Mud terrain vs. all terrain tires: pros and cons

By: Discount Tire

If you finally want to break in your new truck or SUV off road but you’re not sure its OE all-terrain tires are up for the task, it might be time to do some research on your replacement options. Generally speaking, 4-wheel-drive vehicles rarely come with tires that are actually any good off pavement.

Or maybe you’re coming off a set of all terrain upgrades and looking for even more out of your truck’s off-road prowess.

No matter what you drive, changing the tire type and size can have a night and day difference on performance. From high-powered sports cars to off-roaders this holds true: tires are hands-down the most dramatic and simplest performance upgrade you can make to your vehicle.

But what do you upgrade from when you already have an “all-terrain” tire on your truck? They should literally be able to handle “all terrains”, right?

Maybe it’s all in the name.

Tire types are oftentimes just plain better in certain applications based on the specificity of their name. Mud terrain tires are going to perform a lot better off-road than they are on any other surface, competition tires are going to be great on a track but probably not what you want around town, and winter tires are going to perform their best only in cold weather and snow.

While there are dedicated all-season tires for SUVs and trucks now, the all-terrain tire as we know it is starting to blend into the all-season segment as trucks, SUVs and CUVs become more and more prevalent in the U.S. The old adage of being a “jack of all trades, master of none” is starting to become more and more true of the all-terrain tire segment.

Logically, this is where mud terrain tires come in. Or do they?

For the casual off-roader they’re probably not all that necessary. There are some great all-terrain tires out there that will make your truck feel totally at home off-road.

Mud terrain tires have large tread blocks with wide channels that push any and all rocks/chunks of mud out from under your tires, giving you the most traction possible where other tires would spin endlessly off-road.

Their larger tread blocks and more durable sidewall designs enable them to handle seriously harsh terrain that most other all-terrain, highway or all-season SUV and truck tires can struggle in while providing enough off-road grip to get you out of most sticky situations (sometimes literally).

Aside from making your off-roader look badder than it already is, mud tires just aren’t that good for basically every other type of driving.

But while there are some pretty aggressive looking all-terrain tires, they don’t have the strong, often reinforced tire sidewall and tread necessary for driving across a swamp or up a sheer rock face like all dedicated mud terrain tires have.

What to know about mud terrain tires

We don’t mean to burst your bubble, but it’s good to know what to expect. The following generally hold true for mud terrain tires:

    1. They’ll probably be overkill for your basic off-road adventures
    2. They’re just plain bad for driving on pavement. You may even experience reduced:
  • Mpg
  • Tire tread life
  • Comfort - from tire noise feeding directly into your vehicle’s cabin at highway speeds

There are some discrepancies on whether or not mud terrain tires can (or should) be used in snow. While technically yes—they can—they would generally only perform better than your average all-season in slushier snow that is similar to mud. Certain mud terrain tires don’t have M+S or Mountain Snowflake ratings, and they are more pliable/soft for off-road performance which is detrimental when you need grip under winter conditions.

If you live in an area where light or heavy snow is a common occurrence, winter and snow tires might be much more suited to your needs versus using your all-terrain or mud terrain tires in snow.

MT or AT Tires

The general rule of thumb is that if you drive more on the road than off, all-terrain tires are likely going to be a better option if you’re debating between all-terrain vs. mud terrain tires.

Most mud terrain tires don’t perform in rain and on wet pavement. But why? If these tires can handle the roughest off-road trails shouldn’t they be able to make light work of rain or even flooded roads?

It’s because their tread blocks are so pronounced and their wider channels leave so much space, without any dedicated ribs or grooves they can’t expel water like even the most basic all-season street tire can.

Pros and cons of mud terrain tires:

    Mud terrain tire pros
  • Unrivaled off-road and mud traction
  • Reinforced sidewalls are tough enough to withstand sharp or jagged rocks off-road
  • Reliable for off-roading excursions in the summer, spring or fall
    Mud terrain tire cons
  • Noisy on paved roads
  • Less traction in the rain than other off-road tires
  • Shorter tread life
  • More expensive than other off-road tire options
  • Not effective in cold weather
  • Less fuel efficient than other tires
  • Usually don’t include a manufacturer warranty

    Pros and cons of all-terrain tires:

    All-terrain tire pros:
  • Improved traction off-road, in snow, rain
  • Longer tread life than most mud tires
  • Quieter than mud tires
  • Typically less expensive than mud tires
    All-terrain tire cons
  • Can’t handle extreme off-road conditions
  • Loud on pavement (although not as loud as mud tires)

To wrap things up with a final takeaway, if you love casual off-roading but also want a comfortable and relatively more efficient ride on the road, consider equipping your vehicle with all-terrain tires or even highway truck tires.

And if you’re willing to go all-out, keep a spare set of mud terrain tires on beadlock wheels for when you know you’re headed for some rough country. In this instance, it is possible to have the best of both worlds.

If you know what kind of tires you would like to purchase for your vehicle or if you need additional assistance, stop by any Discount Tire location and we’ll get you set up with off-road tires best suited for your needs.