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2010 Tacoma & FlipPac Camper Tire Q&A

Recently I received an email from Cliff with a few tire questions for the RoadTraveler (RT) blog. Below are his questions and my answers and comments, it’s a long one…Tires, they’re what’s on the menu today 😉

Background provided by Cliff: I have a few questions I hope you wouldn’t mind answering.  First some background; I daily drive a 2010 Tacoma TRD Off Road with a FlipPac camper and OME suspension.  Living in the Eastern Sierra I spend a lot of time on 395 between Reno and Los Angeles but, also drive many miles of desert washboard roads including the Death Valley area.  I currently have stock tires, which are due for replacement.  I have decided to invest in two sets of wheels, highway and off road.

RT. Two sets of wheels (or more) are very nice, and can save thousands of miles of needless pavement wear on your off-highway tires. However, there have been times when I didn’t have the correct wheels/tires on my truck when I ventured off-pavement because either the trip wasn’t planned or I made the wrong choice. Still, I like having a set of both more and less aggressive tires to choose from, but my all-around Dick Cepek F-C II get most of the miles.

One thing to be aware of is that two different treads might need different alignment settings to track straight and true on the same vehicle…I have lots of experience with this in recent years on my Toyotas and this is a solid argument against running two sets of wheels/tires.

Unmounted Toyo M/T tires in 265/75R16E, 255/85R16E, and 285/75R16E sizes.

Q. The highway set will likely be Michelin LTX M/S2 in a P-rated stock size.  The off road tires I have yet to decide but, the short list includes, BFG KM2’s, Goodyear DuraTrac’s, or one of the Cooper off road tires. I have 7” wide wheels and would like to get into a taller narrower tire than stock.

RT. Are the stock tires on your Tacoma 265/70R16? You might consider running 265/75R16 for your replacements, though I don’t know if those Michelins are available P-rated? I assume your truck is relatively light with the FlipPac and doesn’t need more than the original P-rated tires. Though I’m not a big fan of what I consider the excessively stiff and/or short tire sidewall world we now live in (see Wheels, Tires, and Sidewalls) with your truck and intended use I would probably lean toward a load-range (LR) C tire if I could find the tread I wanted. If not, P-rated will work just as they have been.

Another question when discussing tire load ranges and ruggedness is have your OE tires been found severely lacking during the off-pavement travel you’ve already done? And even if the answer is yes, is a jump all the way to a load range E warranted, or would something more moderate like a load range C or D be more appropriate?

Reports on the Goodyear DuraTrac wear vary from excellent to very poor, and it seems the weight and/or driver of the truck has much to do with their longevity. Few complain about a lack of traction with the DuraTrac and a major positive is that Goodyear offers the LT265/75R16 size in both LR C and E, and I would suggested the LR C since you are concerned about of the ride quality penalties of an E-rated tire.

Q. My question is this.  On rough washboard roads does the difference in tire volume between the following sizes 255/85-16, 235/85-16, and 265/75-16 make any noticeable difference in ride quality?  Will one size tire provide a smoother ride over the others?

RT. The short answer is yes. Everyone’s butt dyno is calibrated differently, and truck loading, suspension, and tire PSI all make a difference. As I mentioned in the post linked above, I could clearly feel the difference between two sets of Toyo M/T ties on my 2005 Jeep Rubicon, both using the stock 16×8″ wheels, one 265/75R16E the other 285/75R16E. Both tires have 3-ply sidewalls and 7-ply treads. The only difference was the sidewall height and volume of air in the tires. I was aware of the slight but noticeable ride difference on relatively smooth local streets, and these differences were magnified once the impacts were deeper or sharper off-highway, even when aired-down.

So if you are merely analyzing the ride difference in sidewall height and/or volume, again the short answer is yes, one will provide a smoother ride than the other. But it is more complicated than that once you start changing load-ranges. All of the LT235/85R16 tires currently offered are E load range. My old favorite LT255/85R16 used to always be LR D, but now many have changed to load-range E. The LT265/75R16 size offers the most choice, with many load-range E treads, but a few LR D and C as well, just depends on the specific tire and manufacturer.

With the above in mind, it’s very difficult to say what size will offer a smoother ride based solely on the size or volume of air in the tire. Generally speaking, when running the same PSI, a LR D 255/85 will ride softer than a 235/85 or 265/75 LR E, a LR D 265/75 would ride better than a LR E 255/85, and a LR C 265/75 will beat them all. It should be noted that a LR C, 6-ply rated tire was considered a fairly heavy-duty light-truck tire a decade or two ago, and they can still be plenty depending on the rig, loading, and use. But those were the days before our super-sized world, which now includes; diesel pickups that have more torque and horsepower than commercial medium-duty trucks did, half-ton trucks with a payloads up to one ton, and 1-ton pickups that are rated for two tons or more in the single rear wheel (SRW) applications. Still, when one confirms the loads that modern light-truck (LT) tires are rated to carry, there is plenty of room to choose something less than a LR E for many applications.

Goodyear DuraTrac 265/70R17E and Dick Cepek F-C II 265/75R16E

Q. Most if not all narrow off road tires seem to be load range “E”.  Is an “E” tire too stiff for a lightweight truck like the Tacoma?

RT. That’s your call, many people think they are fine. Load Range E tires have become the norm these days, though they are not needed or necessarily desirable for every light-truck or Tacoma, and while some think they are overkill and sometimes too stiff, they are certainly popular. The stiffer the truck’s suspension the more bothersome I find stiff tires. For example, I really prefer a load range D tire on my old F350 as without a ton or more on the rear springs the ride can be very firm on-road and jarring off-highway, but the added give in a tall LR D tire when aired down makes it much more pleasant. Of course if my truck was used at its maximum gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) most of the time, a stiffer tire would be better. But I’ve found a LR D works well both empty and loaded with appropriate air pressure, the duty-cycle matters.

Compared to your stock P-rated tires I have little doubt you will be able to feel the difference—on and off-highway—if you slap on a set of LR E treads and run the same PSI. I would suggest a LR C or D, if they’re available in the tread you want.

Q. Would a “C” load range tire provide a smoother off road ride?

RT. Yes.

Maxxis Bravo 761 & BFG KM, both 255/85, LR D with 3-ply sidewalls, a rare combination.

Q. I’m looking for a tuff, 3-ply sidewall, off road tire that will still provide a smooth ride in the rough stuff.

RT. Well that’s a tall order. The tougher the tire the rougher it will ride. The Toyo M/T I mentioned above is a very rugged tire, also a very stiff tire, particularly on a light truck. They are also expensive and typically balance very well. The new Cooper S/T MAXX is similar, very rugged but also stiff and firm riding…there is no free lunch. Remember that most LT tires still do not have 3-ply sidewalls, they have 2-ply sidewalls. Take two tires of essentially the same construction, one with the 3-ply sidewall and the other a 2-ply, the 3-ply sidewall tire will ride firmer. Preferring a more compliant ride, but sometimes needing a stout tire for heavy-hauling or puncture resistance in the rocks, I prefer a LR D with a 3-ply sidewall when I can get them, like the Dick Cepek Mud Countrys currently on my 4Runner, but that’s an uncommon configuration. Typically I just live with a regular 2-ply sidewall tire, like my current favorite, the Dick Cepek F-C II in a load-range D 285, which are currently on both my F350 and Tundra.

You should probably try to decide on the size and/or tread pattern you want first, then make the necessary concessions on load range and ply ratings, or visa-versa. You are not going to be able to have the most rugged tire, that is also very compliant on the washboard, just like the more aggressive treads generally don’t offer the wear of milder tread.

There are some other things to consider if you go taller than the 265/75R16 or 235/85R16 sizes (31.7–32″) on your Tacoma: Will your spare tire still fit in the OE location, is that important to you, and is the loss of torque and possibly fuel economy worth the switch to LT255/85R16 tires with stock gearing? Though I purchased a 4th Gen. 4Runner, I’ve often considered the 2005-up Tacoma platform, and thought that a 32-ish tall tire was very good compromise while begin able to run the correct, matching size spare without a tire swing-away.

Though in your case, the 255s would likely only be for occasionally use, and maybe the loss in acceleration and having a smaller spare would not be a deal-breaker? Since the Taco is a traditional, part-time 4WD system, there is not much concern when running a slightly smaller, 265/75 spare for short distances as long as the VSC and ATRAC don’t mind; they didn’t on my 4Runner when I ran that combination for a brief test.

Rollin’ Forward with RoadTraveler

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

MPG, Fuel Economy, Tire Width, and Treads No. 1

Newer, detailed article, click here: Tread Matters


Will The Most Efficient Tires Please Drive Forward

It’s often stated that narrower, lighter, less aggressive tires are more efficient and will yield better fuel economy, but how much better? To properly compare apples and pears one must take care to reduce the variables that are always present during real-world tests. In this case I used the same vehicle, same gas pump, during similar weather conditions and time of day, calculated the odometer error, and used the same section of freeway. The GPS-confirmed road speed was 64-MPH and was maintained by cruise control. The tires were inflated to 35-PSI in all but the last test with the Dick Cepek F-C II treads where I goofed and only used 32-PSI. The F-C II tires performed so well I doubt they could have provided better economy with an extra 3-PSI.

Cooper S/T 255/85R16D on Toyota 4Runner, @ 15 PSI.

If you think the fuel economy numbers listed below are too high you are partly correct, the tests involved almost zero city driving. The variables of in-town driving are not repeatable and won’t yield consistent data. What these tests do show is the fuel economy potential of this vehicle and establishes a baseline against which other tests can be measured. For each test the modified 2006 4.7L V8 4Runner was fueled and then driven a few blocks to the same freeway onramp, onward to a specific exit, and then the route was reversed and terminated at the same gas pump where the engine was promptly turned off.

Dean SXT Mud Terrain & Cooper S/T, both 255/85R16. Two of the narrowest 255/85 tires made.

All the tires used were close to the same diameter, about 33-inches, and they were all mounted on Toyota FJ Cruiser TRD 16 x 7.5-inch aluminum wheels. Because of the slight differences I tire height, one corrected odometer reading of 56.76-miles was used for all the tests. Listed below with the figures are the weights of each tire/wheel combination.


Cooper S/T LT255/85R16D: 75-lb  3.027-gal. = 18.75 MPG

Maxxis Bighorn LT255/85R16D: 82-lb  3.017-gal. = 18.81 MPG

TreadWright Guard Dog LT285/75R16E: 87-lb  3.331-gal. = 17.04 MPG

Dick Cepek F-C II LT285/75R16D: 83-lb  3.121-gal. = 18.18 MPG

Maxxis Bighorn 255/85R16D, TreadWright Guard Dog 285/75R16E, Cooper S/T 255/85R16D


I was a little surprised that the very narrow and light Coopers consumed more fuel than the heavier, more aggressive Maxxis Bighorns. Though when filling-up after the Cooper test the gas-pump didn’t stop normally and a little gas spit from the filler, possibly contributing to the lower reading. Longer distance tests would likely be more accurate, but this type of testing is very time consuming and expensive.

It was expected that the heavier, wider TreadWright Guard Dogs with their aggressive lug tread would use more fuel. The Cepek F-C II tires impressed me by splitting the difference and topping eighteen MPG!

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

Surely tread design, width, and weight all make a difference. My theory is that width and tread design have a larger impact on fuel economy than tire weight, at least when there is only a few pounds difference. There is five pounds separating the Maxxis Bighorn 255/85R16 and TreadWright 285/75R16, but I don’t think those additional few pounds account for the 1.77 mile-per-gallon difference. There is a seven pound difference between the Maxxis Bighorns and Cooper S/Ts, but the results for these two 255s were so close you could call it a tie.

Your mileage will vary.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

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