Many tyres, regardless of whether they are summer tyres, winter tyres or specialist models, are either asymmetric or directional tyres, rather than the traditional symmetric tread pattern. Many drivers often wonder what different characteristics these tread designs offer,and why, exactly, are they considered superior to symmetric tyres?

Directional and asymmetric tread patterns are seen very frequently on many of today’s car tyre models. Symmetric treads also exist, but these are less technologically advanced and, consequently, are appearing less and less. Such symmetric designs can currently be found on smaller cars, such as compact and city vehicles, as well as trucks and delivery vehicles.
Tyres with a directional read pattern offer excellent expulsion of liquids when driving over wet surfaces, providing a very high resistance to aquaplaning. The best directional tyres are, as a result, unrivalled on wet roads.
Asymmetric tyres, on the other hand, have larger blocks on the outer side, ensuring good grip on corners and when driving on dry surfaces. The inner part of the tyre is, in turn, responsible for good handling in the wet. Because of this, asymmetric tyres are commonly fitted to vehicles with more powerful engines, which are typically driven at higher speeds.

The characteristic feature of an asymmetric tyre is the differing patterns of tread blocks on the inner and outer sides.

Advantages Of Directional And Asymmetric Tyres

Every tyre designer works to different priorities, changing the characteristics and strengths of a given type of tyre. As such, there is no such thing as an ideal tyre, although directional and asymmetric designs do offer a number of advantages. The most common benefits of these modern tyres includes:

  • An increased resistance to aquaplaning, without worsening other driving parameters or increasing noise levels as a result.
  • Advanced production technologies.
  • A design based on computer simulations.
  • Due to the optimised patterns of tread blocks, asymmetric tyres wear down more slowly.
  • Noise levels are reduced, without worsening the resistance to aquaplaning or overall driving quality.
  • Improved driving parameters, without increasing noise levels or reducing the effective expulsion of water.

Disadvantages Of Directional And Asymmetric Tyres

Of course, no one tyre is ever perfect. Although they are much better than symmetric tyres, there are a few drawbacks to using directional or asymmetric tyres. These include:

  • A higher price.
  • On four-wheel-drive vehicles the diagonal rotation of tyres (recommended every 6,200 to 9,300 miles) is more complex, as the tyres need to be switched between rims.
  • When the spare tyre is needed, if it is a directional tyre there is a 50% risk that it will be working the wrong way.
  • Directional tyres has less resistance to sawtoothing.

In addition, you should also be aware that directional tyres are often somewhat noisier than asymmetric treads.

The tread pattern of directional tyres is based on a V-shape.

How To Fit Asymmetric And Directional Tyres

Before you can fit these tyres, you first need to know whether you are dealing with asymmetric or directional tyres.

How To Recognise A Tyre With An Asymmetric Tread

  • An asymmetric tread has differently shaped sides - the outer part will noticeably differ from the inner part.
  • Because of this, asymmetric tyres are marked “OUTSIDE” and “INSIDE”. When the tyre is correctly fitted, the “OUTSIDE” mark should be visible.
  • It is also worth noting that the “INSIDE” mark will only be visible on the vehicle when standing underneath in a pit.

How To Recognise A Tyre With A Directional Tread

  • Tyres with directional treads are marked with the correct direction of rotation. This marking may very, but it will typically be an arrow or other clear marking, often accompanied by the word “ROTATION”.
  • The tread of a directional tyre resembles a V-shape in pattern.

What Are The Dangers Of Driving On Asymmetric Or Directional Tyres Fitted The Wrong Way Around?

If your asymmetric or directional tyres are fitted the wrong way around, you will likely not feel any changes in traction or precision of handling, as long as you are on a dry surface. Even then, you will still notice an increased noise level.

In the wet, on the other hand, there will be numerous changes. This includes a noticeable reduction in speed, an increased chance of aquaplaning and, during fast cornering, a sudden loss of grip.

Remember to check what the tyre fitter has down every time your wheels are placed on your vehicle. An incorrect fitting of asymmetric or directional tyres - with the axis of rotation opposite to that intended by the manufacturer - remains one of the most commonly occurring errors.

A directional tyre has the correct direction of rotation marked on the side.

The History Of Asymmetric And Directional Tyres

Tyres with directional treads have been around since the start of motoring. In the past, they were used as a means of improving traction on muddy or loose surfaces. It is only in more modern times that the other advantages of this tread type came to be noticed and appreciated.

The first mass-produced asymmetric tyre, on the other hand, was the Michelin X-AS, which launched in 1964. It offered a combination of positive features that had previously been hard to find on a single tyre, combining a good resistance to aquaplaning and an excellent precision of handling. The inside of the tread provided the required rigidity to ensure precise handling on corners, while the outside was responsible for expelling water.

The X-AS tyre was capable of travelling safely at speeds of up to 130 mph. It provided superb stability on straight roads, as well as on turns, and unprecedented levels of grip in all weather conditions. Advertisements for the tyre at the time illustrated the perfection of the human foot, which is also asymmetric, comparing a foot to the tyre’s ideal performance parameters.

Overall, the X-As model was highly regarded by manufacturers of renowned makes of vehicle. It was factory fitted on the following cars:

  • Bentley S3 and T,
  • Alpine A-110,
  • Alfa Romeo GTV 1750/2000
  • BMW 2002 Ti/Tii,
  • Fiat 124 Coupe/Spider,
  • Datsun Fairlady and 240 Z,
  • Citroen DS 21 Pallas,
  • Ford Capri and Lotus-Cortina,
  • MGB,
  • Mercedes W100 (600) and W113 (230/250/280 SL),
  • Lotus Elan,
  • Peugeot 404 Injection,
  • Triumph TR4A-IRS,
  • TR5 and TR6,
  • Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow,
  • Porsche 911/912.

The Michelin X-AS remained as a popular standard in the market from its inception through to the late 1970s.

In the second half of the 1960s, the Uniroyal tyre company promoted the Master series, which featured different tread patterns for front and rear tyres. The company designed the model for popular makes of cars. It was argued that the tyres on the front and rear axles performed different roles. While the tyres are the front were responsible for turning, expelling water and braking, the rear models served chiefly for driving (the classical drive system was still dominant at that time) and were jointly responsible for the vehicle’s stability and balance. For this reason, the rear tyres were made slightly wider than the front ones. These differentiated tyres failed to capture the market, as they were twice as expensive as conventional tyres. 

Asymmetric tyres should be fitted according to the OUTSIDE and INSIDE markings.

The best Asymmetric And Directional Tyres

Just as with any other tyres, asymmetric and directional tyres can vary on quality, so it helps to invest in a set of high quality models. As normal, you should also consider using summer tyres and winter tyres.

 Among the asymmetric tyres available for summer we recommend the following models:

The best asymmetric tyres for winter:

The following directional tyres deserve special consideration:

Directional tyres recommended for winter:

Of course, which tyre is best for you depends on your individual preferences, driving style and road conditions, as well as which criteria are the most important to you. HOwever, asymmetric and directional tyres certainly offer a number of benefits, so knowing which option is more suitable for you will certainly help you make the best choice more easily.