Is it illegal to mix tyre tread patterns on the same axle?

tyre tread patterns

Our reader wants to know if they can have different tyre tread patterns on the same axle, meaning one kind of tyre on one side, a different one on the other.

What are tyre tread patterns?

Tyres might just look black and round with a hole in the middle but they have different tread patterns. These are designed by the tyre manufacturers to displace water as efficiently as possible and offer the best possible contact patch with the road.

Are different tyre tread patterns illegal?

Ask any tyre maker or safety expert and they’ll say that in an ideal world you should have the same make and type of tyre on all four corners of the vehicle – unless it’s an HGV.

You should certainly have the same tread pattern across each axle. That means the two front tyres should have the same tread pattern and so should the two rears.

What is wrong with mixing tread patterns?

The reason tyre makers are against this is because having different tread patterns on the same axle can cause an imbalance in the vehicle. One side may have more grip than the other in specific conditions which could be dangerous.

What does that mean if you get a puncture?

In an ideal world, you should replace the punctured tyre with another one of the same make and model as the remaining healthy tyre.

If you can’t get the same make and model of tyre, you should replace two so that you have identical tread patterns across the same axle.

What about if you’re replacing worn-out tyres?

In that mythical ideal world, tyre makers would like us to replace all four tyres at once. Back in the real world, at the very least, you should replace tyres in pairs.

The front tyres are likely to wear out first as they do more work. They’ve got the heavy engine over them in most cases and do the steering. What you can do is replace two tyres at a time meaning you can legally have a different brand of front tyre compared to those at the rear.

tyre tread patterns
Three different ways you might rotate your tyres

Rotation is the name of the game ‑ in some cases

If you’re just fitting two tyres, you might consider rotating, but be careful. The graphic above shows three different strategies for rotating. But be aware: you should ideally have the tyres with the greatest tread depth on the rear axle.

The thinking here is that more tread depth means more grip. And it’s preferable for most drivers to lose grip at the front rather than the rear. Losing grip at the rear ends up with the car spinning if the driver doesn’t deal with a slide properly. Lose grip at the front and it’s much easier to get regain control, usually simply by slowing down.

But make sure you check with your car’s manufacturer. Makers of front-wheel drive cars (currently most combustion engine cars and vans) often advise that the new tyres go on the front to help transmit the power to the road.

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