Traction Tire Preview Prelude

For several years I’ve been a fan of what are often called aggressive all-terrain tires. Labels and classifications can be difficult, sometimes neither descriptive nor adequate as there is much crossover, gray-area, and blurred lines with tread designs. These tires are not as open as a mud tire, but offer much more void than the typical all-terrain or all-season tire. Current examples include Mickey Thompson ATZ 4-rib, Dick Cepek F-C II, Cooper S/T Maxx, Goodyear DuraTrac, Dean SXT Mud Terrain/Cooper S/T, and the Toyo M55. These treads are also called traction or commercial traction designs.

Limited Terrain SUV Tires

When marketing types decided that utility vehicle was no longer an adequate description for 4WD utility wagons, the Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) appeared, surged, then dominated the light-truck utility market. Lighter-duty all-terrain tires that offered less void and less traction became popular on the increasingly soft SUVs over the past two decades. It’s understandable that SUV tires became so road-biased, as invariably that’s where many log all their miles in their SUV trucks, but many of these conservative “all-terrain” treads would be more accurately described as all-season tires.

Michelin Cross Terrain SUV tire, properly labeled an all-season highway tire.

Despite the 4WD SUV becoming the modern on-highway station wagon for much of the U.S. if not most of North America, there are still those that want their 4WD wagons to be body-on-frame truck designs, shod with better, higher void traction tires. These folks include hunters, sportsmen, off-highway adventurers, people who live or work in rural areas, and those who travel in serve climates. For a variety of reasons a mud terrain tire may not be preferred (less MPG, longevity, and less traction on wet roads, with more noise) but a low void all-season tire labeled and masquerading as an all-terrain often doesn’t do the job either.

More void is desirable to absorb debris and let it escape. The wetter the material the more void you might want, and open, lug designs are typically louder, though modern tire design has reduced the noise penalty for some traction tires.

Toyo M55 & Multi-Mile TXR LT255/85R16D

What Size

I’ve never been a fan of needlessly wide tires, but wide tires have dominated the enthusiast 4×4 truck aftermarket for several years. Fat tires work well for some applications, but have many limitations for common usage, particularly on-pavement, where even the most active off-highway explorers travel thousands of miles each year. A slight correction seems to have occurred, where not every enthusiast 4×4 tire needs to be over 12-inches wide; 285 mm wide tires have caught on.

While I’m currently using and have accepted 285s, in my mind they are still a bit wide, roughly 11.5-inches depending on the tire—narrower tires track straighter and offer better MPG. Drivers are at least aware of fuel economy because of the cost of fuel, though I don’t see many people driving for fuel economy, bad habits are prevalent and it seems we’re often in a hurry.

The days of much narrower 33-inch enthusiasts tires like the LT255/85R16 are disappearing fast. Thankfully, if you don’t want such a tall tire, there are many 235–265 mm wide treads in the 31–32-inch range that can deliver better fuel economy.

Great traction tires: LT255/85R16D Cooper S/T & LT285/75R16D Dick Cepek F-C II

Eighteen Inch 33s

Not knowing much about 18-inch tires or wheels, but owning a set of take-off eighteens, I studied the options and was pleasantly surprised to discover the LT275/70R18 size. This size is just slightly narrower than the common 285 mm treads in either a 16, 17, or 18-inch, but with a reasonable aspect ratio of 70 percent. Most 275/70R18s are 33.3-inches tall, very similar to the tall 255/85R16 size that I’ve loved for fifteen years.

Eighteen-inch wheels are two inches taller overall, so tire sidewalls are a full inch shorter at the bottom (the part we feel and drive on). Historically 255/85R16s were flexible and pleasant riding load-range D designs, though load-range E is becoming more common in a 255/85, but 275/70R18s are almost all load-range E rated. Not all load-range D or E tires are created equal, some are stiffer than others, but shorter load-range E sidewalls on a 275/70R18 are going to be stiffer in almost every application. Again, stiff sidewalls can be a positive or a negative, depending on your needs and preferences, refer to this Wheels, Tires, and Sidewalls article for more on this subject.

To be continued…

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

LT255/85R16 Tire Delivery Part 3

Long before my route was paved there were much hardier travelers who passed this way. I stopped for a brief photo and took a moment to reflect. Lately I’ve been reflecting on how thoroughly spoiled we are with easy, efficient, convenient long distance travel. Several decades ago vehicles were not as low-maintenance and relatively trouble-free as they are now. Before the transcontinental railroad, traveling across The States was a serious, life-threatening endeavor. As modern motorized backcountry travelers there is always the possibility that our machines and computers will fail and we will be reunited with primal overland travel; walking.

Beckwourth Trail

Below is a poor grab shot through windshield glare and at a substantial distance  as I drove through the small town of Quincy, California. It’s not everyday that one sees an nicely restored original Bronco with uncut rear fenders, and nice, narrow original size tires.

First Generation Classic Ford Bronco, uncut fenders and small, narrow tires.

Onward further into the country where I met Brian and his family—very kind people. Brian and I visited for over an hour, talking mostly about trucks and tires, before I started reversing my path.

After several miles I drove down a dirt road where I enjoyed lunch. I really like having a tailgate for picnics, one of the advantages of a pickup over most utility vehicles.

 

Excellent Highway Fuel Economy

After lunch and enjoying the sights and smells of the forest, my fuel economy mission resumed. Theoretically, there are many ways in which to improve fuel economy. Though if your vehicle is outfitted the way you like it and your maintenance is up-to-date, the best way to increase fuel economy is to drive slower and pay attention to your driving technique—there is more to it than simply lowering your top speed.

My not-so-speedy-delivery was a 183.7-mile all highway roundtrip, on which the 3UR-FE 5.7L aluminum Toyota V8 consumed 9.761 gallons of gasoline. The math says that’s 18.81 miles-per-gallon. Excellent.

I’d love to attain this type of economy all the time, but mixed driving, living at altitude, and driving up and down mountains makes it nearly impossible. Though for a lifted truck with a big gasoline-powered V8 engine, and reasonably large & wide 33-inch LT285/70R17D tires (Dick Cepek F-C II), being able to top 18 miles-per-gallon is an accomplishment. Some of the credit has to go to the very tall sixth gear overdrive, which lets the engine lope at very low revolutions-per-minute when lightly loaded, and use little fuel.

Road Traveler – Rollin’ Forward and Sippin’ Fuel

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

LT255/85R16 Tire Delivery Part 2

With a bed and trailer full of tires & wheels I was off to see my tire guys for dismounting, mounting, and balancing so I could get my 4WDs off jack stands and rolling again. A few days later I loaded the bed of the Tundra with the Bighorns and Cooper S/T treads, as well as one old Multi-Mile Wild Country TXR so Brian would have a proper 255/85 spare.

Years ago the TXR was a big seller for the western tire chain Les Schwab. I really liked the void ratio of the TXR—not an A/T nor an M/T—and I purchased a few sets over several years. However, they were not the most rugged tire and tended to cause a steering wheel wobble. The last rig I ran the TXR on was my 2005 Wrangler, which was not as tolerant of their idiosyncrasies, so I moved on to better tires…and have yet to stop.

A load of LT255/85R16D tires, a Multi Mile TXR in the foreground.

I had a few goals for this little trip; deliver the tires, meet my new friend Brian, enjoy a country drive, and conduct a mileage test. After fueling at my local filling station and resetting the trip meter, it was time to roll with a goal of keeping my speed at 65 mph or less.

Through the cities and into the fertile Sierra Valley I drove. It cost, but one of the features I enjoy on the new Tundra is the satellite radio. There are a few stations I like, but I seem to listen to Outlaw Country often, Steve Earle came on singin’ Hillbilly Highway.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

LT255/85R16 Tire Delivery Part 1

Stranger Danger Online

The world may be full of dangerous people, and jokes about meeting people “on the internet” can ring true when you hear a horror story or two. However, there are lots of very honest, honorable, and friendly people in the world, and many of them are online—just like the rest of us.

Is Mr. 255/85 Selling His 255s?

I received a note from a guy named Brian asking specific questions about the LT255/85R16 tire size. After a few emails I decided he was a nice family man and agreed to sell him two sets tires, which I’d been contemplating selling for a while. These sets, one of Maxxis Bighorns and another the Cooper S/T, were used but still had about 14/32 of tread remaining.

I’ve been a user and advocate of the 255/85 size since purchasing my first set in 1998, but I have been using more 285s, mostly because there are many more tread choices. There just are not that many 255s made these days, and some of the better, tougher, and longer wearing designs don’t track well on my 4Runner, further limiting my options. The 255/85 is still a great size, I’ll likely never stop singing the praises of this 33×10″ tire, they’re still what I prefer running on my F350.

Cooper S/T 255/85R16D, Cooper S/T MAXX 275/70R18E, Dick Cepek F-C II 285/75R16D

By rural western standards Brian lived nearby, about 80 miles, but had a very busy work schedule that was going to prevent us from meeting for several weeks. I offered to deliver the tires if he paid for my fuel.

Tire Swap Fest

The Maxxis Bighorn 255/85 tires I sold were still mounted and being used on my F350. The Cooper S/T treads were mounted on a spare set of TRD FJ Cruiser wheels for the Mall Crawler. Selling these required lots of tire changing and even some tire purchases but it will take me a few posts to share the whole story. Imagine that, James buying and testing tires. Though buying and swappin’ tires is much easier and less expensive than swappin’ women—just sayin’.

Pulling the Maxxis Bighorns from the F350’s OE forged aluminum wheels meant I needed to fit something else. I robbed the set of Dick Cepek F-C II in LT285/75R16D from the Mall Crawlin’ 4Runner and ordered replacements…

Stuff is missin'

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

17 Inch 4Runner Wheels For 285s

Wheel Shopping

I’m not a big custom wheel fan, partly because I’ve never run very wide tires so narrower OE wheels work well, and partly because wheel bling is not my thing. I’ve purchased exactly two sets of custom wheels in all my years of tinkering with four-wheel-drives, one set for my old F350, and one set for my 4Runner—both were later sold after very little use. There may be another set in the F350’s future if I stay with 285s, but that’s down the road.

However, I have purchased many sets of original equipment wheels—either take-offs or new—including an extra set of steelies for the F350, several 16-inch Toyota FJ Cruiser TRD wheels for the Mall Crawler, and now a couple sets of forged 17-inch TRD take-offs for the 2nd Gen. Tundra. Extra wheels are needed for tire testing, not because I have a wheel fetish, tires on the other hand…

It’s much easier to find take-off wheels for new or current platforms, when enthusiasts are removing OE tires and wheels and replacing them for appearance or something bigger. For example, it’s very difficult to find a nice set of 16×7-inch factory forged aluminum wheels for the 1996 F350. Few are modifying these trucks that ceased production in 1997, and the supply of OE wheels dried-up long ago. Ford changed the bolt pattern on the heavy-duty 1999 F-series, so newer OE wheels don’t fit.

17×7.5-inch 4th Gen. 4Runner 6-Spoke Sport Wheels

Six Spoke 17-inch 4Runner Sport Wheels

In the case of the 4th Generation Toyota 4Runner which ceased production just a few years ago, OE take-off wheels are not terribly difficult to find, but finding the exact style I wanted for a reasonable price was a bit of a challenge. The 4th Gen. 120 platform 4Runners were sold with 16, 17, and 18-inch wheels, and in a few different styles.

It should be clear from my Wheels, Tires and Sidewalls post last month that I prefer more tire and less wheel. But I wanted to procure a set of seventeens so I could eventually mount some of the 285/70R17 tires I’m amassing for the Tundra, onto the 4Runner. I was specifically looking for the earlier 6-spoke, 17-inch Sport wheels, not the later, 5-spoke design which is more common and the same or very similar to the 17-inch Tacoma wheels. These seventeens are 7.5-inches wide, just wide enough for 285 tires.

The 6-spoke seventeens are just old and uncommon enough that there are fewer offerings, and the prices are higher than other 4th Gen. take-offs. When it comes to shopping for used wheels Craigslist is a blessing (or is it a curse). I missed a local set for $250 a few months ago, and while I continued to search nationwide, I didn’t want to pay for shipping. After months of intermittent shopping, I found a set in Oregon that did not sell for the original asking price of $400.00. A potential buyer looked at the wheels but passed due to scuffs. The listing expired, but I stayed in contact with the seller, as a planned trip to Eugene, Oregon, was going to put us within 100-miles of the rims. Without seeing a good picture of the damaged wheels I made a tentative offer of $300, which was accepted, and weeks passed.

It was a two hour drive to meet the seller, but even at $4.00 per gallon for diesel, the cost to pickup the wheels was small. Driving the little VW TDI hatchback about 70 miles-per-hour the round trip fuel economy was 48.66 MPG.

The worst wheel.

Rim damage mostly from pound-on wheel weights.

We met the seller and inspected the wheels, which did have a few typical gouges near the rims from normal use. The one with the most damage appears as if it was mounted on the wrong tire machine, with a circular gouge near the center of the wheel. I would prefer no such marks, but I use my four-wheel-drives in the rocks and dirt, so there’s a good chance I’ll further damage these wheels during off-highway travel. I do not need, nor am I will to pay for new or perfect wheels. I offered him $250, he countered with $275 and I agreed.

Now what tires should I mount?

25.5-pound, 6-spoke 4Runner wheel

RoadTraveler–Rollin’ Forward

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

Real Road Trip TDI MPG

My recent post about attaining 56 MPG in our little VW TDI was a rare achievement, our normal fuel economy is less, but still quite good. A recent road trip to Oregon is more representative of our typical highway fuel economy. The trip consisted of a couple hundred miles of slower, two-lane highways through the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges, then a couple hundred more on the faster I5 freeway. There were few ‘other’ miles mixed in, about thirty. All on one tank of fuel, as traveling 500-600 highway miles on a tank is no challenge for the little 1.9L TDI.

Over 500.3 miles we used 10.5 gallons of diesel, for 47.64 MPG. The pump clicked off a hair under 10.2 gallons, 49 MPG, too high, having made the same trip a few times. We’ll take 47.

We traveled mostly 65-75 mph, with lots of cruise control use.

47.64 MPG