My favorite LT255/85R16?

Check out my current favorites below

Link: Mastercraft CXT and Cooper S/T MAXX


I was asked about my favorite 255/85R16 tire these days. Favorite? Just one? Singular? This was a tough assignment for me. All my buddies know it’s impossible for me to have only one set of truck tires in my shop. It depends on the application, but what’s my final answer?

For most of us price is at least somewhat of a consideration, if not a major factor, when choosing tires. I’ll give cost some consideration, though I prefer to buy the rubber I want, and think of the relative value over 40,000 miles or more. Sometimes a little faster rate of wear is a fair tradeoff for performance.

Maxxis Bravo MA-761 and Toyo M55 in 255/85R16

Mostly Muds

While I wish there were more all-terrain or commercial traction treads in the 255/85 size there are only a couple. The Toyo M55 is one commercial traction tire that comes to mind, and the load-range D, 3-ply sidewall Maxxis Bravo MA-761 is a the only stout, low-void tire in this size. The rest are essentially mud-terrain tires.

Regional availability varies and I suggest considering this before a purchase. With few exceptions, most stores will need to order a set of 255/85 tires. In my part of The West, 255/85R16 Toyo M/T, M55, and Maxxis Bighorns can be found at many Les Schwab Tires stores, and if not in stock, will arrive a few days after an order is placed. I’d be willing to bet cash that few (if any) local tire stores stock the BFG Mud-Terrain. However the online tire giant, Tire Rack, has a warehouse nearby, and a short drive any business day would put a set of 255/85 KM2s in my pickup.

LT255/85R16E BFG KM2 treads on a 2006 4Runner

Toyo M/T 

If you’re looking for very heavy-duty construction (and heavy), smooth running on pavement, and a reputation for balancing well, the Toyo M/T is a top choice. Tread wear can be very good, or lousy depending on the rig and the driver. Their tendency to pull, often right, on (my) Toyota 4WDs and many Dodge trucks has made me reconsider my praise for Toyos in recent years where I used to swear by them. Their cost is a little scary too, though the 255/85 size is small enough to be affordable; all tires have become more expensive.

When the stoutest tire is not needed, I don’t like the extremely low pressures needed to make the Toyo M/T ride nice and flex the way I prefer off-pavement. At normal pressures on-highway ride is also firm, this is the price that must be paid for extreme-duty construction, the 3-ply sidewalls, and 7-ply tread. Some dislike the appearance of the Toyo M/T, but I think it’s a sharp looking tire. Noise is moderate for a mud terrain tire.

The previous BFG KM Mud-Terrain and the Toyo M/T in 255/85R16.

BFGoodrich KM2

With enough saddle time above a set of 255/85R16s and 285/75R16s to know how they perform off-highway, the BFG KM2 has impressed me as a load-range E, 3-ply sidewall tire that flexes well when the air pressure is dropped. BFG claims this in their advertising and it’s true. So while I’m not a BFG fan, this flexibility has my respect because I like flexible tires that are tough enough.

BFG also deserves credit for their commitment to the 255/85R16 size, as they made it for many years in the previous Mud Terrain design, for years now in the KM2 pattern, and offer essentially the same 17-inch tire, a 255/80R17. I’ve not had any failures with BFGs, but they’ve also never been my favorite tires, so I never put more than a few thousand miles on a set.

Most seem to be satisfied with how KM2s perform and last, but for years I’ve heard reports of inconsistent balance with BFGs. I experienced this myself with a set of 255/85 KMs (not KM2), which were only slightly worn and started to require more lead to balance after a few thousand miles. BFGoodrich deserves credit for taking chances when designing the KM2 which is a nice, different looking tire that has plenty of sidewall tread. A good price for a set of 255/85 KM2s should be much less than Toyo M/Ts.

Maxxis Bighorn load-range D and BFGoodrich KM2 load-range E LT255/85R16 tires.

Maxxis Bighorn MT-762

When Les Schwab Tires started selling the Bighorn a few years ago, including the 255/85R16 size (blackwalls too!), I was quick to buy a set. At the time they did full-time duty on my built 4Runner and were an exceptional value, about $150 per tire. On many occasions I was thoroughly impressed by the grip the Bighorns delivered. Part of their traction advantage comes from the relatively soft, flexible tread compound, which also results in pretty fast wear. Bighorns are also a little loud, not howling ‘swamper’ loud, but a typical mud tire hum, a bit more to listen to than either the Toyo M/T and KM2, particularly as they wear. As I mature, I’m less tolerant of everyday tire noise, and actually prefer something quieter than all three of my examples here. If you’re not averse to a little mud tire noise, the Bighorns are a great tire. They are still a load-range D 255/85, only a 2-ply sidewall design, though I’ve yet to rip one open. I’d like to see Maxxis update their design and add thicker tread material on the upper sidewalls.

My first set of Bighorns made me a fan of Maxxis light-truck tires, when they balanced with very little weight. This spurred me to purchased a set of Bravo all-terrains, which also required little weight to balance and were great on the road. My second set of 255/85 Bighorns also balanced well, but never saw much use before being traded. A third set of Bighorns, used 285/75R17s, that I acquired for testing a few months ago also balanced very well even though they had some uneven wear. A little noisy and fast wearing they may be, but they are still a decent value if you don’t have to pay full retail, and even better if you’re able to use them mostly off-highway.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

Dick Cepek and Mickey Thompson Change Load Range D For E

Some of the great load-range (LR) D enthusiast tires are going to be improved to load-range E designs. This is only an improvement if one needs the higher load rating, and can be a negative if you don’t (see Wheels, Tires, and Sidewalls from Jan. 2012). I understand manufacturers’ position, if they make all or most of their heavy-duty light-truck (LT) tires load-range E, the tire can be used for stoutest pickups down to the smaller, lighter rigs. I argue that these stiffer, less flexible tires are not ideal for many lighter 4WDs which are typically daily-drivers that rarely haul or tow maximum loads, and would benefit from the better ride and off-pavement traction that more flexible tires offer. There are many applications where a load-range D or C (remember those) are the best choice. I view the reduction and possible elimination of the LR D tire choices similarly to the needless super-sizing of everything in the USA.

Bed full of load-range D, 255/85R16 tires.

I also see similarities to the slow death of the LT255/85R16 size. There is still a small market for this fantastic 33×10-inch tire, and many 255/85 tires that were all LR D five years ago, have become LR E designs. In support of this 255/85R16 change, I do think most trucks running this size are heavy-duty, full-sized pickups that are used as such, and the added capacity and reduced flex is a positive. Unfortunately narrower tires don’t appeal to the masses (strike 1), few new trucks are made with 16-inch wheels (strike 2), and the perfect 17-inch 255/85 replacement, the 255/80R17, is available in one tire (strike three), the BFGoodrich KM2 mud-terrain.

Dick Cepek Mud Country LT285/75R16D, with 3-ply sidewalls.

The Sea Change In Load-Range Continues

Recently I noticed that two of my current favorite mud tires, the Dick Cepek Mud Country and the Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ, are losing their load-range D rating in favor of the LR E in a couple popular sizes.

The Mud Country in 285/75R16 and the MTZ in 285/70R17 are switching to a load-range E rating. Both of these tires/sizes were load-range D, with 3-ply sidewalls, a perfect combination for many enthusiast applications. I currently own a set of each of these treads and love the 3-ply sidewalls combined with a load-range D casing. The new LR E offerings will surely offer less sidewall and/or tread flex (bad off-highway, good for tonnage) and be firmer riding during lightly loaded daily use. How stiff is the question, as not all LR E tires are created equal. Some are pretty flexible like the BFG KM2, while others like the new Cooper S/T MAXX and Toyo M/T are quite stiff.

The LT285/70R17 Mickey Thompson MTZ: Stout 3-ply sidewalls, serious sidebiter lugs, and load-range D construction all in one package. I’ll miss this combination when my current set needs replacing.

If you think I’m some kind of tire nut who likes fetish tires (well…) there has been and likely still is plenty of market and demand for good, load-range D tires. The currently popular, practical, and useful 285/70R17 size has several load-range D offerings. A search on recently listed twenty-eight 285/70R17 tires; 14 of which were LR D treads, 7 were LR E, and 7 were P-rated tires. These LR D designs were not duds, and included some of the best or most popular off-highway enthusiast tires currently offered, including: Dick Cepek F-C II, BFGoodrich KM2 and All-Terrain, Goodyear MT/R with Kevlar, and Goodyear DuraTrac. For years BFG has offered their ever-popular All-Terrain in both load-range D and E flavors in both the 16-inch and 17-inch 285 mm sizes. I respect BFG for seeing and filling this need, and not forcing everyone who wants a 285 to run a load-range E tire. There is a difference.

Does this mean that I will no longer buy certain niche tires once they’re not available in LR D? Probably not. While I prefer a LR D tire for most of my uses, my primary criteria for light-truck tires is that I like the tread and overall characteristics, they balance well, and the chassis I put them on likes the tire. All of these are equally important, any missing ingredient can make a tire undesirable for the specific application—a deal breaker. After these metrics I prefer and will take a load-range D if I can get it, but will accept a load-range E if it’s not overly stiff.

RoadTraveler, enjoying the tire wear to get there.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

Ken Block-San Francisco-Gymkhana Five

Not a typical RoadTraveler post, but it’s all about location, location, location. This is one exception to my distain for low-profile tires, and this is not a truck.

There is a nexus as there’s some off (above) road travel. I particularly like the sideways jump and turn. Turn up the speakers.

Ford’s F150 3.5L EcoBoost V6 Succeeds

Ford Motor Company has a resounding success in their 3.5L EcoBoost V6 engine. In February 2011 the power plant was made available in the F150 pickup, and by April Ford sold 35% of their F150s with the little engine that could. By September Ford had sold 75,000 EcoBoost F150s and forecasted the take-rate would reach 45 percent. In December 2011 Ford was reporting they’d sold 100,000 EcoBoost F150s…fast-forward to July 2012 and Ford has now exceeded their sales predictions by 100,000 engines!

There were skeptics of this engine and technology, though I was not one of them, being a fan of both turbocharged forced-induction and Ford. The on-paper ratings of 420 lb-ft and 365 hp were, and still are impressive for a little V6; about the same torque one could wring from a similarly sized 4-cylinder diesel yet with more horsepower. The engine is capable of good V6 fuel-economy too. At inception I figured the only thing that could hurt this engine’s success would have been poor engineering or assembly, but it appears The Motor Company knows what they’re doing and I’ve yet to hear any bad press. Real-world high-mileage longevity is another question, and we will have this answer in a couple years after a few early-production trucks surpass the 200k mark with their original turbochargers intact; or not.

Turbocharged engines don’t complain in the mountains.

I’m not typically an early adopter of new technology or products, wanting things to prove themselves and have a thorough sorting before I spend my money, but I would have made an exception for the 3.5L EcoBoost. When I was shopping for a new half-ton pickup in April 2011, the field was quickly narrowed to the then new EcoBoost F150 and the 5.7L Toyota Tundra. I don’t regret my Tundra purchase (more on that later), but forced-induction would have been a daily pleasure at 5,000-ft.

Good on you Ford!

Now if you guys would just make an attractive mid-sized wagon, with a powerful EcoBoost and fuel-economy close to our VW TDI, maybe you can sell us a new car soon? Oh yeah, and I’d really like a manual transmission…remember those?

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

RoadTraveler’s 100,000 Mile Challenge Part 2

Real World Examples

1) 1996 F350 7.3L Power Stroke, 4.10 differential gears, 5-speed manual transmission. This truck was conservatively modified with thirty-three inch tires, heavy bumpers, and mild engine performance modifications.

It should be noted that the older (pre-Super Duty) Ford pickups had relatively poor brakes compared to the later 1999-up trucks with four-wheel disc brakes, though they’ve never been a problem for my use and driving style.

127,000 miles and counting…still running the original brakes.

This rig was a daily-driver commuter, long-distance road traveler, tow/hauling workhorse, off-highway toy, and magazine project for the first several years of its life. Additions to our fleet put the brakes on the rapid accumulation of miles, and is the reason this old truck has very low miles for its age.

During its 127,000 miles, Pull Dog has yet to need brake pads or shoes. Never. I used to clean and lube the caliper slide rails regularly to prevent sticking and improper wear (this maintenance is actually mentioned in the owner’s manual), adjust the rear brake shoes to keep the pedal up and the parking brake working properly, and the brake system was bleed a couple times…that’s it. When this old F350 needs brakes, you’ll likely read it here first, though I need to start driving it again before it’s going to need new friction material.

Dirt road lunch stop in the low-rider Golf TDI. Nevada. 150k on the front pads with tons of material remaining.

2) 2000 VW Golf 1.9L TDI (diesel), 5-speed manual tranny.

This little car has been my wife’s daily-driver for over ten years, and we take it on long car trips when a truck or 4WD isn’t required. She prefers to drive the suburban surface streets to work instead of the freeway most of the time.

It’s worth noting that while these little VW TDIs can make more power, and for some this is an enthusiast car, for us it’s just comfortable, economical transportation and it’s the one vehicle in my fleet that is bone stock. The car gets it’s recommended oil changes with premium 5W-40 synthetic oil every 10,000 miles, a new air filter every 10k because I’m a stickler for clean air, I’ve changed the transaxle lube every 50k as a precaution, and I’ve done the other minimum maintenance or repairs. Very little extra care, we just drive it.

2000 VW Golf TDI front brake pads during the 150,000 mile tire rotation.

The car’s odometer has reached 152,000, and we’ve logged all but the first 18,000. It needed rear brakes at 82k, but the fronts have yet to be touched. It’s not uncommon for moderately driven (and braked) vehicles to need rears before fronts. Based on the pictures I took when Les Schwab rotated and balanced the tires recently, I think the front pad might go another 100k; there’s plenty of meat on the pads! Maybe it will be two sets of rear pads to one set of fronts?

The RoadTraveler V8 4Runner with its Rocket 88 gears (4.88:1) has hauled a few loads in its 60,000 miles.

3) 2006 Toyota 4Runner 4.7L V8, 5-speed auto tranny, 3.73:1 gears when new and stock, before 4.88 ring & pinions were added. This car is heavily modified and very heavy, 5,500 pounds wet but unloaded, and has seen extensive off-highway use, including many technical trails, and plenty of towing miles.

With only 60,000 miles this wagon has some years ahead before I’ll be able to report if it attained the 100k challenge. But at a little more than half way there, the brake pads are looking very thick. The odds are good.

With just a bit over 60,000 miles on the 4Runner, there is plenty of friction material remaining.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

RoadTraveler’s 100,000 Mile Challenge Part 1

I’m not talking about an engine or chassis making it to 100,000 miles. The days when it was a major accomplishment for vehicles reach 100k without an engine overhaul or major repairs are in the history books. For decades now vehicles have been built to higher standards, are more reliable, and it’s no great achievement nor are bragging rights attached to driving to six digits.

Tune Ups and Maintenance 

Most modern gasoline-powered engines no longer need tune-ups, largely because tune-ups had much to do with the ignition system, and the ignition system as we knew it has been consolidated. The distributor cap, rotor, plug wires, and the ignition coil are mostly missing on modern systems. In their place are coil-on-plug, electronically-controlled systems that work amazingly well and need very little, if any, attention. Some cars and trucks have spark plugs that last more than 100,000 miles!

Engine and ignition system on a 1974 Ford Bronco

Fuel and air filters were part of our old tune-ups, but with gas-powered, fuel-injected vehicles the filter is in the tank and not easily changed. Air filters are still accessible, and should be serviced regularly, but are sometimes forgotten and neglected. Air filter maintenance is more important for off-pavement travelers or those that live in particulate environs. Few vehicles, even 4WDs that might benefit, have serviceable wheel bearings, U-joints, or driveline zerks. Still, these parts also routinely last for 100,000 miles and beyond.

It’s easy to understand why routine maintenance is oft forgotten, there’s so little of it required that non-enthusiasts drivers forget about caring for their mechanical investment. Their cars still run well for years on little more than fuel and periodic oil changes. (Of course, readers and most gear-heads don’t ignore the mechanical stuff on their rides.) So if new vehicles are so reliable, where’s the 100k challenge? Let’s look a little deeper…

First generation Toyota 4Runner getting a lift out of a ‘tub’ on Moab’s Hell’s Revenge trail.

Drive It Like You Paid For It. You did or possibly still are.

My nickname, Redline, can be interpreted a few ways, however my normal method of driving does not include the top of the rpm range. Occasionally I open the throttle and bounce the tachometer needle against governor without fear. These rare visits to the stratosphere are within the design parameters of modern engines, and have yet to prove detrimental to their longevity.

Care and maintenance do matter, but so does driving style. The British have a term, Vehicle Sympathy or Mechanical Sympathy, which accurately explains a key ingredient. Driving proficiently, with an eye on vehicle care, maybe even taking pride in doing it well while not being needlessly rough on the mechanicals.

A 2005 Rubicon Unlimited with Dean SXT Mud Terrain 255/85R16D tires. This is use, not abuse.

Make Your Brakes Last 100k

RoadTraveler’s 100,000 Mile Longevity Challenge is to make your brake pads and/or shoes last for 100,000 miles, or more. It’s not as difficult as you might think, but it may require an attitude adjustment when you’re behind the wheel. To succeed you don’t have to drive slow, I typically drive at or slightly above the speed limit, like most people. You will have to release the accelerator earlier, coast a little (which helps MPG) and use the linear momentum of your vehicle when you need to reduce your speed. This is in contrast to the folks who move almost immediately from the go-pedal to the slow-pedal, converting the fuel they just burned for forward progress into heat wasted heat energy through the braking system.

It doesn’t take only long-distance highway driving to meet this 100k challenge, though I will concede that folks who routinely drive in very heavy city traffic—the kind they have in San Francisco and New York, and many other places—may have a difficult time reaching 100,000 miles. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try, maybe reaching 50,000 or 75,000 miles before new brake pads are needed. But for many who travel in moderate city, suburban, or mixed conditions, 100,000 miles on OE brakes is very attainable, even easy.

Driving conditions do matter, and those at both poles may have vastly different results, but most of us are in the middle, and the driver matters much more than the conditions. My real-world examples have been driven in heavy city and freeway traffic, off-highway, and on long-distance road trips. I do a fair amount of towing too.

Off-highway towing can be hard on your brakes, particularly when traveling downhill. Use your gears, including low-range, to preserve your brakes.

How Can We Get There?

While offering many secondary safety benefits, some techniques that will help us accomplish this 100,000 mile brake longevity is to practice some fundamental driving safe techniques. A few of them are:

Look several seconds ahead for changes in traffic conditions, road hazards, traffic signals, and signs, and absorb and evaluate the data from the constantly changing conditions.

Focus on, and consciously think about how you are operating your machine. It’s fun to do something supremely well, even something we often take for granted, like driving. Focusing will allow for smoother, safer lane changes and turns, better transmission shifts, less fuel consumption, and less brake use.

Don’t follow closely. There are many reasons to avoid following-too-closely (FTC), but needing to use brakes early, often, and firmly is toward the top and directly related to all the safety reasons one should not FTC. Following no closer than a few seconds—longer is better—will offer better sightlines, and the ability to slow down by simply releasing the accelerator instead of immediately going for the brakes.

Release the accelerator earlier when needing to slow or stop. This is the premier principle for reducing brake wear and is connected to looking several seconds ahead and not following-too-closely. Once conditions dictate we need to cease accelerating or cruising at a steady speed, the sooner we reduce pressure or completely release the skinny pedal, the further we can travel on the fuel already consumed and the less brake wear we’ll incur while slowing or stopping. Unless you are on a very steep hill, once the accelerator is released you will start to loose momentum, reducing speed without the brakes. So simple, but I don’t see much of this from the automotive masses. In fact, the opposite is true, there’s a bunch of needless pedal bashing.

I like to think of slow declaration while coasting as free travel, or as my Tundra’s dash computer readout sometimes says, 99 miles-per-gallon, the opposite of idling. When we start coasting to slow down, even short distances, we are traveling with the throttle closed and consuming very little fuel. Every mile-per-hour we are able to slow without using our brakes is friction material we have conserved.

In addition to saving brake system wear you are also keeping your brakes cool by not using them early, often, or hard. Modern braking systems are generally very good, and can convert large amounts of energy to heat, but eventually all brakes will fade if used aggressively. The less you use them the more they will be there for you when you need them. Low gears and/or manual transmissions can help, but are not required to meet the 100k brake challenge.


Real World Examples 

In the Next Post

Copyright © 2012 James Langan