- Federally speaking, there are only two types of tire: steer-axle and drive/tandem. You can use a steer tire on a drive axle or trailer, but never the other way around. Traditionally, owner-operators and small-fleet owners have used tandem (trailer) tires and drive tires interchangeably, but the current trend is toward specialty tires for trailer and drive applications.
Tractor-trailer tires are as robust as any rubber on the road; the tire’s sidewall and body can last for decades when properly maintained. However, the tread itself will wear out far before then. Truck tires are designed from the outset to have removable tread, which re-treading specialists can strip away to replace with new stock. Radial truck tires can see as many as five retreading during their service life. However, retreads can easily fall apart and shed their new shoes under constant use, which is why it’s illegal to ever put a re-tread on a steer axle.Wear
According to Federal Motor Carrier Standards, a tractor trailer or drive tire can have as little as 2/32 of an inch of tread before they have to be replaced or retreaded. Steer tires must have a minimum of 4/32 tread, which is why the only time you’ll ever see a steer tire on a drive or tandem axle is when it’s worn past the 4/32 mark. Many owner operators will replace old trailer tires with worn steer tires, which might have another 200,000 miles of life in them before they wear that last 2/32 of an inch.
Lug vs. Ribbed
The only major difference between drive and trailer tires comes down to a matter of personal preference. Ribbed tread designs (which have several large “ribs” of rubber running down the center of the tire tread”) are street-oriented, offering superior wet and dry road traction, a smooth quiet ride and excellent flexibility for rotation. Lug tires are essentially off-road units designed for traction in mud, snow and other inclement conditions. Many trucks use lug tires on one of the drive axles for an edge in traction when needed and ribbed tires everywhere else.
Single vs. Dual
One major source of contention in today’s trucking industry is the use of single superwide tires in place of traditional duals. Such “super singles” offer a not-insignificant edge in fuel economy and outright traction, and look really cool to boot. Although super singles are rapidly becoming a popular option for drive tires, the transition has been slow (near non-existent) for trailers. It’s not that superwides aren’t reliable; trailers tend to get passed around a lot and may eventually need repairs at a terminal or facility not equipped with a ready stock of superwides.