A tire with a directional tread pattern (also referred to as unidirectional) is designed to roll in a forward-facing direction having lateral grooves that come to a point in the center of the tire. In simple terms, if you are looking at the tread of the tire from the top, you will see significant cuts that start from the shoulder and come inwards to the center of the tire, resembling the letter V.
Directional tires are designed to improve wet traction, snow traction, hydroplaning resistance, and cornering, providing better high-speed stability. You will commonly see this tread design on high-performance all-season and winter tires.
Tires come in three main tread patterns directional, symmetrical, and asymmetric all of these tread patterns have pros and cons, but we are focusing on the directional tread pattern.
If you were curious about the other two tread patterns, check out the video below.
How to Identify Directional Tires
There are two main ways to identify if you have directional tires on your vehicles or if the tire your looking to purchase is directional.
The first is to look at the sidewall of your tire. Stamped on the sidewall of the tire, you will find either A) the words left or right or B) a very obvious arrow pointing left or right.
When looking at your tire, you may see inside or outside; this means you do not have a directional tire but an asymmetrical tire.
You have a symmetric tire if you cannot see any indications of a specific direction or inward/outward facing sidewall.
The second way to tell if a tire is directional you can look at the tread designs. When looking at the tire’s tread, you can see an apparent V formation of the tread blocks.
Below I have included a picture of a directional tire to help you visualize.
How Do You Maintain Directional Tires?
No matter the vehicle, though, if you have directional tires, it is crucial to maintain them as they are highly prone to irregular wear patterns.
Directional tires will come on all sorts of cars, from high-performance vehicles to minivans, since their design is mainly used for winter tires, given their exceptional grip in wet and snow conditions. You can find them on almost any vehicle where it snows in the wintertime.
Maintaining your tires is as simple as making sure you do tire rotations every five to eight thousand miles, check your tire pressures every month, and address any mechanical issues that pertain to suspension.
When rotating directional tires, it is imperative either you or your service center perform a directional rotation pattern. These tires are only meant to be rotated from front to back. The tire from your passenger rear goes to the passenger front and vice versa.
They must stay on the correct side of your vehicle as you risk the tire being backward, severely losing traction when facing the wrong direction.
Whether you have performance tires, all-season, or winter tires, it doesn’t matter. You need to maintain them to receive long even wear.
Are Directional Tires That Much Better In Wet Weather?
While tire technology has come a long way since the hype of directional tires in the early 2000s, they offer some of the best hydroplaning resistance out there.
Using big open tread channels to evacuate water, you are unlikely to hydroplane or suffer from slippage on wet surfaces.
However, as technology improved, tire manufacturers like Continental and Michelin learned there was a way to design tires that not only perform on dry surfaces but improve traction in wet weather with symmetrical and asymmetrical tread designs.
Funny story about directional tires; Michelin had manufactured a tire called the HydroEdge (it has been discontinued for over ten years). It was one of the best-wet weather-performing tires on the market due to its directional tread pattern.
Michelin, however, did not account for the loud ride that comes with these tires and didn’t design the rubber compound to account for this. It resulted in one of the worst cases of tread chucking I had seen in my nine-plus years of tire experience.
Since then, Michelin has finally perfected it, releasing their first directional all-season tires in over ten years with the Michelin CrossClimate2.
So while directional tires offer increased wet weather performance, they aren’t the only tread design that provides this.
Who Should Purchase Directional Tires?
Suppose you are looking for your next set of tires and don’t know which tire is best for you, with so many different tread patterns on the market. I will help you decide if directional is the right tire for you.
Directional tires cover more road surface for increased traction and handling, so this might be a no-brainer for performance vehicles. Hang on, though. Are you driving on the streets daily or looking for tires on your track car?
Suppose you drive on the streets every day. In that case, I recommend a summer tire like the Continental ExtremeContact Sport, which has an asymmetric tread pattern to ensure performance and longevity.
Track cars, I would recommend directional tires like the Toyo Proxes R888, given they have extreme traction but lack longevity.
They have increased rolling resistance as well to give you more traction. However, this will decrease fuel efficiency.
A tire with a higher rolling resistance naturally has resistance with the road, something you find in truck or performance tires. If saving money on gas is important, I recommend you stay away from directionals.
Directional tire tread designs were initially constructed for all conditions, mainly dry roads, for increased performance. Over the years, manufacturers learned that they perform exceptionally well in the snow and wet. Since finding this out, directional tires are less likely to find for all-season or summer tire choices but mainly in winter tires.
I recommend anyone needing snow tires purchase directional winter tires as they are far better at packing snow in the tread.
What is the difference between Directional and non-directional tires?
Aside from the tread design, there are many differences in how the tires are meant to perform. I have listed the significant differences below.
Directional Tread Patterns
- Increased traction
- Hydroplaning resistance/wet conditions
- Stopping capability
Asymmetric/Symmetric Tread Patterns
- Longer tread life
- Ride noise
- Even wear
- Better all-season capabilities
The Cons Of A Directional Tire
You may have seen all the high points of the directional tire but let me give you the low points.
- Short life
- Decreased Fuel Efficiency
- Prone to irregular wear patterns
- Increased road noise