Better tyres for rear or front

  • Author: OPONEO.IE

Perhaps in your experience as a driver you have ever wondered whether tyres in better condition, with better performance, should be mounted on the front or rear axle of a car. If so, you're not the only one who thinks about it - we've received a lot of questions about it. There are as many opinions as there are experts on this subject. Therefore, we have prepared a list of tests on this subject for our readers.

Car axle

It used to be like this...

When tube tyres were used, it was believed that better tyres should be fitted on the front axle to protect the car from being pulled into a ditch in the event of a puncture. However, current tubeless tyres are safer and in the event of a puncture, the air will come off at a much slower rate than old tyres.

Several dozen years ago, the market was dominated by rear-wheel drive cars - so the best tyres had to be mounted on the drive axle, in this case the rear axle. This is how the theory was developed that better tyres are always mounted on the rear axle.

Over the years, this view has become obsolete, because nowadays the drive in most cars is on the front axle. According to these ancient theories, this arrangement of tyres improves handling, stability, water drainage and also starting off on snow and slippery roads. However, this happens almost exclusively on a straight road section, during parking manoeuvres and when driving at a constant speed, so you should be aware that in many cases such theories are not entirely true or are no longer up to date.

As many as 4 organisations have conducted independent tests to show where it would be more sensible to fit better tyres on a given axle. The following arguments give a clear indication of which axle to mount the better tyres on.

Properly fitting the tyres is the key to safe driving in difficult conditions.

Which axle should the better tyres be mounted on? TCS test

The experts took the ideal situation as a baseline: four new tyres.

The first and second combinations tested tyres of the same brand, from the same period of production, that differed in tread depth by no more than 1.5 mm. The trials simulate the situation when you buy two tyres, and in a year's time you buy two identical tyres in a set. In the test, the better tyres were first fitted to the rear and then on the front.

In the third and fourth combination, tyres of different brands, differing in production date and tread depth by no more than 3 mm, were tested. As in the first two combinations, the better tyres were first fitted on the rear and then on the front.

The following performances were compared during the test:

  • aquaplaning,

  • ABS wet braking,

  • circle driving on wet roads,

  • wet handling without ESP,

  • wet handling with ESP,

  • change of track on wet roads without ESP,

  • ABS braking on dry road surfaces.

Combination 1 – better tyres on the rear axle

When you mount better tyres (with more tread depth) on the rear, they will slightly deteriorate compared to the ideal level:

  • resistant to aquaplaning,

  • braking and wet steering in cars without ESP (in a car equipped with such a system, the difference in steering will not be felt too much).

Nevertheless, better tyres should still be mounted on the back. Why? This will not affect your car's performance when suddenly changing track on wet roads, e.g. when avoiding an obstacle, as is the case with better tyres on the front axle.

Such a solution is optimal in terms of safety. Loss of stability (back-casting) in case of sudden turning manoeuvres is particularly dangerous.

If you have problems with the stability of the front axle, it is much easier to stabilize the car than if you lose the grip of the rear axle, which is much more astonishing and problematic.

Combination 2 – less worn tyres on the front axle

Conversely, if you fit better tyres on the front, the braking and handling on wet roads will also deteriorate slightly. In addition, the car will become more unstable in the event of sudden lane changes on wet roads, as we mentioned when discussing combination 1.

The car, however, will be a little less susceptible to aquaplaning.

CONCLUSION:

Each combination of two similar pairs of tyres has its own advantages and disadvantages. Fitting better tyres on the rear is safer, however, especially in emergency situations where you need to avoid an obstacle that suddenly appears on the road. Then the rear axle is more "loaded" and prone to loss of grip, and that's where it's better to keep your tyres in better condition.

Combination 3 – Much better tyres on the rear

In this case, imagine that you have two completely different pairs of tyres (model, production time, tread depth). If you mount it better on the rear, the braking on wet roads in an ABS car will deteriorate significantly. Driving on a circuit (e.g. taking  corners) on wet roads without an ESP will worsen to a medium degree. They will deteriorate less:

  • transverse aquaplaning,

  • wet handling with ESP,

  • ABS braking on dry road surfaces.

Combination 4 – the best tyres in the front

Here you mount your tyres in better condition at the front and your tyres in worse condition at the rear. In such a situation, three of the tested results worsen significantly:

  • wet handling without ESP,

  • wet handling with ESP,

  • change of track on wet roads without ESP.

Using such a solution also makes it worse to drive on bends on wet surfaces.

On the other hand, braking on dry and wet surfaces as well as aquaplaning resistance do not deteriorate.

CONCLUSION:

There is no ideal solution for tyres that differ significantly in performance either, but just like for combinations 1 and 2, it is advisable to fit better tyres on the rear. Better front-mounted tyres significantly reduce stability and handling in emergency situations in wet conditions. To reduce the risk of slipping when manoeuvring suddenly and quickly, it is recommended that better tyres are fitted to the rear axle despite the deterioration in braking distance.

NOTE:

Also remember to use regular rotation between the axles, most often every 10,000 km, to keep all tyres in a similar condition and avoid uneven wear (when the starting point was 4 identical tyres).

Results in terms of individual performance:

Aquaplaning – BEST ON THE FRONT

Wet braking with ABS – BEST ON THE FRONT

Driving in a circle on a wet surface – BEST ON THE FRONT

Wet steering without ESP – BEST ON THE REAR

Wet handling with ESP – BEST ON THE REAR with large tyre difference / BEST ON THE FRONT with small tyre difference

Change of track on wet roads without ESP – BEST ON THE REAR

ABS dry braking – BETTER ON THE FRONT (the differences in results were not very large)

Michelin test

The test was carried out using a front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive car. According to the results in the table, the driver - relying on his skills and the propulsion of his vehicle - should make a rational decision about which wheels require better tread tyres. Thus, according to Michelin, the long-established statement, described in many handbooks, that better tyres should be fitted on the front wheels is not the rule. According to Michelin, every option has its advantages and disadvantages. Details can be found in the tables below:

 

Front drive vehicles

Better tyres at the front of the vehicle

Better tyres at the rear of the vehicle 

Advantages of fitting better tyres on the front

Disadvantages of fitting better tyres on the front

Advantages of fitting better tyres on the back

Disadvantages of fitting better tyres on the back

  • Optimal grip when starting on snow and wet surfaces.
  • Short braking distance on snow-covered and wet roads.
  • Good grip on dry and wet surfaces.
  • High aquaplaning resistance when driving straight ahead.
  • Worse braking on a bend on a wet road.
  • Low resistance to aquaplaning whike turning and driving on bends.
  • More skidding of the car on a wet roadway.
  • poorer braking quality in sharp corners.
  • High aquaplaning resistance in fast corners and curves.
  • More skidding of the car on a wet.
  • Short braking distance on wet roads on bends.
  • Low grip on dry and wet surfaces.
  • Poorer braking quality on snow-covered and wet roads.
  • Less grip when starting on dry and wet surfaces.
  • More “fishtailing” on dry roads.
  • Less comfort while turning corners.
  • Worse acceleration on the curves.
  • Lower aquaplaning resistance when driving straight ahead.
  • More skidding of the car on a dry road.

Rear~wheel drive cars 

Better tyres on the front of the vehicle

Better tyres at the back of the vehicle

Advantages of fitting better tyres on the front

Disadvantages of fitting better tyres on the front

Advantages of fitting better tyres on the back

Disadvantages of fitting better tyres on the back

  • Short braking distance on snow-covered and wet roads.
  • Safe and comfortable driving while taking long turns on dry roads.
  • Rreduced skidding of the car while taking turns on dry roads.
  • Less grip when starting on an ice- and snow-covered road.
  • Longer braking distance when taking corners on wet and dry roads.
  • Lower aquaplaning resistance when driving straight ahead, on bends and curves.
  • Skidding of the car around corners on a wet roadway.
  • Good acceleration on corners on snow-covered roads.
  • Short braking distance on bends on wet and dry roads.
  • Resistant to aquaplaning when driving straight ahead, on bends and corners.
  • Less skidding of the car on bends on wet roads.
  • Lower braking stability on ice- and snow-covered roads.
  • Less grip when taking long corners on dry roads.
  • Skidding off the car while driving on a dry road.

Cars with 4x4 drive

Better tyres on the front of the vehicle

Better tyres on the back of the vehicle

Advantages of fitting better tyres on the front

Disadvantages of fitting better tyres on the front

Advantages of fitting better tyres on the back

Disadvantages of fitting better tyres on the back

  • Short braking distance on snow-covered and wet roads.
  • Safe and comfortable handling over long corners on dry roads.
  • Less skidding of the car on the bends on the dry road.
  • Less grip when starting on an ice- and snow-covered road.
  • Worse braking while taking turns on a dry road.
  • Low aquaplaning resistance when driving on curves, corners and straight ahead.
  • Skidding of the car while taking turns on a wet road.
  • Good acceleration on the corners of a snow-covered roadway.
  • Short braking distance when turning corners on wet and dry roads.
  • High resistance to aquaplaning when driving straight ahead, on bends and curves.
  • Less skidding of the car when taking turns on wet roads.
  • Less stability when braking on ice and snow-covered roads.
  • Less grip when taking long turns on dry roads.
  • Skidding of the car on a dry surface.

ADAC test


The test drives took place on a track - on a slippery road, on a dry surface and on a wet surface. The subject of the test was to compare the performance of a front wheel drive car in a variety of tyre configurations – with almost worn tyres on the rear axle and new tyres on the front axle, with new tyres on the rear and almost worn out on the front, and with new tyres on each axle. All tests were carried out first with the track stabilization (ESC or DTC, VDC, ESP, etc.) and traction control (ASR, TC, etc.) systems activated and then deactivated.

On a slip-plate that imitates a slippery surface in a part of the water-sprayed track, the most successful cars were those with four new tyres. In the case of cars equipped with new tyres on the front axle, the cars accelerated equally quickly, but when trying to turn a corner at the same speed, they easily fell out of the track. These cars were also unstable , unpredictable and drove straight ahead with the wheels twisted (all this took place during a calm ride at a speed of up to 70 km/h). In order to complete the pre-determined route, the driver had to reduce his speed by about 10-15 km/h compared to a car equipped with 4 new tyres.

Vehicles with new tyres on the rear axle and more worn tyres on the front axle performed much better. Starting and accelerating the car was more troublesome and it became possible to lose grip during sudden acceleration, but the rear remained stable and the car did not "float" to the sides. The driving speed proved to be about 5-10 km/h higher than in the case of a car with almost worn tyres on the rear and new tyres on the front. In some cases, the results were similar to those achieved with new tyres on both axles. This depended on whether the front tyres were already starting to lose grip or whether the grooves in the front tyres were still able to drain the water.

Significantly greater differences were found when driving around corners and with large changes in accelerator pedal pressure and brake application when entering corners. The speed differences reached 20 km/h and in most cases were about 30% in favour of a solution with better tyres on the rear axle, regardless of the level of technical training of the driver. These differences became greater as the speed and dynamics of brake and accelerator use increased.

Driving with better tyres on the rear axle in a front drive car has more advantages. Starting and accelerating difficulties are an immediate signal to the driver that the ground is slippery and special care must be taken. Reverse tyre mounting works the other way around, keeping the driver awake and giving them a false sense of security. Tyre configuration is of the utmost importance as driving off the track is the third cause of road accidents.

It is also worth mentioning the difficulty of fitting a better pair of rear tyres in a front-drive car, which means that the tread wears more quickly on the front axle. In addition, if the profile on the front tyres is heavily used, the understeer of the car may occur. In order to reduce the difference in tread wear, the wheels can be moved between the axles provided that the difference is at least 1 mm (in private cars, e.g. every season, in fleet cars every 5-10 thousand km.). If the differences in the depth of the grooves are greater (2-3 mm), replace one of the pairs of tyres beforehand.

The choice of mounting axles for better tyres, for example, has an impact on the risk of aquaplaning.

ÖAMTC test

The conclusions of the Austrian ÖAMTC (Österreichische Automobil Motorrad und Touring Club) research are as follows:

  • Worse tyres in the rear are associated with the risk of slipping and a dangerous side impact. This also applies to front wheel drive vehicles.

  • Worse front tyres significantly increase braking distance.

  • With tyres that vary greatly in terms of wear and tear, the risk of accidents increases.

  • The better tyres mounted on the front provide shorter braking distances and greater aquaplaning protection.

  • Improved rear-mounted tyres increase stability when suddenly changing lanes and improve cornering smoothness, especially in wet conditions.

If you have tyres with a small difference in tread thickness of 1 mm, the difference in comfort is not noticeable and the ESP system is doing very well in improving the track.

ÖAMTC recommends that in the event of significant tyre wear, a new tyre set should be purchased. If you only buy two tyres, Austrian specialists recommend fitting better tyres on the rear axle of your vehicle.

In our opinion

An unexpected and strong rear-end skid during braking on slippery roads and curves is a very dangerous situation to deal with, because you can quickly lose control of your car. You can also reduce the steering ability of your car, which can be improved by reducing the pressure on the gas or brake. This is why car and tyre manufacturers often recommend that less worn or new tyres should always be fitted on the rear axle - regardless of whether the car is fitted with rear-wheel drive or front-wheel drive.

Aquaplaning can be felt when it concerns the wheels on the front axle of the vehicle. It cannot be felt when the rear wheels lose contact with the road surface. This is why it is dangerous to fit tyres with a smaller tread on the rear axle.

Another condition for the driver may be that he is more likely to fire a tyre that has a lower tread height and is on the front axle. The tyres are reinforced in the tread area by strong steel belt layers. When driving into a hole or running over at high speed, it can be enough to fire the tyre and burst the side of the tyre, which is not affected by the level of tread wear.

It is also worth remembering not to fit only two tyres when all four are heavily worn out. It is also not recommended to fit two winter tyres on one axle only, due to the imbalance of the car's equilibrium. This can also lead to a loss of grip and a dangerous road accident.

Please note that under certain conditions, better tyres can be fitted on the front axle, but these are not common situations. If you don't have the time or willingness to test and analyse your tyres thoroughly, then whatever the drive system of your car, a better, safer and more versatile solution will be to fit better tyres on the rear axle.

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