increase traction on the road in bad conditions. They also consist of rubber which remains flexible in the cold to maintain traction in colder temperatures.
  • They feature large tread blocks and wide, deep voids between them to get the best on off-road surfaces. They consist of voids that also help the tire clear mud, gravel and debris as it spins, ensuring that there will be a fresh surface to grip.
  • Most mud-terrain tires use heavy-duty construction methods that include rough, heavy, thicker and more numerous sidewall plies. They can also have clumsy handling qualities, and the reinforcement can make for a firm ride.

cooper mud tires

Snow Tires

For vehicles that are driven on snowy, off-road terrains, quality snow tires are a must. When the temperatures are negative, they can stay soft and pliant. They have a lot of groves and channels which enable them to bite into snow and wet ice for better traction.

Plan your budget

Cost is a huge factor in upgrading or replacing your tires. Understand that going up in size from your factory sizing impacts many components of your vehicle and prices start to escalate.

As a general ballpark estimation, AT-style tires seem to run about $175 each or ~900 a set whereas MT style tires typically run upwards of 225 or $1125 a set.

Some of the standard costs factored in with new tires:

  • spare tire (5 wheels)
  • shipping charges
  • taxes
  • disposal fees
  • balancing and mounting of the tires,
  • transfer of the TPM sensor

When going to a larger tire size, you may have more costs such as:

  • steering components
  • drive shaft replacement
  • muffler mounts/relocation
  • new rims
  • lift kit
  • body leveling kit
  • re-gearing
  • new or trimmed bumpers

Choosing off road tire Size

Bigger isn’t always better; some tradeoffs must be made when you start changing the sizes of your tires. Those 35″ or 37″ tires look like monsters and give you higher ground clearance, However, going for larger tires means other mods may be necessary to your vehicle for them to fit properly and ride safely. An obvious first issue is a fitment.  On most vehicles you can get up to 33″ tires or so before you have to look into a lift kit, leveling kit or even modifying or removing your fenders.

Besides the clearance, taller tires will bring change to your power band. In simple terms, you will be running at a lower RPM at any speed when your tires are tall. Additionally, based on the current axle gear ratio, tall tires might cause the engine to bog down. This reduces the performances of the vehicle off-road as well as on the road and reduces fuel efficiency too. You will be using your clutch excessively and feeling under power.

With a change of tires, gearing has to be done for effective gear ratio. There are several formulas you can use to calculate the correct gear ratio.

To calculate your optimum gearing take your tire size and calculate the overall diameter using the following formula:

(CROSS SECTION WIDTH x 0.ASPECT RATIO x 2 ÷ 25.4) + WHEEL DIAMETER = OVERALL TIRE DIAMETER

Example: 255/75 R-17 (255 x 0.75 x 2 ÷ 25.4) + 17 = 32.059 diameter.

For optimal power band, multiply the diameter * .12

For a 32″ diameter wheel a 3.88 gear ratio would have you in optimum power, MPG and torque range.

For a 35″ tire that would be  35*.12 ~ 4.2 gearing or the standard  4.11 or 4.27 gearing set for optimal power

The larger the tire diameter, the larger the gearing you need for optimal power.

Understanding tire sizing

On wranglers a factory tire is 255 75 R 17, that means it’s 255mm wide, the ratio of height to width is 75% (so it will be191.25mm high, on the rim). The letters indicate it’s  a (R)adial tire. Finally, the rim to which it fits is 17″ in diameter. Each model may vary slightly with factory options or model specific sizes, so always check with your installer to make sure everything fits.

Tire size vehicle fitment table

Wheel SizeSpacer RequiredLift Recommended
33″N/A –N/A
35″Factory Wheel (Y)Aftermarket Leveling kit or 2″ lift
37″+Not Recommended3.5″ Lift

Going BIG!

If you’re sticking with factory sizes or fitting in up to 33″ tires, they should fit on your vehicle. There may be some rubbing at extreme articulation (such as when using sway bar quick disconnects) of which a spacer may fix this.  For 35″ or larger wheels, you’re most likely going to want new rims with correct spacing and a lift kit or leveling kit to give you the clearance you need.

For better fitment of 33″ tires, a leveling kit which raises your body about an inch and gets rid of the factory rake may give you all the room you need to fit the tires without changing the vehicle too much. A leveling kit may only run you $150 in parts and $300 installed  (or just a few beers shared with your friends).

For 35″ tires, a two-inch lift kit is highly recommended since a two-inch lift kit doesn’t change the geometry of a vehicle much.  For anything larger than a 2″ lift kit you may need to replace driveshaft,  steering, and other components for the optimal ride. As you can now understand, costs go up exponentially when you start looking at larger tires.

Matching Rims and Wheels

With any change in tire size, you must have matching rims. If you wish to maintain current rims that often come with a stock vehicle and go to a larger tire you may be able to add spacers to fit these tires on your vehicle and have correct clearance. Factory rims will be limiting in your tire options, so it’s not uncommon to buy new rims and to match wheelsets when shopping for larger sizes.

There are a ton of options & varieties amongst wheel choices and tire choices, but for the most part, they’re divided between the materials they’re manufactured from of Steel vs. Alloy.

Steel Rims

Priced slightly more affordable – Good basic looks. Very durable and if you’re out on the trails a lot a wheel that can take abuse and not worry about looks. No one is going to care if their steel wheels got a little scratch.

Jeep Wrangler Steel RimsAluminum / Alloy Rims

More expensive than steel wheels, fancier designs options. Damaging these wheels is often damaging the looks you’re paying for.

Jeep Wrangler Alloy Wheels

Beadlock Rims

If you’re going for aggressive rock crawling and dropping to low air pressures, a “beadlock” rim system may be advisable. This is a mechanical device that locks the bead against the rim to diminish the risk of tire wall separation during extreme off road or rock crawling at low tire pressures. Be careful; some beadlock setups are just entirely for looks.

mud terrain beadlock tire jeep wrangler

Factory Rim options

If you want to keep your factory rims and increase wheel size, you may need to invest in spacers to adjust the backspacing of your wheel so that it can not bump on turn and articulation against your frame, body and steering components.

Backspacing & Spacers

This is the distance between the inside lip of the tire to the hub mounting surfacing. Where wider and larger tires are involved, the backspacing should be reduced to move the tire outwards on the vehicle.

jeep wrangler back spacerThe Jeep in the following image used spacers to get the clearance needed for the larger tire on the factory rims.

Before and After spacers factory tires jeep wrangler

It may be more affordable in the long run (and allow you more capability or more tire options) to get Steel Rims at the right size than to invest in spacers for your factory rims. It can cost ~ $200 to add spacers whereas a new set of steel rims not requiring spacers may cost just that much.

 

Shopping for your new off road tires

After determining what your tire mission is, do some research. There is no shortage of local Jeep communities across the world, and many can be found on Meetup.com or facebook groups. Tires change year in, and year out and even within same brands some tires may not be what they were the year before. While shopping around, be sure to read the reviews and balance your decisions against your goals.

You can support our blog by shopping for your tires with our affiliate TireRack.Com

Price comparisons

Tire prices are not standardized, and every manufacturer and retailer is free to set his or her prices. Prices vary significantly between manufacturers and retail outlets. Shop around by calling local installers, dealers and tire companies. If you’re looking at moving to 37″ tires, regearing to 4.22 gears and adding a 2.5+ inch lift you’re going to want to find a shop that has experience and knows what other modifications your vehicle may need. Price isn’t the only thing you want to keep in mind; your Jeep is useless if it has “death wobble” or is unsafe to drive or has a miserable power band for the driving you do.

Sell your old tires

Facebook Marketplace and craigslist are decent areas to try and sell your tires. If you can’t sell them and just want to clear garage space, offer them up in a local Jeep meetup group and see if people will take them off your hands. The market is saturated with factory wheels so don’t expect to save too much money by selling your old factory sets.

Off-Road Tire Safety Considerations

Everything has a trade-off. When your vehicle comes from the factory, FCA has decided what types of tires, wheels, and spacing have made the most sense for their typical drivers and expected driving conditions. Once you alter anything about your vehicle, you should understand possible outcomes that may impact the safety and handling of your vehicle.

Regearing

If you don’t re-gear and you move to a drastically larger wheel size, please be aware of the potential loss of power and performance of your vehicle as well as the reduced fuel efficiency.

Tramlining

This refers to the tendency of a vehicle to follow the surface contours while in operation. The intervention of the driver does not offer significant help. The tire technical aspects will affect the behavior though.

Factors that worsen tramlining

  • Tires with deep tread patterns, like off-road tires, are less likely to be affected.
  • With wide tread comes better grip which means more tramline
  • When wheelbase is the same as the distance between same axle wheels. With a bigger wheelbase, the tire sensitivity goes up.

Wear and tear

Getting the best off-road tires does not mean they will not wear or tear even when misused. You need to practice good maintenance for the tires to serve you for a long time.

  • Rotate your tires – including your spare.
  • Check tire pressure.  If you’re off-roading and drop PSI be sure to air up before hit road speeds.
  • Monitor condition  – Cracking, losing tread or dry tires or any pinch bubbles? Time to replace!

Wrap Up

If you’re new to Jeeping, don’t rush. Take your Jeep out on a trail and experience with factory conditions. If you’re dead set on having large tires and a big lift, try and locate a vehicle already geared for such a configuration.

Upgrading or replacing your tires is a great way to make your jeep “Yours.” Hopefully, this guide gave you enough information to know what to look for to help you make the best decision. Look forward to seeing reader comments below on what their Jeep has and how they feel about their wheels, lift and tire choices.

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