Tire Tread Patterns – Symmetrical, Asymmetrical and Directional

Tire tread patterns are the least popular form of design to discuss at fashionable cocktail parties, and this type of design isn’t even taught at the famed Rhode Island School of Design. However, it is one kind of design that can actually save your life. Here’s what you need to know about tire tread patterns -

Tread design can impact your car in several ways, including road noise, ride quality, and perhaps most importantly, handling and traction. Generally speaking, tread pattern differences are most noticeable in adverse weather conditions. If the roads were always dry and free of dirt and debris, most drivers could use tires with little or no tread pattern (“slicks”), just like a race car. In the real world, roads are often covered with water, snow, oil, and dirt, so having the right tread design can mean the difference between a pleasant ride home and a costly trip to the body shop.

Symmetrical Tire Tread Patternstire tread patterns - symmetrical

Symmetrical tread patterns are the most common and, like the name implies, have identical tread patterns on either side of the tire’s centerline. The biggest advantage of symmetrical tread patterns is that they allow for multiple tire rotation patterns. A single tire can be placed in any one of the four corners of the car, as long as the vehicle has identically sized front and rear tires (most do).

Asymmetrical Tire Tread Patternstire tread patterns - asymmetrical

Asymmetrical tread patterns generally combine a variety of tread types to maximize both wet and dry grip. Most commonly the outside of the tire will have large tread blocks designed to maximize cornering performance, while the inside and middle parts of the tire will be designed for wet and / or winter traction. The tire sidewalls are designated as “outside only” and “inside only” – this ensures the correct portion of the tread is in the right position to maximize handling capabilities. If installed correctly, they offer multiple rotation patterns on the vehicle.

Directional Tire Tread Patternstire tread patterns - directional

Directional tread patterns, which commonly have “V” shaped tread blocks pointed in a single direction, are excellent at ejecting water from underneath the tire to prevent hydroplaning.  Directional tread patterns use outward facing grooves to trap water and force it safely away from the tire. On wet roads, nothing beats a directional tread pattern. Once installed, directional tread patterns are designed to fit on a specific side of the vehicle (this is due to the tread having to point in the right direction). It may be possible to rotate the tires from side to side, but doing so requires the tires to be removed from the rims and remounted, which makes for an expensive and time consuming rotation.

Directional & Asymmetrical Tire Tread Patternsdirectional and asymmetrical tire

Combining the water ejection capabilities of directional tires with the dry weather traction features of asymmetrical tires, directional and asymmetrical tires have directional “V” shaped treadblocks but are not symmetric around the centerline of the tire. Not surprisingly these tires are designed to be used on a single side of the vehicle and can only be rotated from front to rear, and can’t be rotated at all on cars with staggered tire sizes.


At AutoSquad, we always appreciate your feedback and try our best to respond promptly to any questions. So, please free to share your thoughts on this article, or ask us questions you may have on this or other topics.

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4 thoughts on “Tire Tread Patterns – Symmetrical, Asymmetrical and Directional

  1. Pingback: How to Check the Age of a Tire | AutoSquad Blog

  2. Pingback: How to Check the Age of a Tire | AutoSquad Blog

  3. Tom

    Thanks for the explanation of the different tread patters. But I don’t get your explanation of asymmetric tyres.
    What I don’t understand is how come companies selling me asymmetric tyres DON’T sell me two different, mirror-image, tyres – one made for the right and another the left of the car. So when you say that asymmetric tyre pattern tyres can’t be rotated diagonally on a car, my question is why. Those tyres are identical when sold, so the manufacturer doesn’t know where they’ll end up and surely therefore, we aren’t expected to care.
    If I get a sheet of paper. Draw a diagonal line down to the right. Call the right-hand side of the paper, the ‘outside. Then flip the paper so the outside is now on the left. The diagonal still goes down and to the right. So that diagonal tread line drains water under the car on the left and away from it on the right.
    Surely, when these tyres are used on the front of the car, the different ways that the same, diagonal tread pattern gets forced into left and right-hand corners, and the different ease with which water escapes (into and away from the corner), must mean that turning one way is significantly better (with respect to traction), than turning the other way. Why is that good?
    Surely that’d be why I hear SOME, FEW tyre manufacturers sell complementary left and right asymmetric tyres for high-performance cars. Presumably they release their water under the car when cornering both ways.

    1. unbiasply Post author

      Hi Tom – thanks for your question. First, let me start by saying that part of the description for asymmetric tread patterns was, in fact, incorrect (and has been fixed). Sorry for the confusion! It is true that asymmetric tires have an “outside only” and “inside only” notation and must be mounted correctly on each wheel, but they are not right or left side specific on the vehicle. Once they are mounted correctly on the wheels, they allow for multiple rotation patterns for the vehicle (except for staggered fitments where the front and rear sizes differ). Tire manufacturers that sell left- or right-side specific tires do so only for directional, asymmetric tires in a staggered fitment – the directional design limits them only to one side of the vehicle, and the different front and rear sizes limits them to which axle they fit. As a result, they are stuck in only 1 position until they are replaced.

      With regard to your question about traction – the asymmetric design (and outside vs. inside specification) will always place the larger, stiffer shoulder blocks on the outside edge of the tire. This allows for maximum corning, traction, and overall shoulder stability when turning. The rest of the tread design (usually aiding in water evacuation) will always be facing inside. This type of pattern (in conjunction with the forward motion of the car) is designed to move water away from the center of the tire and expel it behind and beside the rubber (not into the corner as you mentioned). Most asymmetric designs do feature inside shoulder blocks (though smaller than the outside portion) to help with inner shoulder stability and cornering as well. Assuming the tires are correctly mounted, their efficacy in terms of turning right or left should be exactly the same.

      Thanks again for checking us out, and I hope this was helpful!


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