Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tire Comparison & Review: Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac vs. Toyo Open Country ATII (AT2)

Tire Comparison: Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac vs. Toyo Open Country ATII (AT2)

Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac
Trying to garner an unbiased opinion about which tire for a 4WD truck/SUV is “the best” is nothing short of asking Chevy, Ford, and Dodge owners why they’re partial to their respective brand – except in the world of tires, there's ten times the choices.  The number of all-terrain (A/T), mud-terrain (M/T), and crossover tires (a new genre, those that bridge the gap between the two) is seemingly infinite.  The good news is that it's hard to find a bad tire, but the flip-side is that deciding on a tire suited to one’s desired price range, load rating, tread pattern, domestic/foreign brand, size, look, etc. is bridging on the verge of impossible. Rather than explore the “safe options” (BFG A/T, Nitto Terra Grappler, Micky Thompson ATZ, General Grabber AT2, Cooper AT3, etc.), I’m going to get very detailed with two of the “hot tires” of the moment which, while not technically new-comers, are popular and well-respected in their own right.
Toyo Open Country ATII (AT2)
Furthermore, to help us differentiate between a tried-and-true “all-terrain” and one of the newfangled “crossover tires,” this comparison features one of each: Toyo’s ATII (the clear all-terrain) and Goodyear’s Wrangler DuraTrac (a mud-terrain with road-going manners, or an all-terrain that thinks it's a mud tire -- depending on how you look at it).  Both were 285/70/17, with the Goodyears being D load rating and the Toyos bearing an E.

In short, both of these tires will help you keep your 4WD bragging rights and off-road ability, but neither will make you feel like you were irresponsible in buying an all-out mudder for your rig that has to be able to handle street duty.  The following compare/contrast is here for those of us unsure as I was as to which type tire best fits their wants/needs.


No 4x4 should be wearing shoes that look like those commonly run on a minivan, end of story. The number of compliments and questions I got while running the DuraTracs became borderline absurd. People asked, “what are they?,” “how do they do in the mud/snow?,” “where can I buy them?,” and on and on and on. They simply look like nothing else out there and give off an air of aggression that even some mud tires can’t match. The tread pattern seems to mimic that of the bottom of a Timberland boot (a real Timberland)...all good stuff here for the Goodyear, and the pictures speak for themselves.

While the ATII’s sidewall isn't overly menacing, the tread has enough meat and depth to it so that you won't mistake it for something stock. This doesn't look like a tire you want to attack the Rubicon Trail with, but you probably wouldn't hesitate to run it through some mud, decently deep snow, or do some mild wheeling with it. Think “street tire with lugs that are open enough to clean out fairly well.” It’s tame and understated, but not weak. Still, it can't match the absurdity that is the Goodyears' design.

Advantage: DuraTracs - no question here


It's easy for a tire with an aggressive tread to wobble at low speeds, especially when accelerating and decelerating between a stop and 10 MPH. Luckily, the spacing and pattern of the DuraTrac minimizes this...when compared to something geared even more towards off-highway use. The lugs are positioned close enough together so that the voids don't cause a shake or wobble, and since it doesn't have a totally horizontal layout (ex. Super Swampers), vibration truly is minimal. The Pro Comp A/T’s I had years ago were worse.
Even with its Load E rating, the Toyo is undoubtedly smoother around town, sometimes eerily so.  Additionally, the tires help to eliminate some of the smaller disruptions in pavement that you would otherwise feel in your lower back. Very refreshing after 25K miles with the DuraTrac.

Advantage: Toyo


Be it the regular commute or towing the quad trailer, a good tire has to inspire confidence in you when you're moving at speed. It really does help to know you won’t suddenly wander out of the lane, and it’s also nice to feel that in a panic-stop situation the tires under your vehicle will work to your advantage.

With low mileage on the set, the DuraTracs were surprisingly pleasant and had good characteristics overall at higher speeds: wander wasn't bad and braking distances were “good enough.” They did, however, squirm a fair share under hard braking, which only got worse over time. Overall, highway quality was decent but dropped off quickly after 20,000 miles, the point at which they became drastically worse riding and exhibited some characteristics – wander, bad braking distances, excessive noise – that were enough to force me into buying a new set (they were replaced by the Toyos).

On the contrary, the Toyos performed admirably on the highway. Wander was even less than the DuraTracs, braking distances were great for a tire of this genre, and they were smooth riding and coasted with ease. Honestly, these tires portrayed the best driving characteristics of any tire I've ever owned, aggressive or not.

Advantage: Toyos


Noise is commonly a big issue when dealing with truck tires in plus-sizes. Highway hum can be overly aggravating if you're not accustomed to the noise of the M/T's, and it can truly make you enjoy the time spent in your vehicle less than you otherwise would.

The compound Goodyear uses for its DuraTrac is much softer than that used by Toyo in the ATII, and such is one factor why it makes a lot more noise. Furthermore, the open, criss-crossing tread of the DuraTrac does itself no favors here. Chalk it up to the Goodyear being geared more towards traction in off-road situations, prioritizing grip and ability over pleasantness. Still, it could be worse; the DuraTracs are noticeably quieter than the typical mudder.

As quiet as the Goodyear is for a tire of this style, the Toyo is drastically quieter, silent to extent that you almost forget they're rotating continuously beneath you. To call the DuraTrac bad in the noise department is a totally relative statement, because Goodyear has made a valiant effort in helping the DuraTrac to be easy enough to drive around on without them humming your ears off. Meanwhile though, the ATII is outstanding when it comes to road noise. Again, different styles, different purposes; these only become more obvious as you spend more and more time with each.

Advantage: Toyo


Yes, this does matter when it comes to trucks;, seeing as nobody wants their vehicle to feel sloppy going around a corner even if said vehicle weighs upwards of three tons. The DuraTracs, with their soft makeup, did well on mountain roads and really gripped the pavement when pushed hard. Likewise, the Toyos did mighty fine for a tire not designed to be driven like you would a sports car, but that didn't stop me from doing so when the Avalanche was my only vehicle. The one big difference between these two was that the Toyos were much more progressive in their limits whereas the Goodyears would hang on and then give up suddenly with little to zero notice. Either way, unless you're on a race track, both tires do very well, better than one would even expect. The nod goes to the Toyo though, for having less sidewall roll in the corners and for being more forgiving in their ways when driven hard.

Advantage: Toyo


Be it in slow-speed traffic, at cruising speed, or especially with a trailer hitched to the back, braking performance is crucial when it comes to truck tires, if not the most important aspect. Here the Toyos reigns supreme, with absolutely zero drama to them and dead-straight, worry-free stopping qualities. The DuraTracs, while largely problem-free, do squirm a little under hard braking which is only worsened when there's a trailer behind the truck. It's nothing that would be considered “worrying” and they really are competent enough to handle any kind of towing duty you can do with your light-duty vehicle, but if you know you have to slam the brakes often it's something to consider. Both are good, but the Toyo continues to shine when it comes to on-road personality.

Advantage: Toyo


Presumably you also drive not only in good weather, but in the bad as well: rain, snow, ice, and the like. You don't want your truck to let you down, and you expect the same from your tires.

Rain should be fairly straight-forward: hydro-planing is bad, end of story. Luckily, neither of these tires showed even the faintest sign of inability to cope with water on the roadways, be it constant rain or post-downpour standing water. And both tires will, when given the cattle prod, handle wet-condition drifting with ease (a friend told me this). I'd probably choose the DuraTrac though, for it stays a little more sure-footed when coming across puddles in the road.

Snow is probably my favorite condition to drive in, but while stepping the back out in the winter is hysterical childish fun, you want to feel safe when you're not fooling around. Let's start with how the tires perform in a dusting: in 2WD the DuraTrac does well, though it gets a little tail-happy when you're hard on the gas and the snow is light. The Toyo is similar but to a lesser extent. In 4WD the tires handle light snow flawlessly (really as if it isn’t even there). Medium-depth snowfall is similar, with the DuraTrac pulling a slight lead as the Toyo's lesser ability to clean out becomes evident. In deep snow, however, the tires' differences suddenly become major: the DuraTrac will go places in 2WD where the Toyo requires the extra two front wheels spinning.  There's pretty much no snowstorm that the Goodyears can't handle once you engage 4WD, and it's reassuring to know you can still get wherever you need/want to go when the winter weather suddenly turns bad. I live at the top of a massive hill and there were situations in which the Toyos required the handy 4WD switch when I could still make it in 2WD with the Goodyears and some modulated wheelspin. Summary: the DuraTracs definitely portray the better snow-going abilities and were a more competent drifting companion as well.

Advantage: DuraTrac


Pardon the poser pic...
You don't have to be an expert in tires to know how this is going to go. Just by glancing at the two tires side-by-side it's almost laughably easy to tell that the DuraTrac will perform better off-road. A more intricate pattern, more openly spaced lugs, more aggressive sidewalls, and a softer compound all help contribute to the DuraTrac's benefits versus the Toyo's closer lug spacing and harder-composition. Put simply, this is a matter of being deliberately designed for more off-road use, and it shows. Here's a *quick* breakdown of off-road characteristics:

Mud: Toyo has obvious disadvantage with more road-friendly tread; DuraTrac does well and cleans out as one would expect.
Rocks: DuraTrac likes to throw rocks hard and far but otherwise climbs like a mountain goat. Soft sidewalls are concerning, though. Toyo does well on rock-only surfaces but doesn't like climbing as much due to harder makeup; also picks up many smaller rocks in tread-blocks and holds them there.
Fire roads: DuraTrac holds straight and reacts well to inputs, whether small or large. Toyo rides more harshly and is twitchy at speed. Drift-ability is a wash; the DuraTracs drift better at higher speeds and the Toyos are more cooperative in low-speed sideways action.

Advantage: DuraTrac


Tires don't last forever. Just like the cars or trucks they ride under, every model has a lifetime and, accordingly, that varies based on many factors. Composition, hard/soft, tread pattern, and others (especially driving style) have an effect on how long a particular set will last, and the two sets in this comparison are no exception.

At 20,000 miles or so, the Goodyears took a quick turn for the worst; by around 25K, they were showing heavy signs of wear: low tread, increased noise levels, and worsened braking/handling characteristics. 25K would be decent for a mud tire but it's a little disappointing here, where I expected 30-35K. And though I must admit my driving habits were no help to longevity, 25K equates to basically a year's worth of driving for me. That's not a lot of life out of a set.

On the contrary, the Toyos seem to have endless life in them. As of this writing there’s ~20K miles on the set and they look just as they did when they were brand new. My dad has the same tires (down to the size and load rating) on his 2500HD Silverado – a much heavier truck – and his set was just starting to show wear at around 50K miles, and that's with a fair share of towing and hauling. At this rate he will get 60-65K out of them before he buys another set, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the set on the Avalanche lasts even longer. This is shockingly good, and acts as a financial benefit as well.

Advantage: Toyo


Truck tires are, in a phrase, painfully expensive. $1000 for a set is totally commonplace for plus-sized kits, and your wallet will suffer accordingly. In identical sizes, Goodyear charges a fair amount more per tire – about $30-50 depending on the source – than does Toyo. It would be fair to argue that those who prioritize off-road performance are willing to pay more for their rubbers to minimize the hit in on-road performance and, for how well it performs, the DuraTrac is priced competitively versus other tires that only do slightly better when the pavement ends (yet struggle to hold themselves together at all when hitting the highway). For the price, the DuraTrac is a great value.

As for the ATII, Toyo has managed to create an incredibly long-lasting, quiet, pleasant, all-weather-capable tire that looks the part and is up to the off-road task 75% of the time. At $30-50 less per tire than the Goodyears and with a lifetime of about 25K longer per tire, Toyo scores extremely high in the value factor. It's a great tire that will last long past the point at which you're thinking about your next set, and performs well along the way.

Advantage: Even (both pose great values in their own right)


After spending years with both of these tires under the same truck, it's easy to hone in on where one betters the other and which is best in each discipline. It's impossible to belittle the Goodyear DuraTrac's off-road capabilities, but ignoring the Toyo ATII's on-road dominance wouldn't be fair either.

It comes down to this: if you drive your truck daily and really don't off-road it that much, stick to the Toyo Open Country ATII (AT2); its longevity and road manners are simply outstanding, it doesn't flop on its face when the going gets tough, and it'll never fail you in its duty. However, the Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac is a great option for the guy that wants the off-road look (or abilities) without the tradeoffs that typically come along with a dedicated off-road tire. It manages to handle regular on-pavement driving just fine, and adds a menacing look to any vehicle.

What we can conclude from this comparison is that the age of off-road tires having horrid downsides is well past us. Modern light-duty truck tires are in fact capable of multiple responsibilities and can in fact look good doing so. Additionally, this comparison has proven how different two tires that show up under the same grouping on a website can actually be. Both of these tires prove that retaining road manners is not mutually exclusive from performing well in winter weather conditions or when wheeling your rig, and also that it is possible to justify a somewhat more aggressive tire even if it's not what suits your driving best. Hats off to Toyo and Goodyear for two great creations.

Oh, which would I buy? Probably the DuraTrac, even though the Toyo undoubtedly suits my needs better.  I just can't get over how great the Goodyears look; in writing this article I realized I had taken easily 100 times as many pictures of the truck with the Goodyears than the Toyos, and with how minimal the trade-offs are, I would willingly suffer through a little extra road noise and shorter treadlife to love how the truck looks.

-Ross, 10/29/14

Edit: 11/12/14 - for proper/improper use of term "directional"

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Review: MBRP Single Side-Exit Exhaust for 5.3L V8 GM engines (w/pictures & video)

For when your limited budget parallels your disregard for manners

Those of us that live in the snow belt are far too familiar with the moisture-and-road-salt-induced rust that eats away at the underside of your winter-battling car or truck. Yet until scientists devise a practical, wide-scale way to treat the roads and effectively prevent such oxidization, we're stuck with snow plows, sanders, and the crappy road surfaces that result. As such, rust inevitably takes its toll on your vehicle, and my Avalanche was no exception. Exhaust system after exhaust system corroded past the point of repair and late in the winter of 2013, the same happened yet again. This time, a strict budget and the recent disintegration of a custom-bent “shop-floor special” in mind, I decided to try a mass-made example from a reputable company. Many forum threads and a $297 Amazon charge later, an MBRP Single Side-Exit Cat-Back exhaust system was en route to its new life fixed to the undercarriage of my Avy. This would mark the fifth aftermarket exhaust system I've had experience with on a 5.3L GM truck motor, in the order of: Gibson, Magnaflow, two random shop-floor custom-bent examples, and now the MBRP. Having gone through the same process so many times, it's safe to say I'm no stranger to the wide world of using a V8 Chevy truck engine to make noise. How did MBRP's budget-minded kit fare? Let's find out...
With tip installed

What we have here is the basic “swept-side” single-exit, which is a fancy way of saying it occupies the same location and has the same style as the factory system. Some like the stock look, others don't; to each their own. The factory-spec appearance does have a “stealth mode” draw to it, and it forces you to focus on the other traits that can really set it apart. Up close the pipes are nicely made (and look much better painted black...more on that later), with nice bends and clean welds. Nothing of show-quality here, but it doesn't look like a hack-job either. Running it without the provided tip creates an even smoother, almost-hidden look, which is fairly badass in my opinion.
Score: 4/5

People generally fit into one of three groups: those craving a NASCAR-style sound, those who want dead silence, and those looking for the “perfect pipes,” which roar when revving and under hard acceleration but packing a quieter demeanor on the highway or when simply cruising along. I fit into the third demographic; there's nothing that can replace a V8 rumble and I absolutely wanted to hear my truck's engine bellow when hitting the loud-pedal, but regularly blowing my eardrums during my eighty daily highway miles wasn't appealing. Hoping for the MBRP to fit into this formula, it didn't turn out to be perfectly on-point with what I had been looking for.

So, how does the MBRP sound? On startup it's not unlike an LS-series motor: thunder upon turning the key, followed by a smooth settling, and an almost subdued but evil character when sitting at idle. Rev the engine and it speaks directly to your inner straight-pipe craving. In gear, though, full throttle produces a sound that is undoubtedly more pleasant on the outside than the inside; there's no escaping the bellow, and inside you lose much of the guttural growl.

Despite this downside, there is a notable upside: deceleration from higher in the RPM range results in barks and pops that are reminiscent of the truck's bowtie-bearing siblings with names like “Corvette” and “Camaro.” (You can hear some of this in the video.) It does indeed evoke muscle-car thoughts, and this is possibly the MBRP's strongest point. Overall, it makes good sounds, those that are only disappointing when you're behind the wheel and on the relentless on the accelerator.
Sound: 3.5/5

Here we have a bi-polar being. Cruising while very low in the RPM range is quieter-than-expected, dare I say even pleasant? Under slow acceleration the noise is audible over the radio, but not overbearing; however, hit a slight incline where the engine is taxed even minimally and out comes every bit of the drone you know has been hiding somewhere in your ears' nightmares. From the middle to the higher end of the powerband there's a semi-unpleasant, very loud sound the emanates everywhere, and you can't do anything about it unless you manage to trick the automatic transmission into upshifting, or turn the radio up to damaging levels. The sound is so prominent and there's simply *so* much of it that you find yourself subconsciously doing everything possible to avoid hitting this range. Bottom line: it's most certainly not for the faint of heart.
Score: 2.5/5

Performance Gains
No, adding an exhaust system won't give you noticeable power gains on its own unless you believe everything the Need For Speed video games taught you. But combine a less restrictive air intake with a free-flowing pipes and you're likely feel a slight improvement to throttle response and see a couple of tenths increase in gas mileage as well (some even claim to gain 2-3 MPG). In my observations, fuel economy gains were similar to those on the power front: a minor but noticeable change if you spend a lot of time behind the wheel. Keep in mind that your results may vary.
Score: 3.5/5

You usually get what you pay for in this department, especially at this price point, and I was pleasantly surprised by the MBRP's quality...until a problem arose only months after it was installed on my Avalanche. In short, the post-muffler hanger cracked off of the pipe in a spot where welding would have been more work than it would have been worth. Usually this would be unacceptable (and don't get me wrong, it was pretty frustrating to have a new exhaust break), but MBRP replaced the damaged section under warranty without question. It wasn't a next-day affair, but after a few weeks (and some black high-temperature spray-paint to prevent further rusting/corrosion) the exhaust was back in full working order and hasn't caused a problem since. Spray painting it was an inexpensive and worthwhile extra step to ensure longevity, and I would highly recommend doing the same for anybody who buys an exhaust that is not stainless steel. Other than this minor hiccup, the quality has been just fine, especially when you factor in the total investment of around $310.
Score: 4/5

A great looking, great sounding, highway-friendly, high-quality exhaust system usually tickets in the $1000 range, give-or-take a few hundred bucks, with high-end prices dancing around the $1500 mark. In the past I bought two of these other systems for the same engine and, though they were better all-around, they also made a much more noticeable dent in my bank account. Accordingly, those on the much less expensive side have a major compromise somewhere, it's just a matter of locating that downfall. At $297, the MBRP kit was definitely inexpensive, but there's a big difference between inexpensive and cheap. What I found with the MBRP system was a pretty decent compromise of money spent vs. overall satisfaction with the exhaust's traits. Simply put: you can't get as much off-the-shelf exhaust for the price, and with the class-leaders costing easily a thousand bucks more, this is truly a hell of a value.
Score: 5/5

Final Thoughts
So would I recommend it? The short answer is yes, but not to everybody. The exhaust makes some great sounds (some of the time) and looks near-stock but makes itself heard through its angry vocals, and all for a fraction of the price of the “brand-name” systems. MBRP's customer service was solid and they stood by their product, and the price was absolutely unbeatable. I'd say if you're rolling in money or don't mind spending the extra for something that will outlive your truck, spring for the exhaust you're dreaming of. However, if budget is even remotely a concern and you can handle the drone, don't hesitate to give the MBRP Single Side-Exit Cat-Back exhaust system a try. And hey, even if you really do regret it, the whole thing only cost as much as a few tanks worth of gas anyways.

Final Score: 3.75/5

Pardon the rust and dirt
-Ross, 10/1/14