Tyres are a heavily engineered component, especially for applications such as car racing and competitive motorsports. Drivers of passenger cars often don’t realise the difference between wet and dry tyres, usually settling for an all-season tyre which can be used in all weather conditions such as rain, snow and during the summer as well. Big tyre manufacturers like Pirelli, Bridgestone, MRF and Firestone make dry, intermediate and wet tyres for use on tarmac that is dry, wet or somewhere in between.
Let’s have a look at wet tyres vs dry tyres and explain what is the difference between wet and intermediate tyres.
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Wet Tyres vs Dry Tyres
The two main types of tyres are called dry and wet tyres, with an intermediate tyre in-between that can be used in dry or wet conditions. The most significant differentiating factor is the tyre's tread pattern (tread is the surface in contact with the road).
A dry tyre is also called a slick tyre, referring to the smooth or slick surface of its tread. There are no grooves in the rubber, instead, the tyre is designed to have maximum contact with the road surface. This results in high levels of grip on dry tarmac. These tyres also tend to have a soft and sticky compound that affords maximum traction at the cost of greater wear and tear. Passenger cars, SUVs and heavy vehicles don’t make use of slick tyres as they would wear out too quickly. It would be impractical for everyday use. Slick tyres are installed on race cars in Formula 1, circuit racing and MotoGP bikes that compete on dry tracks.
Wet tyres are used in rainy conditions which have water accumulated on the road. They have deep grooves that break the thin film of water on the tarmac. These grooved treads displace water at a high rate and grip the road even when it is completely wet. Wet tyres are reserved for heavy rain with visible puddles on the track. Using dry or slick tyres in the rain would cause the vehicle to lose control, making it unsafe for driving.
The third type of tyre is in between dry and wet, known as intermediate tyres. Wet and intermediate tires are similar, but intermediate types can be used in both dry and wet conditions. Intermediate tyres are installed when there is moisture on the track without heavy rain pouring down. When conditions turn drier, intermediate tyres are able to provide adequate traction. If it starts to rain again, the vehicle can continue driving without a change of tyres. Wet vs intermediate tyres are a careful strategy decision used in racing where the team anticipates a certain amount of rain on an otherwise dry track.
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Why Use Different Types of Tyres Instead of an All-season Tyre?
In everyday driving, we prioritize safety, comfort and economy when we choose our tyres. All-season tyres are the best choice because they can be used in varying conditions, are affordable and last at least 25,000 km under normal driving conditions.
In the world of racing, every second counts and cars have to be equipped with special tyres to get the best lap times, maintain high speeds and have short braking distances. In other words, they need maximum grip at all times. If a race car used dry tyres on a wet track, it would have disastrous results. The slick tyres would just glide over the water offering almost no traction while accelerating and braking. Going around a corner at any speed would cause a spin or heavy understeer, preventing the car from performing at its peak level.
On the other hand, if the car runs wet tyres on a dry track, the levels of grip would be compromised and the driver would have a hard time competing with a car running slicks. Wet tyres will also overheat on a dry road leading to excessive wear and lower traction.
The only way a race car can get the best possible time is to use the right tyres in the right conditions.
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Dry Tyre Compounds
Dry tyres or slicks come in three different compounds, hard, medium and soft. The compound refers to the rubber composition of the tyres. Different compounds have specific colour patterns on the tyre wall, for example, white for hard, yellow for medium and red for soft.
Soft tyres offer the highest level of grip and are sticky, but they wear out very quickly and are not very durable. Soft compounds can take little stress and will not last the length of the race. The race car will have to make a pitstop to replace the tyres in the middle of the race due to loss of grip and lowered performance level.
Hard compound tyres are the least grippy but are more durable and could last more laps than soft or medium compounds.
Choosing the right tyre depends on the race team’s discretion, planning and driver input. A good tyre choice strategy could make the difference between a win or a loss for a team, so picking dry, wet and various compounds is crucial.
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Which Are the Best, Dry Tyres Vs Wet Tyres?
When it comes to choosing the right tyre between dry and wet, you may want to consider the following factors to help you decide which is best.
Road conditions – is the road dry, wet or covered in moisture
Aquaplaning resistance – does the wet tyre have the ability to maintain traction on a wet surface without skidding?
Traction – how well does the tyre grip the tarmac in dry and wet conditions?
These factors may not be applicable for everyday driving on regular vehicles. The choice between dry, wet or intermediate tyres is usually reserved for competitive racing on closed circuit tracks in which cars are on the road for a limited amount of time.
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Choosing the right type of tyre can be confusing for the city driver, let alone a racing team. Picking between dry or wet tyres involves foresight and planning, as well as some driver experience and preferences.
There have been races where Formula 1 teams have lost a podium place due to the wrong choice of tyres. At other times, race teams may switch tyre types at pitstops in between a race with changing weather conditions. The correct tyre type can shave seconds off lap times, which is why this decision is so significant.
We hope this article brought to light some differences between wet and dry tyres. Check out some other interesting articles on the Carorbis blog, Tyre parts and construction and Difference between radial tyres and bias tyres
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. Is the wet road bad for tires?
Ans. Wet roads can be dangerous for tires that are worn out as they can easily lose traction while stopping distances are increased. Wet tires have a special tread design to evacuate water between the road and tire surface, thus avoiding aquaplaning or skidding on wet roads. The rubber used in wet tires sticks to the road and the block pattern adds extra grip and traction. The right choice of tire is important for safe driving, maintaining control of the car and reducing the chances of an accident. Rain tires are different from other types of tires by the compound used in the rubber and the tread pattern.
Q2. Do tires wear less in the rain?
Ans. In fact, tires will wear out quicker in the rain because they have to maintain traction in low-grip surfaces. The driver will invariably brake more often to keep a safe distance from other vehicles. The chances of skidding and hydroplaning are also increased in rainy conditions which wear out the tread. There could be situations where the tires last longer in wet conditions due to the cooler surface temperatures and reduced friction with the tarmac. A lot depends on the driving style as well. Aggressive driving will wear out the tire very quickly.
Q3. What are intermediate tyres?
Ans. Intermediate tyres are used in light rain conditions where dry tyres are not suitable, yet wet tyres are not required because road surfaces are not water-logged. The rubber compounds used in intermediate tyres are softer than slick (dry) tyres but do not have deep grooves in their tread like wet tyres. Racing cars make use of slick, intermediate or wet tyres depending on the weather conditions and road surface. Intermediate tyres are considered versatile because they can be used in wet conditions as well as on semi-dry tarmac. The rubber compound has a wide range of applicable surfaces that are suited for use.
Q4. What tyres are good in the wet?
Ans. Wet road conditions reduce tyre grip, increase braking time and can cause skids or aquaplaning. The best tyre to install during the monsoons is wet tyres which have special rubber compounds and deep treads to offer high levels of traction and push water out of the way on wet road surfaces. Wet tyres offer good handling and stability, allowing you to maintain a decent speed in the rain. Cornering can be tricky when it rains, but wet tyres cope well with changes in direction and let the driver confidently steer a tricky section of the road. Braking distances are greatly reduced with good-quality wet tyres.
Q5. What is dry grip and wet grip in tyre?
Ans. Wet grip is the level of traction that a tyre can offer on a wet surface such as wet roads. Dry grip is defined as the level of road adherence the tyre can provide on a dry road surface. Wet grip and dry grip of tyres are important for stable steering, acceleration, braking and overall ride/handling of the vehicle in varying conditions. Dry tyres are also known as slicks, which means they have a flat or smooth surface for maximum contact with the road. This provides high levels of traction, especially on race cars that drive at high speeds. Wet tyres have deep grooves in their tread which displace water on the road for high levels of traction on a wet surface.
Q6. How long do wet tyres last?
Ans. You should be able to use a set of wet tyres for at least 15,000 – 20,000 km under normal driving conditions and with scheduled tyre rotation for even wearing. Drivers have stated that wet tyres will last for longer, but their efficiency will decrease after a certain time and it may not be entirely safe for driving in wet conditions. The tread can wear out over time, reducing the wet tyre’s ability to displace water. This can be dangerous as the driver may lose control of a speeding vehicle over wet surfaces. Check the tread wear regularly and keep a check on instability or poor handling.
Q7. Do tyres lose grip in the rain?
Ans. During the rainy season, water accumulates on the tarmac creating a thin film of liquid which prevents your tyres from making contact with the road surface. There are high chances of tyres skidding, slipping and losing grip in the rain. The best solution is to use wet or rain tyres that have deep treads which can displace water from the tarmac and offer high levels of grip when it is raining. The chances of gliding around a corner or under braking are reduced with a set of wet tyres.
Q8. In racing, how many laps do wet tyres last?
Ans. Racing cars need maximum grip from their tyres at all times to maintain high speeds and control. Wet conditions will put even more pressure on the tyres to grip the road, which is why they use wet tyres when it rains. It is difficult to estimate how many laps a wet tyre will last on an F1 car; however, they probably will need a tyre change midway through the race to be competitive. 25 laps seem to be the upper limit for the life of wet tyres in a race.
Q9. What is the difference between intermediate and wet tyres?
Ans. Intermediate tyres can be used in rain as well as in dry conditions because they have shallow treads that can grip the tarmac effectively. These tyres are very durable and produce high levels of grip in all conditions. Intermediate tyres are used in light rain conditions when there is not much water accumulation on the road surface. If you are driving through heavy rain with plenty of water puddles along the road, wet tyres are the preferred choice because they are better suited at displacing water and offer high levels of grip due to their deep tread pattern.