July 7, 2017
The Ford Transit Campervan Tire Guide
Ask Transit owners looking to get their stock tires switched out for something more, and you’ll find a wide variety of stories, opinions, and unanswered questions. Like many things in van life, there is no one way to replace your tires properly, and there are a lot of roadblocks you might encounter along the way (from the technical lingo to the actual act of getting new tires installed). Since there is a lot of information on this subject, we wanted to make this complex issue as simple as possible for folks out there scratching their heads like we were! While we’re by no means tire experts, compiling all of the current thinking out there on Transit tires will hopefully save you some time and heartache so you can get back to the business of exploring the open highways and winding back roads.
FIRST THING’S FIRST: WHAT TIRES DID YOU GET, HOW CAN I GET THEM, AND HOW MUCH DID IT COST?
We got these tires: BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 Radial Tire -LT225/75R16/E 115/112S
We went to Discount Tire to purchase the tires and have them installed. Without getting too into the weeds so early, due to the size and load capacity differences between the stock tire and whatever tire you’re going to want to install, many shops will not be inclined to install the tires for you due to weight concerns. Now, we know these concerns not to be a factor since we will not be putting maximum weight in the van, but shops typically will not want to put themselves in the position of installing tires that could potentially not hold the max weight (should we, for example, decide to turn the van into our work vehicle for a cement company we start up, or sell it to someone who wants to use the van to haul large loads). Please note that it was a personal decision of ours to install tires with a lighter weight capacity and we did so knowing that we are not even close to maxing out the weight limit of the new tires we had installed. We are by no means promising that this is the right solution for everyone.
Fortunately, we found that Discount Tire has a note on their internal electronic files for these specific tires that states it is acceptable to install them on a Ford Transit, allowing employees to do a system override and make the purchase/install. This is one of the more straightforward ways we’ve found to have new tires installed and were happy that we didn’t have to try to ‘convince’ anyone that these tires were okay to put on our van!
Long story short (if you’re here for the high-level, practical how-to): as a Transit owner, if you go to Discount Tire and ask for these tires, you should be able to have them installed with little to no issue. We purchased 4 tires (we’ll address the spare tire question in sections below) and the total cost with tax and labor was just over $1,000, though we also purchased the 3-year warranty for each tire. We’ve driven them hundreds of miles since purchase and so far we’ve loved them. They provide a lot more support on washboard roads, grip rock and dirt better, and all-around have smoothed out our drives a bit by providing some extra cushion. Here are some before and after shots to show you what the new tires look like:
BEFORE & After:
While this was our method for getting the tires we wanted, this is by no means the end of the topic. The following questions and topics below were among the most common from various sources we’ve seen, the largest being a very big thread in the Transit Forum. If you feel like digging deep on the responses in the forum thread, you can follow the link to read experiences other Transit owners have had.
What tire should I choose? What are the benefits of the different types?
If you’re looking for tires that will aid in any kind of exploration (back road camping, off-highway roads, etc.) you’ll probably be looking at the 3 main options below. Depending on what your activities look like, you might be more inclined to get one type of tire over another.
All-Purpose/Trail: All-Purpose tires are the most like highway tires of the 3 kinds listed here. They have more grip than a highway tire but are less rugged than an All-Terrain tire. Of the 3 types, All-Purpose are the most highway-friendly and create the least noise.
All-Terrain (AT): All-Terrain tires have bigger tread patterns and a more advanced grip on gravel, dirt, and other surfaces compared to All-Purpose tires, including light mud. Despite being more rugged than the All-Purpose tires, All-Terrain tires are well-known for still being comfortable while driving.
Mud-Terrain (MT): Of these three tire types, mud tires have the biggest tread pattern and strongest grip on off-road elements like deep sand and mud. Typically mud tires often have tread on the outer walls as well for advanced traction. While they are very useful on the back roads, Mud tires can be louder and less comfortable for highway driving.
Whatever type of tire you decide to get, you’ll need to make sure it’s E-rated. Why E-rated? It’s got the right amount of durability needed for the type of vehicle and the weight you’ll be putting in your rig. We’ll talk more about load ratings in later sections but for now just know that if it’s not E-rated it’s not worth it.
Is there a do-it-all tire?
Yes and no. There is no one tire that is perfect for everything under the sun, but there might be a tire that is your own do-it-all: one that fits all of your needs. If you’re unsure what kind of tire is the best for you, consider making a list of all your favorite places and activities, and make a note of how important they are to you as well as how often you do them. You might find you have some deal-breakers on your list that require you get one type of tire over another.
If you want more information on tire types, this resource is pretty comprehensive!
What is the biggest tire I can put on the Transit?
According to several reports in the Transit Forum, 225/75/16 seems to be one of the main sizes folks go with when it comes to getting the next size up in tires. Some folks have successfully installed 245/75/16 tires on their Transits as well, so it’s something to consider. Those in the forum who have taken diameter measurements have stated that tires up to 30.7” would fit in the Transit, but this of course depends on tire width so make sure you measure for yourself on your own vehicle.
NOTE: It’s important to call out that some folks have reported having conversations with vehicle experts who claim that putting tires larger than the original stock tire size will void the drivetrain warranty. There are others who claim this is not true and cite that there is a protection that falls under the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act which protects consumers against a voided warranty in this type of situation. Our recommendation is to consult your own trusted sources if this is a concern to you.
If I get a new set of tires what do I do about the stock spare?
This is, of course, a matter of personal preference. One option is to purchase the set of 4 and keep your stock spare (assuming you still have it) for your spare tire. Depending on the size of your new tires, you could be able to drive just fine to a tire shop with the stock on your vehicle, should you ever need to. This is a cost-saving measure as well as a space-saving one, as we’ll cover in the next section. For what it’s worth, keeping the stock spare is the option we chose to go with so that we could make the most of the resources we already have.
The other option, if you have the money and want to have a matching spare, is to purchase 5 tires so you have a brand new spare. If this is the route you opt to go, you’ll want to make sure you measure the spare well underneath the Transit to know how the tire will fit.
Will a new tire fit in the spare well?
Depending on how you feel about the perfect fit for your spare tire, this answer may or may not be what you want to hear. The spare well on the Transit is made specifically for the stock tire size, so tires that are bigger than the original stock size may not fit perfectly or at all. While some seem to fit just fine, we learned on Transit Forum that some folks have reported deflating their new spare tire by 10 psi or more to get it to fit enough to be stable in the spare well. Other folks have looked for a tire rack on the back to hold their new, bigger spare or purchased a rear bumper (like the snazzy ones from Aluminess) to accommodate it.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR INSTALLING NEW TIRES
What do I need to think about in regards to weight and load rating?
Weight and load capacity plays a large role when it comes to selecting new tires. The stock tires the Transit comes with have a max load of 3195 lb per tire– this is a bit of a heavier load than other tires that are out there that you’ll likely want to put on your vehicle, which is the main reason why folks have come into issues getting the new tires they want installed on their van. Many maintenance shops do not want to have a vehicle leave their shop with less of a load capacity than it was originally intended for by Ford. However, unless you’re using your Transit as a work vehicle, it’s unlikely that you’re going to max out the weight capacity on your van, so for all practical purposes a lighter weight capacity could work perfectly fine if you are keeping your weight fairly light in your van. If you want to be certain as to how much weight your van is carrying as your camper van, you can always go to a weigh station and have it weighed.
While the weight capacity is something you can look at critically, one element that is still important to keep in mind is the load rating. The load rating speaks to the ply (essentially, layers of thickness) and wall reinforcement a tire has. The stock tires are E-rated (10-ply, among other features) and regardless of the weight you’re actually carrying in your van you’ll want E-rated tires. Opting for tires with less than an E-rating could lead to issues in traction, steering, and weight distribution. For more information on load rating, check out this resource.
How will new tires impact noise, vibration, and steering?
While it truly depends on your tire, as a general rule the bigger your tread pattern the higher the likelihood that you’ll hear your tires more while driving. From our personal experience, we did not experience any real noise increase from getting our All-Terrain tires, but it really depends on your specific situation.
While you also may see greater differences in vibration and steering with more aggressive tire tread, most folks on Transit Forum to date who have reported getting new tires either have not experienced any issues with the changes they noticed, or they did not notice much difference at all. It truly seems to depend on the way your new tires are installed and balanced, especially when it comes to vibration. One of the more common causes of steering wheel vibration is misbalanced tires.
How will new tires impact mileage, acceleration, and speed reading?
In terms of acceleration, a couple of factors you’ll want to think about are weight and balancing (which as we mentioned above can also be a factor in steering wheel vibration). The Transit’s stock tires are heavy, so slower acceleration due to weight will likely not be a significant factor even if you get a bigger tire. In terms of balancing, the deeper the tire tread, the more you need to pay attention to balancing. When you have the new tires installed the technician should take this into account, but it’s something to be aware of.
From a mileage perspective, it’s important to remember that the larger your tires, the higher the likelihood that your MPG could drop. This doesn’t seem to be a major concern with many Transit owners but if you’re already concerned about your MPG it’s something to take into account.
Lastly, there are varied experiences reported in the Transit Forum regarding the speedometer to be aware of. Some folks have said that after installing larger tires, the speedometer may be off by as much as 5-7% (for example, traveling at 65mph when your speedometer reads 59mph). We personally have noticed a 3mph difference when we are at 60mph. Some folks have installed devices in their van to help correct this (such as an SCT tuner), but make sure you do plenty of research and talk to vehicle experts before going this route if you do in fact come upon this issue.
What do all the numbers mean?
We’re the first to admit we’re not experts, so instead of taking our word for it here is a great resource for you to peruse if you want to learn.
What other important terms do I need to know?
There are a lot of terms you might want or need to familiarize yourself with if you’re digging deep into tires. If you want to learn more tire terms so you can talk the talk, check out this comprehensive resource.