Better Tyres In The Front Or Rear? Test Results

  • Author: OPONEO.CO.UK

Where is the best place to fit your better tyres - on the rear wheels or at the front? Which set will afford you the greatest safety? In this article, we will discuss and found out the best placement of your tyres.

Just a quick check of your tyres before you swap our summer tyres for winter rated tyre variants (or the other way around) is enough to spot one crucial, important detail - the wear of the tyres is inconsistent. Usually, tyres fitted on the drive axle wear out first and are more likely to receive various forms of tyre damage as a consequence.. Why do they were out like this and, with this in mind, where should you fit better tyres?

Unfortunately, the debate over whether to fit better tyres towards the front or rear is a never-ending problem for drivers. Here, however, we will give you an answer that is as accurate as it possibly can be.

Fortunately, as drivers, we are not alone in asking this question. Manufacturers, journalists and expert automobile club members have all given thought to this important issue. Using their conclusions, we can learn a great deal for ourselves. Here, we will look at a number of these tests, conducted by the Michelin tyre group, ADAC, ÖAMTC and TCS.

Rear tyre

What to do when it becomes clear that we have two tyres of
a smaller tread depth. Should we fit them at the front or on the rear?

The Michelin Test

Michelin decided to take matters into its own hands and check how cars perform in various circumstances, with better and worse tyres fitted on particular axles. This test involved the use of a front-wheel drive car, a rear-wheel drive car and a four-wheel drive car.

According to the results show in the table, the driver - confident in his or her skills and considering the car drive type - should take make a reasonable decision which wheels require tyres with a better tread. By this same argument, according to the Michelin tyre company, it is not necessarily true that better tyres should be fitted on to the front wheels, even though this is a long established belief by many drivers.

Front-wheel drive cars 

Better tyres at the front of the vehicle

Better tyres at the rear of the vehicle 

Advantages to fitting better tyres at the front

Disadvantages to fitting better tyres at the front

Advantages to fitting better tyres at the rear

Disadvantages to fitting better tyres at the rear

  • Optimum grip when starting off on either snow-covered or wet surfaces.
  • Short braking distances on snow-covered and wet roads
  • Good grip on both dry and wet surfaces
  • High resistance to aquaplaning when driving straight ahead.
  • Worse braking when turning on a wet road.
  • Low aquaplaning resistance when turning or driving in curves.
  • Greater “fishtailing” on wet roads and a lower quality of braking in sharp turns.
  • High resistance to aquaplaning when turning fast or driving in curves.
  • Weaker fishtailing when turning on wet roads
  • Short braking distances when turning on wet surfaces.
  • Low grip on dry and wet surfaces, including worse grip when starting off.
  • Lower quality braking on snow-covered and wet roads.
  • Less comfortable turning, with worse acceleration at turns.
  • Reduced resistance to aquaplaning when driving straight ahead.
  • More “fishtailing” on dry roads.

Rear-wheel drive cars 

Better tyres at the front of the vehicle

Better tyres at the rear of the vehicle

Advantages to fitting better tyres at the front

Disadvantages to fitting better tyres at the front

Advantages to fitting better tyres at the rear

Disadvantages to fitting better tyres at the rear

  • Short braking distances on snow-covered and wet roads.
  • Safe and comfortable driving in long turns on dry surfaces.
  • Reduced “fishtailing” in bends on dry road surfaces
  • Worse grip when starting off on ice or snow surfaces.
  • Longer braking distances on wet and dry surfaces.
  • Reduced resistance to aquaplaning when driving straight ahead, turning or driving in curves.
  • More likely to “fishtail” when turning on wet roads.
  • Good acceleration when turning on a snow-covered surface.
  • Short braking distances on wet and dry surfaces.
  • Increased resistance to aquaplaning when driving straight ahead, turning or driving in curves.
  • Less “fishtailing” when turning on wet roads.
  • Lower stability when braking on ice and snow.
  • Worse grip when driving on long turns over dry surfaces.
  • Increased “fishtailing” on dry roads.

4x4 drive cars

Better tyres at the front of the vehicle

Better tyres at the rear of the vehicle

Advantages to fitting better tyres at the front

Disadvantages to fitting better tyres at the front

Advantages to fitting better tyres at the rear

Disadvantages to fitting better tyres at the rear

  • Short braking distances on snow-covered and wet roads.
  • Safe and comfortable driving during long turns on dry surfaces.
  • Reduced “fishtailing” when turning on a dry road.
  • Worse grip when starting off on a road covered with ice and snow.
  • Worse acceleration when turning on dry roads
  • Reduced resistance to aquaplaning when driving in curves, turning or driving straight ahead.
  • Increased “fishtailing” when turning on wet roads.
  • Good acceleration when turning on a snow-covered surface.
  • Short braking distances when turning on either wet or dry surfaces.
  • High resistance to aquaplaning when driving straight ahead, in curves, or turning.
  • Less “fishtailing” when turning on a wet road.
  • Lower stability when braking on a road covered with ice and snow.
  • Worse grip when driving on long turns on dry surfaces.
  • Increased “fishtailing” when driving over dry surfaces.

The ADAC test

The German ADAC organisation also decided to check which wheels we should fit our better tyres on to (assuming we have no other options, such as additional spare tyres).

According to ADAC, the rear axle wheels are responsible - to the highest extent, at least - for keeping the vehicle on a straight track, or making it behave correctly in bends. The tyres with a deeper tread fitted on the rear axle ensure the car stays precisely where it’s needed and avoids oversteering. However, if the profile on the front tyres is highly worn out, then understeering may occur.

ADAC suggests that, if you only have two tyres with a better tread, you should fit them on the rear wheels. This is irrespective of whether your car is driven by the front, rear or all four wheels.

car passing water

Aquaplaning is just one area influenced by the choice of axle with better tyres

The ÖAMTC Test

Tests conducted by the Austrian organisation ÖAMTC (Österreichische Automobil Motorrad und Touring Club) concluded the following details:

  • Fitting worse tyres on the rear may introduce the risk of skidding and a dangerous lateral impact.
  • Placing worse tyres at the front considerably extends the braking distance
  • There is an increased risk of car accidents when tyres are fitted with different degrees of wear.
  • Fitting better tyres at the front helps to ensure shorter braking distances and offers better protection against aquaplaning.
  • Fitting better tyres on the rear wheels, however, increases the stability when suddenly changing driving style. It also improves fluency when turning, especially on a wet surface.

If the difference between tyres is small, such as a 1 mm difference in the tread width, the differences in driving comfort won’t be noticed. This is often countered or compensated for entirely by the car’s electronic stability program.

ÖAMTC suggests buying a new car tyre set if the old ones are heavily worn out. In the case of buying only two tyres, the organisation recommends fitting the better tyres on the rear wheels of the vehicle.

The TCS Test

The TCS is a leading Swiss motoring organisation and a counterpart to the German ADAC group. Like ADAC, ÖAMTC and Michelin, TCS also wanted to determine the best tyre placement positions. In their test, TCS compared the performance crucial for safety, depending on the level of wear of tyres and their mounting position, using the most perfect situation possible: four brand new tyres.

There are various opinions regarding the axle on which the best tyres should be fitted.

How Were The Tyres Compared 

TCS tested the new set of tyres over four specific stages of testing. For the first two tests, the organisation used tyres of the same brand and under the same period of manufacturing, ensuring the tread depths differed by no more than 1.5 mm. Such a situation may indeed occur, such as when you buy matching pairs of tyres at different points in the same year. During these tests, they first fitted the better pair on the rear axle and then on the front. 

For the third and fourth tests, TCS tested tyres of different brands, different dates of manufacture and a tread depth that differed by up to 3 mm. As they did in the first two stages, the better tyres were mounted on the rear first, and then on the front.

During the tests themselves, TCS looked at the following types of performance:

  • Aquaplaning
  • Braking on a wet surface with ABS (Anti-lock Braking System)
  • Braking on a dry surface with ABS
  • Driving in a circle on a wet surface
  • Steering behaviour on a wet surface without ESP (Electronic Stability Program)
  • Steering behaviour on a wet surface with ESP
  • Changing lanes on a wet surface without ESP 

While this test looked at these factors in great detail, we have also covered some of these points in our summer tyres guide.

Tyres With Minor Differences (Tests 1 & 2)

In the first 2 tests, the tyres were very similar, using the same brands and manufacturing periods, with only minor differences.

For the first set, where the tyres with a deeper tread where on the rear axle, TCS noticed that the aquaplaning resistance suffered, as well as the braking and steering behaviour of cars without ESP on a wet surface. However, if the car does have ESP, the difference in steering behaviour becomes barely noticeable.

Despite the benefits of favouring the front wheels, it is often better to keep your better tyres on the rear wheels. THis is because, under these circumstances, the car will not change its behaviour if you change lane on a wet surface. This is the optimum solution when it comes to safety, as it helps prevent rear skidding - an extremely dangerous situation which can cause you to lose stability of your car on sudden turns.

In essence, it is far easier to stabilise a car when the problems are with the front axle, than doing so with a loss of adhesion on the rear axle. The latter is far more shocking and can lead to numerous problems.

For the second set, with the better tyres fitted at the front, the braking and steering behaviour was more difficult on a wet surface. Likewise, as already discussed, the car will be less stable during sudden lane changes on a wet surface. In terms of potential benefits, the TCS test noted a car with better tyres in these positions is less likely to encounter aquaplaning.

From this, we conclude that - when the set consists of two pairs of similar tyres - it is safer to put the best pet on the rear. This is much more suitable in emergency situations, such as having to bypass obstacles that may suddenly appear on the road. This also helps when the rear axle is more loaded and likely to lose adhesion. For these reasons, putting the better tyres on the rear helps to ensure a better handling, performance and response.

Tyres With Major Differences (Tests 3 & 4)

For the last 2 tests, the differences between the tyres were much wider, involving different brands, manufacturing periods and a wider gap in tread depths.

For the first set - where the better tyres were placed at the rear - the braking on wet surfaces become much worse in cars without ABS. There was also a decrease in performance while turning on a wet surface without the help of ESP. Furthermore, the test concluded that cross-aquaplaning, steering behaviour on wet surfaces (with ESP) and braking on dry surfaces (with ABS) all slightly worsened as with this car tyre configuration.

As for the fourth and last test set - this time with better tyres placed on the front - a number of areas noticeably declined. This involved the steering behaviour on a wet surface, both with and without ESP, as well as changing lanes on a wet surface without the assistance of ESP.

This similarly offered a poorer performance overall when turning on wet surfaces. On the other hand, braking on both wet and dry surfaces, as well as the resistance to aquaplaning, remained the same.

Detailed Results Of The Test

To help condense information, here we have collected the information from the 4 TCS tests. We’ve shown the best option for various situations according to the data gathered.

Aquaplaning – Test results: BETTER TYRES AT THE FRONT
Braking on a wet surface with ABS – Test results: BETTER TYRES AT THE FRONT
Driving in a circle on a wet surface – Test results: BETTER TYRES AT THE FRONT
Steering behaviour on a wet surface without ESP – Test results: BETTER TYRES ON THE REAR
Steering behaviour on a wet surface with ESP – Test results: BETTER TYRES ON THE REAR when there is a significant difference between the tyres. BETTER TYRES AT THE FRONT when there is a minor difference between the tyres
Lane changing on a wet surface without ESP – Test results: BETTER TYRES ON THE REAR
Braking on a dry surface with ABS – BETTER TYRES AT THE FRONT (the results didn’t differ much)

Comparing tyres

It is often preferable to fit better tyres on the rear.

Conclusions From The TCS Test

The TCS test differs from the tests done by Michelin, ÖAMTC and ADAC in that it also focused on varying the difference between tyres, rather than just focusing on the placement of the better tyres. From this, we can extrapolate a few more details.

For tyres that largely differ in their performance and quality, there is no ideal solution to cover all areas. However, as far as test sets 1 and 2 would suggest, the better tyres should be fitted to the rear wheels. Fitting them at the front results in a significant reduction in stability and decreased steering behaviour during emergency situations on wet surfaces. In order to mitigate the risk of slippage when making sudden manoeuvres, it is recommended you fit better tyres on the rear axle, even though the braking distance becomes worse as a result.

The best you can do is to remember to change tyres between axles regularly, preferably every 4,600 - 6,200 miles, to keep all the tyres in as similar a condition as possible. This will also help avoid uneven wear when starting out with 4 matching tyres.

Test Conclusions

As previously mentioned, this is not a problem that can be solved so easily. There is no one answer for the “front or rear” question that will suit everyone, so drivers should their own personal driving style and car drive into account when making these decisions. They should also highly consider the risk that comes with poorer grip on a particular axle.

Of course, it can be argued that the risks aren’t so strong when placing better tyres on the rear. This offers extra grip on wet surfaces, allowing for safety and control during sudden manoeuvres. While this does introduce additional risks, such as aquaplaning, due to the poorer tyres on the front axle, this can be countered through calm driving and taking your foot off of the accelerator.

One easy way to avoid this question entirely, of course, is to purchase a new set of tyres. In addition to helping you avoid the age-old dilemma between front or rear tyres, this will also improve the overall safety and performance of your vehicle.

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