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 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 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 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.
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.
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