New or worsening vibrations in your vehicle while driving on a road or highway can be worrisome in any situation. The American Automobile Association reminds us that the tires are the only part of your vehicle that actually touches the road. If your vehicle is equipped with aggressive tires for off-road adventures, it can be tempting to blame those vibrations on your off-road tires. Do off-road tires cause vibration?
Properly installed, balanced, and aligned off-road tires will not generally cause your vehicle to vibrate while using it while “on-roading.” That’s not to say there’s no connection between your off-roading and those on-road vibrations, but it’s probably not caused by the tires themselves.
If you’re experiencing vibration on the highway while riding off-road tires, what’s causing those vibrations? There are several possible causes and easy solutions… including one thing you should do every time you leave those muddy off-road trails.
Do off-road tires cause vibration?
There is a close relationship between perceived vibrations and sound. Switching from one tire to another can change the sounds you’ll hear while driving down the highway.
A highway tire usually has small voids between the tread blocks, continuous grooves or channels around the whole circumference of the tire, and smooth shoulders. All those characteristics combine to produce minimal noise.
The characteristics of all-terrain and mud-terrain (or off-road) tires are different and contribute to a different experience. The aggressive traction features of an all-terrain tire include larger spaces between the lugs to provide more traction, larger tread blocks, and open-shoulder designs. That combination of features produces more noise on the highway than a standard touring tire.
Mud-terrain or off-road tires produce even more noise on the highway due to their most aggressive traction features. The larger spaces between the tire’s lugs, aggressive open-shoulder design, and larger tread combine to produce the noisiest on-road experience.
An off-road or mud-terrain tire will produce more noise on the highway than just about any other tire, exceeded only by a studded winter tire.
Once you factor out the extra noise being produced by your off-road or mud-terrain tires, are you still experiencing more vibration than you think is normal? If the answer to that is “yes,” the problem isn’t the tires themselves, but probably one of the following four things.
If you’re experiencing vibration at particular speeds, but not at others, the most likely culprit is an imbalanced tire. Tire manufacturers try to produce perfectly round tires with even weight distribution, but that goal of perfection is not always achieved.
When your tires are installed, the tire technician tests each tire’s balance to see how evenly their weight is distributed. If the tire is not well-balanced, they correct those imbalances by adding strategically placed weights with a strong adhesive.
When your tires are spinning several thousand times per mile, a missing or dislodged weight on one or more tires can cause vibrations that you’ll experience in the cab.
If you installed your own tires, did you test them for balance and install the appropriate weights to make corrections? If not, adding weights to compensate for imbalances may solve the problem.
Alternatively, weights you installed or that were installed by a tire installation technician can come loose with time and hard-driving — like in off-roading scenarios. Rebalancing your tires may solve the vibration issue.
Rubber tires wear down. Front and rear tires wear down at different rates because they have different jobs. Front tires in an FWD vehicle may show wear at different rates than rear tires, and vice versa.
Steering also places somewhat different demands on front tires than rear ones. Front or rear, no two tires are identical and none will wear in exactly the same way considering things like load distribution in your vehicle.
The key to preventing uneven wear in your tires is regular tire rotation. If your tires are wearing down unevenly because of irregular tire rotation or any other reason, that uneven wear can cause vibrations regardless of what kind of tire you’re running. More than vibrations, though, uneven tire wear can produce poor feedback, decreased and inconsistent traction, and increased noise.
Another source of uneven tire wear that can cause vibrations is vehicle misalignment. If all pieces of the frame are not pointed in the same and correct direction, your tires may likewise not be spinning on parallel paths with the result that they wear unevenly.
If your frame has been subject to hard wear — off-roading or in an accident, for example — confirming properly alignment is especially important.
Bent Wheel or Out-of-Round Tires
Wheels can become bent and tires can be knocked out-of-found due to things like material and manufacturing flaws, constant exposure to potholes or caverns, and particularly rugged or off-road driving that can cause structural damage to a tire or wheel.
Structural damage to a tire or wheel will cause vibrations, and sometimes worse. Damage-related structural issues may require replacement of the affected tires or wheels and could potentially be subject to replacement via the manufacturer’s warranty.
Improperly Inflated Tires
Tires are designed to be inflated to particular levels for optimum traction and performance. Improperly or unevenly inflated tires can cause vibrations.
How can tire pressure affect vibration?
The shape of a tire, and the shape of their points of contact with the road, changes depending on their inflation. The area of contact between tire and road shrinks as a tire is inflated.
Worse, an over-inflated tire tends to “bounce” along the road as opposed to rolling smoothly over the surface. That bouncing effect compromises traction, increases stopping differences, and contributes to perceived vibrations.
An underinflated tire has more contact with the road than was intended, and thus more friction capable of generating both vibrations and heat that will degrade your tire faster than expected.
Can uneven tire wear cause vibration?
Rubber tires wear down. Front tires in an FWD vehicle may show wear at different rates than rear tires, and vice versa. Steering also places somewhat different demands on front tires than rear ones. Front or rear, no two tires are identical and none will wear in exactly the same way considering things like load distribution in your vehicle.
Unbalanced tires, missing tire weights, a misaligned vehicle, and inconsistently inflated tires can all contribute to uneven tire wear which, in turn, can cause vibrations.
Those vibrations are the result of one side of a tire being worn more than the other side of the tire. Beyond vibrations, that side-to-side inconsistency can also cause the vehicle to be pulled slightly toward one side of the road.
Tires that are regularly rotated and properly balanced wear more evenly and produce fewer vibrations.
Can mud in tires cause vibrations?
We told you that an imbalanced tire or wheel caused by uneven weight distribution or a dislodged weight can cause vibrations. That’s true about anything that throws off the weight balance inside or across wheels and tires, including mud.
If you’re experiencing new or worsening vibrations shortly after off-roading — particularly in muddy conditions — take a close like at your tires, wheels, and wheel wells. From the outside and behind as well.
Accumulated, dried up and caked-on mud can add random weight to your tires and wheels where the maintenance of properly balanced weight is important to vibration-free performance. Carefully knock as much mud as possible before hosing the tires and wheels down with water at high pressure. Removing that excess weight may reduce vibrations on the highway.
Are there non-tire-related causes of vibration?
Tires are a significant source of vehicle vibrations, but not the only one. Other causes of vibration that should be considered — and inspected carefully if proper tire maintenance does not resolve your vibrations — are the following:
- Damaged or worn suspension components
- Loose lug nuts on your wheels
- Damaged brake rotors or other brake components
- Transmission issues, and even
- Engine issues considering the torque forces produced as the engine works.