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Tires are the most critical piece of equipment on your vehicle. Not only will they determine the ultimate performance you get, but they are also the most fundamental piece of safety gear you have. Your tires are quite literally the point where the rubber hits the road. And, yet, so many car owners take them for granted. 

While many automotive enthusiasts are busily speccing out flowthrough cats and forced induction systems, they neglect the science and design that go into making their tires effective. However, it’s important to remember, you can modify every bit of your vehicle, but if you can’t turn that energy into sustained acceleration at the road, it’s not doing you much good at all. 

So, in this ultimate guide to tire patterns, we’re going to look at the different tread designs available and what they mean for you as a driver.     

However, before we get into the different tread options available, let’s answer the question every seventeen-year-old racing enthusiast asks, why do tires even need tread?

It’s true, in dry, even conditions, a treadless tire will provide you with the most significant amount of acceleration and stopping power. With a large flat surface of rubber pressed against the road, you will be able to convert more energy into usable force. It’s why competitive drivers, in closed circuits, use racing slicks. 

That said, as soon as you introduce water or an uneven surface, those racing slicks, devoid of any sipes are virtually useless. Their incredible ability to transform all of that engine power into velocity has turned into a fishtailing mess. If you’ve ever tried to run your tires past their expiry point, you have likely gotten to experience this in some small way. The moment it started to rain, your vehicle would have gone from controllable to slip-and-slide, in short order. Now imagine that in an Ottawa winter!

So assuming you are not a Formula One driver, let’s delve into what tread options are available for your car.

Directional Tread Patterns

Unidirectional tire patterns are probably the easiest to recognize. The grooves and cuts on directional tires go from the edge to the center and typically angle in a V pattern. They often look like a lightning bolt on the rolling surface. Usually, these tires are an excellent choice for performance cars as they do better at high speeds than the other varieties. However, there are still some pros and cons to keep in mind when making your decision.   

Why would you want to choose Directional Tire patterns?

  • They are great at resisting Hydroplaning. Due to the V cut treads, these tires provide excellent water displacement. Quite literally, they channel water away from the surface, meaning that more rubber stays connected to the road. 
  • They provide better overall fuel efficiency. As a result of the treads all flowing forward, this design creates much lower rolling resistance at any speed. The reduced drag means it requires less power to push them forward, which equates to lower fuel consumption.
  • They’re exceptional in snow and mud. With a forward cut tread, designed to channel water away, this pattern does the same thing for slush and snow. And, of course, the reduced rolling drag mentioned above, means directional tires also cut forward more easily through mud and gravel.

So what are the drawbacks of Directional Tire Patterns?

  • Rotation is not an option. With a specific forward-facing design, these tires are made to roll only one way. With multi-directional treads, regular rotation helps even-out the tire wear and prolong the life of your rubber. Unidirectional tires can only be swapped front to back and so tend to wear out and need to be replaced sooner.    
  • Cost of replacing. Because the rubber compounds used in these tires tend to be of a more premium variety, unidirectional tires are more expensive to purchase. This increased cost will also add up higher, given their need to be replaced more regularly. That said, you will love the performance you get!

Symmetrical Tread Patterns

The symmetrical tread is the most common pattern on the road today. Most vehicles you pass on the highway are rolling on this sort of design from one of the big-name tire manufacturers. You can quickly distinguish this tread by the pattern of continuous grooves or blocks across the rubber surface. And, no matter which way you flip the tire, you have the same forward rolling design. It’s this versatility that has made them pretty much ubiquitous on our roads. However, like the Directional tires above, there are benefits and drawbacks to this tread pattern as well. 

Why would you want to choose Symmetrical Tire patterns?

  • Affordability has to be the number one benefit. The high levels of production and demand have meant the cost of outfitting your car with symmetrical tires is more reasonable than any other variety.
  • Rotation is super easy, which means your tires last longer. Because the tread runs the same direction no matter which way you install them, with regular rotation, you can spread out the wear and vastly extend their lifespan. 

So what are the drawbacks of Symmetrical Tire Patterns?

  • Hydroplaning is a common problem. The symmetrical tread pattern has been designed for daily use on dry asphalt. So while they are the primary “workhorse” of tires on the road today, they don’t have much in the way of water channelling technology. And, while this doesn’t mean you can’t drive with them in rainy conditions, it does mean they are much less effective. As a driver, you need to be much more alert for tire slip when the weather turns wet. If there are torrential conditions, the best bet is to stay off the road. 

Asymmetrical Tread Patterns

Probably the strangest looking tire pattern you will see, asymmetrical designs have strikingly different tread on each half of the rubber. What this means is you will very often have larger tread blocks on the outside to provide a more substantial contact patch for grip and control in the turns. The larger size blocks also help reduce tread squirm and provide significantly more stability, while assisting in counteracting heat build-up in the rubber. On the inside tire design, you’ll find smaller, independent tread segments and more minor grooves to increase the rubber’s contact area to hold the road better. But, of course, these tires also have pluses and minuses to be considered.

Why would you want to choose Asymmetrical Tire patterns?

  • They have excellent overall handling in a variety of weather and road conditions. The unique design of these tires means that they can provide exceptional performance on dry roads at high speeds. Yet, the grove patterns are efficient enough at channelling water away from the contact surface to keep you from hydroplaning when it gets slick.  
  • They have a variety of rotation patterns, which helps extend their lifespan.
  • The focus on creating the most effective contact surface for each side of the tire means they tend to have reduced overall road noise. Asymmetrical tires are usually the quietest running rubbers out there.

So what are the drawbacks of Asymmetrical Tire Patterns?

  • The lifespan isn’t very long, even with the rotation options. While rotation does help, the unique features of each side of the tire mean that they will need replacing much sooner than the Symmetrical variety.
  • They tend to be quite a bit more expensive. Given the high-end rubber compounds, pattern variability, and lower manufacturing numbers, Asymmetrical tires are often less available and at a significantly higher price point. 
  • This pattern is usually wheel size specific, meaning they are typically only available for 17-inch rims or higher.

Flow Optimized Asymmetrical Tread Patterns

These tires bring the benefits of both Asymmetrical and Unidirectional tread patterns together into a hybrid. Featuring the V-shaped design of Directional tread for channelling water away from the tire on one side and the dry weather traction of the Asymmetrical tread on the other for superior handling ability. Of course, this means they make great performance rubbers for highspeed driving on wet or dry surfaces. Being in essence, a higher-end version of the Asymmetrical pattern, these treads are not right for all vehicles. 

Why would you want to choose Directional Tire patterns?

  • They have superior safety and handling in wet weather. The half-V pattern will channel away water giving the rubber better contact with the road and eliminating hydroplaning, while the Asymmetrical tread chunks will ensure incredible control.  
  • These tires are designed explicitly for High-Performance vehicles. Meaning the rubber compounds and quality are incredibly high-grade. 

So what are the drawbacks of Directional Tire Patterns?

  • The price tag on these high-end rubbers is going to be expensive. As manufacturers know, there is a limited market for high-performance tires, and they are not produced in large quantities.
  • There is no rotating them to extend their life. This tread pattern, like the unidirectional, only goes on one way. So when they start to wear out in one area, the tires will need replacing all around.

Of course, if you’re trying to determine the best tire pattern for your car, our Tire Experts would love to help. The Team at Sipan Tire and Rims are well versed in tire tread patterns and can help you find the right rubber, for the right season, within the right budget for you. Give us a call to make an appointment or drop by to talk shop. We’re always up for some good tire chat.