Tire treads come in a surprising variety. Even tires designed for specialized types of driving (e.g., ice/snow, off-roading, commuting, etc.) come in a wide range of different tread types. This article will explain how tire treads work and why you encounter so many different styles.
How Do Tire Treads Work?
The tire tread is literally where the rubber meets the road. Instead of being flat, the tires on your car are covered in various grooves. These grooves provide room for water to get out of the way so that your tire can make better contact with the road.
This expulsion is important for maintaining traction on slippery surfaces, such as during inclement weather on highways or when driving through mud.
Tire Tread Types
Your tire tread should reflect your driving habits and the driving conditions you anticipate encountering. There are four tire tread types that you should be familiar with: directional, symmetrical, asymmetrical, and directional/asymmetrical.
As the name suggests, the directional tread is meant to roll in one direction. You may even notice arrows on the tire that display that direction. This tread type is designed to displace water from the tire and prevent hydroplaning.
Directional tires are designed and angled to perform on a specific side of your vehicle. These tires should be rotated front to back while keeping each tire on its specified side. You should not use the driver's side tires on the passenger's side and vice versa.
Symmetrical tread retains the same pattern across the whole tire, usually in the form of continuous grooves across the entire surface. This tire can be ideal for passenger cars and commuting vehicles because it is quiet and durable.
Unlike directional tires, symmetrical tires are more versatile and can be rotated in various ways. This flexibility allows consumers to prolong the life of their tires, making symmetrical tires an economical option.
Sports cars often rely on the asymmetrical tire tread, which combines a variety of tread patterns to optimize the tire's grip on both wet and dry roads. Typically, the middle parts of the tire have treads designed for wet conditions, while the outside portions are intended for cornering ability on dry surfaces.
Because of this, asymmetrical tires are marked "outside only" and "inside only" on the corresponding sidewalls. You can rotate asymmetrical tires in a variety of configurations.
Directional/asymmetrical tire tread is designed to be a bit of a hybrid of the two other common tread types. These tires feature the V-shaped pattern associated with the directional tread and the dry weather traction of the asymmetrical tread.
Because they retain the properties of directional tires, these tires follow the same rules as directional tires when it comes to tire rotation and must be kept on the specified side of the vehicle.
Balancing Safety and Performance
Tire tread patterns are designed to optimize your vehicle's safety and performance. Knowing what tread type you need can help your vehicle perform well under your anticipated driving conditions, as well as help you understand any requirements associated with tire rotation.