H/T Vs. A/T Tiresby Richard RoweUpdated July 08, 2023
Highway performance boils down to how much rubber your tire puts on the road, treadwear, tire size, and tread design all playing in. For acceleration, braking and cornering every bit of rubber in contact with the pavement equates to increased dynamic limits. However, the broad patches of rubber used on highway tires tend to float over the surface of sand, mud and grass without digging in for traction. This is the primary difference between H/T (highway tread) and A/T (all terrain) tires.
Off-road traction is all about putting as many mounds-per-square inch of pressure down as possible. All-terrain tires are designed like football cleats; their knobby tread breaks the surface upon which they ride, allowing you to put more power down, their key feature is the three peak mountain snowflake marks. H/T tires are basically passenger car tires with very straight tread groove (sipes) to siphon water away while providing as much contact as possible between the vehicle and the road.
H/T and A/T tires are internally similar, but A/Ts tend to have thicker and stronger rubber to withstand the rigors of off-road abuse. H/T tires generally have thick metal reinforcing belts and stiff sidewalls, which helps them to keep their round shape when cruising down the road.
Highway terrain tires are specifically geared toward highway driving, which means that fuel economy is a higher priority than outright traction. H/T tires use specialized tread grooves, rubber compounds and internal structures to reduce rolling resistance. Rolling resistance is a function of how well the tire grips the road. High rolling resistance makes for more traction but worse fuel economy; lower resistance does the opposite. Almost without exception, H/T tires will get better fuel economy than A/Ts.
The A/Ts knobby tires are specifically designed to increase point-contact pressure. While this is a good thing for off-roading, it puts a lot of stress on the tread when on asphalt. The A/T's high contact pressure will tend to make it wear out more quickly than a similar H/T when used on the highway. Although many consumers using A/T tires will opt for wider tires (which helps to offset the wear problem), A/T tires will almost always wear out quicker than H/T tires with similar dimensions.
Off-road oriented A/T tires tend to have large, square tread blocks. As they contact the road, these tread blocks emit a certain amount of vibration that manifests as a high-pitched hum or drone. H/T tires have chevron or back-angled tread blocks that help to reduce the acoustic effects of tire contact. Although tire noise may seem inconsequential, anyone who's driven a vehicle with really aggressive A/T tires can attest to the deafening roar they can cause at freeway speeds.
H/T Tire Uses
An H/T tire is designed for vehicles that are driven primarily on highways, but that will also be used at times off road. Trucks and SUVs most commonly use H/T tires.
H/T tires allow a driver to use the same tires for everyday on-road highway driving as well as off-road driving. The tread of H/T tires provides a relatively quiet and smooth ride on paved surfaces while still having a rough enough tread to provide traction in dirt, mud, snow and other off-road surfaces.
H/T tires are a compromise between the performance of highway tires and terrain tires. This means that the H/T tires will not perform as well on pavement as highway tires or as well as terrain tires for off-road purposes.
In addition to A/T and H/T tires there are also mud terrain tires or M/T tires which may be better for off road performance during dirt road or other off road adventures. Off road tires and off road capabilities may also be impacted by the same factors that create difficult road conditions, snow traction or winter tires could be necessary for those in areas with extreme winter weather. While there is the trade off of needing to swap them, some areas may see benefit from having sets of season tires. Also consider warranties whether through Michelin, Continental, Bridgestone, BF Goodrich, Yokohama, or another automotive provider to ensure a safe and comfortable ride.
Richard Rowe has been writing professionally since 2007, specializing in automotive topics. He has worked as a tractor-trailer driver and mechanic, a rigger at a fire engine factory and as a race-car driver and builder. Rowe studied engineering, philosophy and American literature at Central Florida Community College.