What's the most important part of your vehicle? Some might say the motor, since that's the part that makes it a vehicle rather than a lawn ornament. Others might say the brakes, since they allow you to stop safely and avoid danger. Others still might argue in favor of the four-wheel-drive system and ground clearance, which let you overcome obstacles and traverse rough roads. However, every one of these systems is dependent on a single part: the tires.

Truck off road stuck in mud

Without adequate tires, you won't have enough traction to accelerate, brake, drive over obstacles, or even swerve to avoid an accident. Poor road conditions caused by rain, snow, mud, or uneven asphalt only amplify these problems. Think about it — the only contact surface connecting your car, truck, or SUV to the ground is four small patches of rubber.

When was the last time you checked your spare tire?

When was the last time you checked your spare tire? Don't forget about it.

While they may not be as exciting as LED light bars, winches, and other “apocalypse-ready” accessories, you should think long and hard about the tires you choose for your bug-out vehicle. They could literally be the factor that decides if you're able to make it to safety or not. The following infographic from Parts Geek gives a primer on the types of tires to consider — some of the differences aren't as intuitive as you may have thought. Click here to download a full-size version of this graphic.

Infographic car truck tires rain snow off road bug out 1

The first thing worth noting is that every tire is a compromise, and you must choose based on your location. Here on the west coast, one misconception is that all-season tires are required for rain, but in reality even summer tires are designed to cope with wet weather (some better than others, of course). If you're out in a dry desert and don't anticipate much off-roading, the best tire for bug-out may actually be a summer tire. Off-road mud tires or all-terrains offer good performance on mud and gravel, but they're often noisy and sluggish on the road, and their heavy weight hurts fuel economy for long trips.

Tire date code DOT vehicle car truck safety 3

As for the features in the right column, we gave the short version below, or you can read this article from Tire Rack for the longer version.

  • Directional – Improves wet weather performance by channeling water away from the center. Only able to be safely mounted in one direction; can't be rotated side-to-side without re-mounting on the wheel.
  • Symmetrical – The tread pattern is mirrored across the tire's center line. Most modern car tires are both symmetrical and directional, though non-directional symmetrical designs do exist.
  • Asymmetrical – Uses different design elements on each side of the tire's centerline to achieve good dry grip and wet traction. May also be directional to further improve wet performance.
  • Ribs/Lugs/Blocks – Technical terms used to describe the flat chunks on the tire tread pattern. Ribs are usually found on heavy-duty truck or trailer tires; lugs are usually seen on off-road mud tires.
  • Ply – Virtually all new tires are radial ply, a.k.a. “radial”. Bias ply and bias belted tires were used

Continental General Tire Unpaved 36

There are many other factors to consider, so don't make the mistake of cheaping out or buying whatever the guy at your tire shop recommends. Do you research as if your entire bug-out plan hinged on the tires you choose — it actually might. To learn more, check out this article from Parts Geek or read our previous article about checking your tires' DOT date codes.

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