A tire track left behind in the dirt can be an interesting sight to behold. Tires and their tread patterns are vastly different for a reason. Various driving surfaces require versatile tire treads to ensure their safe performance.
But, which tire tread patterns exist, and what are they for? Let's take a look.
Tire Tread Types
First, we need to talk about what is a tire tread exactly?
The tire tread is the part of the tire that is in constant contact with the road surface. It is the optimally designed footprint, which is molded using rubber. Tire tread patterns are used to provide traction, handling, etc. to each and every tire model.
A Quick Rundown of Tire Patterns:
- Symmetric: these tires are optimized for driving comfort, directional stability, and minimized rolling resistance
- Asymmetric: this tire pattern enhances handling and cornering stability while providing better wet traction
- Directional: water displacement, increased snow and mud handling, and high speed road contact is offered with this pattern
What are Tire Treads? (Tread Elements Explained)
Each tire track is unique. This is due to the tread patterns that they sport. Both directional and non-directional tires feature versatile tread elements which make up the footprint.
But, why is that?
Well, versatile road and weather conditions need specific tread elements to secure traction. As a result, brands have to come up with optimized tread designs to ensure driving safety at all times.
However, all tires feature the same tread elements in different combinations. They are:
- Ribs: the raised elements of the footprint that offer road contact, they are made up either of tread blocks or continuous ribs
- Tread blocks: also raised tread elements that provide road contact and traction depending on circumstances
- Grooves: deep circumferential and lateral channels located on the footprint, their primary function is channeling water from the footprint
- Sipes: small and thin slots located on the tread blocks, which provide extra biting edges
Understanding the Three Main Tire Tread Patterns
What types of tire treads are available on the market? What are they good for?
It is safe to say that various tread pattern designs excel at different things. Some provide comfort, others extreme weather traction or high speed performance. It is important to know the difference between directional patterns, asymmetric tread patterns, and symmetric tread designs.
So, what do these tire tread designs offer for drivers?
Let's find out!
Symmetrical Tire Treads
Tires featuring a symmetric tread pattern are the most common on the tire market. Their footprint features continuous ribs or tread blocks in an identical pattern on both sides of the tires.
This tread pattern on tires is most useful for the everyday driver. This is because, symmetric tread patterns are fuel-efficient, while also offering great comfort levels and a lengthened tread life.
However, the only problem with symmetric tires is that they don't conform to different road conditions easily. While this is not true for all tires belonging to this category, they are not the best for slippery and wet conditions. Additionally, they are not good for high speed performance.
Main Benefits of Symmetric Tread Patterns:
- Vibration-free, smooth performance
- Optimized directional stability
- Increased fuel economy
Asymmetrical Tire Treads
The asymmetric pattern on tires is the blend of two distinct patterns on a single footprint. These different tire designs serve specific purposes and are optimized for specific purposes. In other words, the asymmetric tire's inner and outer patterns work together to increase driving safety.
Typically, the asymmetric tire features an inner tread pattern that deals with traction. It features circumferential or lateral grooves for better water dispersal, resisting hydroplaning. On the other hand, the outer pattern's larger tread blocks serve to improve traction and maneuvering. They can also work to minimize road noise levels.
Additionally, the asymmetrical pattern promotes sharp handling, which makes these tires perfect for high speed applications. For this reason, most high performance tires are non-symmetrical.
But, if your tire's tread is asymmetric, tire rotations will be a bit tricky.
Main Benefits of Asymmetrical Tires:
- Sharp and quick handling
- Increased maneuvering ability
- Exceptional wet weather traction
The directional tread pattern is designed to roll in one direction. Most directional tire tread patterns feature V-shaped lateral grooves that create patterns. As a result, directional tires provide the best hydroplaning resistance.
Tires with directional tire tread have markings on their sidewall, which shows the tire tread direction. This means that they have to be mounted in a certain manner.
Directional tread patterns are designed with tire sipes and tire grooves in order to enhance inclement weather traction. This tire tread pattern generates biting edges to optimize mud and snow grip. This is perfect for all season and winter tires, as well as high performance models.
Main Benefits of Directional Tread Patterns:
- Superb hydroplaning resistance
- Improved harsh weather controllability
- Maintained surface traction during high speeds
The Directional and Asymmetrical Tire (Hybrid Tread Design)
With the demand of special tires growing, a fourth, hybrid tread pattern has emerged. It is the directional-asymmetric tread pattern.
This pattern optimizes the dual pattern design of asymmetric tires and combines that with the V-shaped pattern of directional tread patterns. The tire, as a result, provides the best characteristics of both tread pattern designs.
They offer increased hydroplaning resistance and optimize its high speed performance. This model is perfect for high performance and winter weather applications.
Main Benefits of Directional-Asymmetric Tires:
- Enhanced inclement weather traction
- Increased high speed handling and durability
- Stable and sharp performance
Mixing Different Tire Treads is a Big No No
Different tread patterns on tires should not be mixed on a single vehicle. Mixing symmetric, directional, or asymmetric tread design patterns will hinder the vehicle's performance characteristics.
To ensure maximal safety, it would be best to stick to the same type of tire tread on all four tires. If you are unable to purchase the same brand and model as the rest of the tires, then at least stick to the tire type you have on the other tires.
Lastly, whenever possible, tires should be switched in twos. The best practice is to replace two tires at a time and mount the new tires on the rear axle. In this manner, the vehicle will be able to safely perform.
Asymmetrical vs Symmetrical Tire Treads
When talking about asymmetric vs symmetric tires, the difference is in the tread pattern - obviously.
However, the performance diversity asymmetrical tires offer with their tread design can easily beat symmetric tires. The different tread blocks and elements located on the two sides of the footprint optimize the tire's different weather and surface traction.
Yet, not all is rosy. Due to the stress on the outer shoulder blocks, they tend to wear out sooner. Compared to this, symmetric tires evenly circulate driving pressure, guaranteeing slow and even wear.
So, which tread pattern do you need?
It depends on what you need. High comfort levels for everyday driving in relatively calm weather conditions will need a symmetric tire set. On the other hand, harsher weather and faster performance require an asymmetrical tread pattern.
What is the Difference Between Asymmetrical and Symmetrical Tires?
The main difference between symmetric and asymmetric tires is their tread patterns. A symmetric tire tread design features the same tread pattern across the entire footprint, while the asymmetric has a blend of two distinct patterns to optimize traction. They provide traction in a slightly different manner.
How do Tire Treads Increase Friction?
Different types of tire tread use versatile tread elements to generate friction. Summer tires utilize their surface contact to optimize dry grip. Sipes, grooves, and optimized blocks of all season and winter tires provide traction on wet and snowy roads. Grooves also avoid hydroplaning.
What are Directional Tires?
Directional tires feature tread patterns that have to rotate in a specific direction in order to safely perform. Directional tread tires are often winter tires, as it increases winter weather grip. The directional tread pattern does not mean the tire is directional (has to be mounted on one specific size).
What is an Asymmetrical Tire?
Asymmetric tires sport asymmetric tread patterns. They are different on the tire's inner and outer areas and they provide versatile traction. Often, their outer shoulders feature large elements to optimize dry traction and handling, while the inner part deals with wet (and sometimes winter) grip.