Trailer Tires vs Car Tires (Use on Cars, Trailers, Swap)

At a glance, an unsuspecting user may not know how to differentiate between a car and a trailer tire. It may also be tempting to use them interchangeably, especially if they come in the same size. However, an expert will tell you that the two are worlds apart in design and functionality.

So, what is the difference between car tires and trailer tires? A trailer and a car tire differ in purpose, design, specifications, and construction materials. The trailer tires are of heavy-duty materials and have thick sidewalls since they focus on strength and balance to facilitate the carrying of the bulky loads. However, car tire designs help the vehicle brake and accelerate better, explaining the deeper tread grooves for increased traction.

Not many new drivers know this, but tires are not equal because each has a unique design to fit its role. There is a long ongoing debate over the differences between the trailer and car tires, and everyone has a separate opinion. If you closely look at the individual car parts and ask experts about them, you will quickly notice their distinction.

Car and trailer tires vary in roles, construction materials, design, and specifications. Standard vehicle tires carry passengers and focus on controlling the vehicle by gripping the surface and promoting acceleration.

However, trailer tires deal with heavy hauling, hence they have strength and balance to counter swaying. Secondly, the trailer tire has thick sidewalls and heavy-duty materials. Car tires, in contrast, have deeper tread grooves to maximize traction and contact with the ground. 

The following are detailed descriptions of the differences between the trailer and car tires.

  • Purpose

The most glaring difference between trailer and vehicle tires is their construction purpose. Passenger cars, for instance, are for transporting people and are always in direct contact with the ground, meaning that their sole purpose is control.

They handle the breaks and acceleration and negotiate the sharp turns, needing as much surface grip and traction as possible. On the other hand, their design makes the ride very comfortable for the passengers in the car. As a result, car tires tend to have more tread life, and you will tell from the straight ribs and sturdy grooves.

In contrast, trailer tires’ sole purpose is to haul heavy loads since they are usually for strenuous long-distance travel. Generally, these tires have lower traction and rigid sidewalls to counter swaying. It explains the less attention on tread life as with car tires.

They don’t handle the road’s stress or deal with the steering. Remember that while your tow car leads the way and must have a lot of traction and road control, your trailer is only a follower that must maintain its strength and balance while running.

  • Material

A tire’s material determines its durability and is usually in line with the car’s tasks. Therefore, it is evident that the car and trailer tires will be of different construction materials. You can tell that the sidewall material is thicker for trailer tires, unlike passenger tires. They don’t focus much on making sharp turns but only on managing the heavy-duty towing, hence the tread concentration in the middle.

Trailer (ST) models come in either radial or bias ply, but both have a unique design for tugging. While the radial version looks similar to car tires and has more tread life, bias treads don’t last as long and have a unique construction to handle heavy loads.

These two constructions are heavy-duty, making them rigid, unlike car tires. This design is handy for the tires’ roles since their suspension design is stiffer and less refined as compared to car tires.

However, passenger vehicle tires usually focus on car performance while on the road, thus the increased tread life. Since these cars don’t have as many hauling needs as trailers, their construction is not heavy-duty. They don’t have to be very tough, only efficient in their duties as they engage directly with the ground.

  • Design

If you look closely at the two tires’ designs, you will tell that they are not the same. Trailer tires come in thick wall designs to handle their tasks appropriately, and they can drag very bulky loads over long distances with these thick sidewalls. Secondly, this design makes the tires reduce swaying and maintains the car’s stability regardless of how many turns they take at high speeds.

The frames may vary based on the model, but they all have a common goal, to bear any load weight. You will notice that they are narrower than car tires to fit trailer wheels and come in shallow grooves to manage the excessive heat they generate during operation. They concentrate on providing strength and at the same time offer versatility to navigate any terrain despite the heavy hauling.

Thanks to this design, they can retain their shape and withstand the extreme pressure from the trailer’s weight. On the other hand, standard car tires feature deeper tread grooves that improve traction, eliminate water faster and keep the tire and ground surfaces in constant contact. Their focus is on the tread life and distribution and how much traction the tires generate.

  • Construction Specifications

Car tire manufactures have three main factors to consider during construction. First, the tire must effortlessly manage the excess pressure while braking to stop the car accordingly. Secondly, if the vehicle is accelerating, the wheel should offer the necessary traction and bear the sheer force when the vehicle is speeding up. Lastly, the tire should adequately grip the surface if the car turns, meaning that the treads and general design must be at par. 

All these specifications work together to make the tire fulfill the passenger vehicle’s needs considering all other adverse factors like weather and period of use. If you properly maintain your car, its tread life can go up to an impressive 80 000 miles or more.

However, ST tires feature powerful internal components such that the tire can maintain its shape and withstand the extreme pressure from heavy lifting. As a result, the tires can easily handle various speed levels while remaining stable and durable.

The industry standards state that the tires should perform well even under 65 MPH in average inflation and load capacity. Additionally, the tire’s pressure should not exceed the maximum specification, but the vehicle’s speed should stay at less than 65 MPH if it increases.   

Is It Ok To Use Car Tires on a Trailer?

There are several tire types in the market, and some look very similar such that you may want to use a passenger car tire on a trailer. Regardless of the similarities, there are still some factors to consider before you interchange your tires. One pressing question among new drivers is whether there are any consequences for not using proper trailer tires. 

According to car manufacturers and some state laws, replacing a trailer tire with a car tire is not advisable. The two have different structures because they serve distinct purposes. The load index on a car tire cannot match a trailer’s stress due to its weight.

A car tire has a slimmer sidewall than a trailer tire; therefore, it can suffer swaying, which can be disastrous, especially on a highway. Secondly, a car tire will not wear out at the same rate as other dedicated trailer tires, causing vehicle imbalance and other damages.

The car will not naturally turn because the tire will have attached to other stiff ones making the ride very challenging and uncomfortable for you as the driver. According to the creators, the treads in the car tire are ideally for smooth turning, while a trailer tire only has grooves on the part that contacts the surface because it doesn’t need a lot of traction. Therefore, for your safety and to avoid issues while driving, it is best to stick to the recommended tires.

A car tire on a trailer can eventually blow out, perhaps not in the initial instances, but it will not serve you for long before you need to replace it. Additionally, the load that a trailer tire usually supports is far above the car tire’s index.

Signs of distress may not show openly on the treads, but you can expect them. They may lead to punctures when they give in to the stress from the heavy trailer load because they have thinner sidewalls.

The flexible car tires can also cause swaying, particularly when negotiating corners, which can cause the trailer load to fall off. It may be tempting to fix a car tire on a trailer due to its durable tread life, but don’t forget that it has a weak frame and a distinct construction design that cannot perform the same tasks as an ST tire.

Can I Use Trailer Tires on My Car?

Without a clear understanding of how tires function, you can easily place the wrong one in your car. The passenger vehicle tires usually resemble STs, and some first-timers don’t find anything wrong with using them in place of each other. Here is the right thing to do if you are uncertain.

You cannot substitute a car tire with that of a trailer. The trailer tire lacks the necessary treads for reliable breaking and has stiff sidewalls to minimize swaying and enhance stability. On the other hand, car tires do not require robust sidewalls since their focus is to negotiate sharp corners that need a flexible tire.

Furthermore, trailer tires cannot handle the speed limit that cars attain on highways hence can slow you down. Lastly, they have issues with low traction since they only follow the leading vehicle.

Tire manufacturers advise that you avoid using trailer tires on your car at all costs, whether you hook them on the rear wheels or the same axle. Unlike the other wheels, these tires will wear out differently, causing a dangerous imbalance for you and your car. If you are a new driver, it is best to consult an expert before making any tire decisions that could affect your well-being while on the road.

A critical aspect in passenger vehicles is traction between the tire and the surface; otherwise, there will be smooth turning, braking, and accelerating issues. Your trailer and car tires may be of the same size and look the same, but you can tell that there are some disparities like the thickness of the sidewalls. You will notice that the trailer has a rigid structure to bear the stress from the load it always carries. If you place the exact tire in a car, you will likely have steering and smooth turn issues.

Also, the tire will not firmly hold the ground due to low friction levels. You will not have an effortless driving experience, and it may lead to accidents in the worst cases. Remember that trailer wheels have slim treads compared to ordinary car tires because heavy vehicles do not need to steer but follow the primary car. For enhanced performance on the road, cars require thick treads for excellent braking on various surfaces.

Moreover, treads play a significant role in holding the car in place for perfect turns; otherwise, it may topple. The massive grooves are also excellent on the highway since they cause a lot of traction that helps the vehicle stop or accelerate at high speeds. You can tell that only a dedicated car tire will be safer to use for these reasons. Your life depends on it because anything can go wrong with a poor tire choice.


You now know all the risks involved if you want to use your car and trailer tires interchangeably. Regardless of the similar look and sizes, these two are distinct vehicle parts for specific uses. While the trailer wheels have a unique design to facilitate the dragging of bulky loads, car tires are only for the proper steering of the vehicle. Therefore, the trailer wheels usually have thick sidewalls and heavy-duty materials, which come in handy for the vehicle’s stability and strength.

However, standard vehicle tires have thinner walls and concentrate more on the treads. You will notice that the treads are more massive with deeper grooves for increased grip and traction on the ground, which helps the car make sharp turns, brake, and accelerate.

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