What Is A Symmetrical Tire Tread Pattern?
There are so many variables and small differences between tires these days.
Symmetrical tires have continuous ribs and independent tread blocks that mirror each other on both sides of the tire tread face.
A great example of symmetrical treads is the Continental ContiProContact. Continental’s symmetrical design has lower rolling resistance and overall smoothness that you might not feel with an asymmetrical shape over the complete life of the tire.
Symmetrical tread patterns are ideal for maximizing fuel economy and ride comfort on dry surfaces. Put these on your fleet vehicles and passenger cars if you live in an area with consistently dry road surfaces (like Arizona or Southern California).
Advantages/Disadvantages Of Symmetrical Tread Patterns
The main advantage of using symmetrical tread patterns is the freedom to rotate the tires to any position on the vehicle. Now, why would you want to sway from the traditional ‘front to rear’ tire rotation?
Because older suspension systems and slightly misaligned steering on cars (especially trucks and SUVs) cause tires to wear unevenly faster than you can say ‘tire shop’.
Not only that, but you could even potentially have the tire shop unmount the tire and flip it around to prolong its life (I’ve done this for plenty of customers), which is especially helpful on cars that have staggered wheel sizes (different tire sizes front to back).
Also, a very common mistake when buying new tires is that the bonehead in the tire shop mounts them up the wrong way.
Well, guess what?
That can’t happen with symmetrical tires because as long as the tire bead seals around the edges of the wheel, you’re good!
The real disadvantage to symmetrical tires is their performance on wet roads/wet conditions and offroad driving conditions.
Because there is no tread design for grabbing the dirt or kicking out water. A mountain lion couldn’t climb steep rock faces if its claws are flat or curved in the opposite direction; it’s the same concept with tires.
So, symmetrical tires might increase your fuel economy on the highway, but don’t count on them to steer you out of an hydroplaning disaster.
What Is Asymmetrical Tread Pattern On Tires?
You’ll notice on some tires that there is an ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ label on both sides of the sidewalls. This is because the tires have an asymmetrical tread pattern designed to help dry and wet performance, longevity, and overall ride comfort.
Some asymmetrical patterns are more obvious than others, for example, a more obvious example of asymmetrical tires is the Falken Ziex.
On this tire, you’ll notice very staggered tread block patterns, and you’ll also see that the actual rib (tread groove) is zig-zagged on the outer side to give sports cars some additional grip when taking corners.
A subtle example of asymmetrical tires is the Michelin Defenders. At first glance, you might not think they have an asymmetrical pattern, but you’ll notice that they have zig-zag sipes that help prevent hydroplaning. Weirdly enough, an asymmetrical design is also used by Michelin to reduce noise coming from the tires.
Advantages/Disadvantages Of Asymmetrical Tire Tread Patterns
Why use asymmetrical tires on your vehicle? Tire companies typically design these types of tires for high speeds, cornering stability, etc.— because engineers aren’t satisfied with just ‘good’.
Asymmetrical tires can be rotated to any of the four-wheel positions on the car, but unlike symmetrical tires, you can’t unmount and flip these tires to prolong tread life (that’s rarely necessary anyway).
In a more negative tone, I will say that I’ve seen some pretty ugly zig-zag treads that have worn unevenly. When zig-zag patterns go bad, they create terrible vibrations and bumpiness. I’ve cut my hands before from a protruding jagged zig-zag tread when pulling the wheel off of the vehicle.
In my professional opinion, quality is huge with asymmetrical tires. Good asymmetrical designs last a long time, and ‘over-engineered’ tires that invoke visual appeal sometimes crap out after just a few thousand miles.
Directional Tread Patterns
Don’t forget to look for directional/rotational arrows on the tire sidewalls before mounting. Also called unidirectional, these tires have lateral grooves in the middle of the tread (think arrowhead shape). Winter tires, for example, are primarily directional because the treads must filter/evacuate the snow in one direction to help propel the vehicle forward.
Read Also: What Is A Directional Tread Pattern?
The limit to directional tire treads is that they can only be mounted on the intended side of the vehicle, so you must have all four tires, and they must be mounted on the correct side (either passenger or driver side).
Directional treads are typically high-performance tires, but they might not last as long as asymmetrical and symmetrical designs because you can’t mix and match your tire rotations.
Asymmetrical vs. Symmetrical tires What’s The Difference?
The main difference is that asymmetrical tyre treads are different from one side to the other. And just to clarify, a directional tire can be both symmetrical and asymmetrical.
Again, symmetrical tires are simpler (usually cheaper), and they work just fine for dry road driving and lower performance level whereas asymmetrical tires have a bit more thought and design intended for enhancing the performance of the vehicle. Remember, the tires are the only part of the car’s suspension system that touches the road, so the differences in driving are sometimes drastic when using different types of tires.
The tire brand will typically clarify whether the tire is asymmetrical/symmetrical in the description before you buy. And regardless of which tread pattern you choose, the most important part of tire maintenance is keeping your tires inflated to the correct PSI at all times and maintaining/repairing suspension and alignment before you throw on a new set.
Is It Safe To Have Different Tread Patterns?
No, it’s not safe for the general health of your car to drive with different tread patterns.
For AWD and four-wheel-drive vehicles especially, it’s not beneficial to use different tread patterns on your car because it can put weird torque on the four-wheel drive system/drivetrain and cause issues over time.
That being said, just try to use two sets of identical tires on each axle—never put one brand of tire on the passenger front, and a different brand of tire on the driver’s front—that would cause weird vibrations, alignment issues, and eventually suspension problems.
With thousands of tire-related car accidents every year in the USA, I highly recommend you focus on tire quality and maintenance.
Final Thoughts On Symmetrical Tread Patterns
Now that you’re in deep contemplation about which type of tire tread to use, our advice is to pick the best change for your specific car. Check out our vehicle-specific tire reviews, and go with the option that suits your budget and driving needs.