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On Road, Off Road, All Terrain: What’s the difference?
11 December 2015


As 4x4 and crossover vehicles become increasingly popular, so too does the varying range of tyres. From on road to off road as well as all terrain tyres, there’s plenty to choose from, but what is the difference between them and which is the right choice for your vehicle?

On road tyres

Manufactured for reliability and a smooth, quiet ride, on road tyres are the best choice if you don’t intend to use your 4x4 for any off road driving. Put simply, on road 4x4 tyres resemble conventional car tyres but on a larger scale, and require the strength to support larger 4x4 vehicles. With high performing tread patterns, 4x4 tyres for on road use are more of a luxurious item than those intended for more aggressive use. Some on road tyres may even feature the latest tyre technology to reduce noise further.

With the increased popularity of high performing crossovers such as the Audi Q7 and the BMW X5, on road tyres are now more typically featuring newer tyre technology for smooth handling. However, it’s important to note that because of this feature, on road tyres are intended for on road use only.

Off road tyres

Designed for driving on more varied and aggressive terrains, 4x4 off road tyres are made with much larger and widely spaced treads for better traction. They will undoubtedly offer better performance when navigating difficult ground. Any good off road tyre should also feature a much stronger carcass than on road tyres, accounting for difficult terrain and therefore a higher risk of damage.

Invest in off road tyres when you expect to use your vehicle in deep mud, uneven surfaces, and unpredictable conditions, or if you use your 4x4 for agricultural work. If you use your 4x4 vehicle on road for more than a third of the time you use it, then off road tyres may not be the right choice for you. Off road tyre users should normally use their vehicle off road approximately 80% of the time, and see increased wear and tear if they are used on roads more than necessary. For off road tyres that withstand difficult terrain, take a look at high performing tyres from BF Goodrich and General Tire. They offer tyres made with advanced tread technology, built to withstand the roughest terrain.

All terrain tyres

Intended to provide a good compromise between the on road and off road tyres available, all terrain tyres should offer good traction in tricky terrains but still offer low levels of noise when driving on the motorway. For good traction on terrains like gravel or mud, all terrain tyres feature a larger tread pattern with an advanced shoulder design to allow for efficient grip and a smooth ride. So, if you use your 4x4 vehicle for both on road and off road driving, 4x4 all terrain tyres may be the right choice for you.

If you’re worried about the wear of the tyre due to its multi-faceted performance, you needn’t be. All terrain tyres are made with a harder tread compound than on road tyres and as a result can potentially cover in excess of 50,000 miles before any replacements are needed.

It’s also important to establish in which conditions you’ll be doing most of your driving when choosing all terrain tyres. Although named ‘all terrain’, there are a variety of all terrain patterns to choose from - some that are geared to on road driving and some produced for tougher off road conditions, so it’s important to check this before you buy. The Off Road Grading Index (ORGI) will help you to determine which all terrain tread pattern will best suit your driving habits.

Making the right 4x4 tyre choice

Each 4x4 motorist has their own preferred style of driving, whether you use your vehicle for work or just for the weekend. So when you’re considering new 4x4 tyres, it’s worth identifying exactly what you need from them. Do you need:

  • Wet and dry grip?
  • On road or off road handling? Or both?
  • A comfortable quiet drive or high performance?
  • Once you’ve established the main uses of your vehicle and the type of terrain you’ll cover, you’ll easily identify the right set of tyres for your vehicle. If you need a reliable 4x4 tyre centre near you, use our tyre selector today – 4SITE can help you find the right tyres for your vehicle and organise their fitting by a 4x4 expert.

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