The most important pieces of real estate on your car are those four small contact patches that grip the road: your tires. Those few square inches of rubber determine just about everything. Tires harness the engine's power, allow the brakes to do their job and determine how successfully a car will go around a corner regardless of whether they’re pulling into a parking stall or screaming into a high-speed sweeper.
Yes, tires carry an enormous burden. That thin doughnut of round and black is a complex assembly of cables, rubber and polymers, all molded into a highly engineered profile. It's then mounted onto a wheel and, of course, inflated with air to give it shape and definition. The manufacturers behind your vehicle, tires and wheels worked together to carefully engineer an optimum combination of grip, road feel, ride quality, noise control and tire wear.
In America, “bigger is better” has been the prevailing trend over the past couple decades. “22s on Porsche trucks” used to be a flex worth rapping about—now it’s a factory option. Big wheels aren’t just the domain of performance enthusiasts looking to fit larger brakes and tires anymore. Sometimes they simply look cool, especially with the taller dimensions of a modern-day car. Just think of how strange a 2020 Mazda Miata would look wrong with the 14-inch stock wheels from its early 90s counterpart. From a design perspective alone, it just wouldn’t work.
Yet there are also practical, everyday reasons why you may want to swap your car’s tires and wheels, too. Some drivers now want to buck the trend of larger, heavier wheels whose low-profile tires are more expensive to replace and don’t offer much cushion on rough roads. Picking up a spare set of wheels and tires to use during the summer or winter is popular in colder climates as well. Why ruin a nicer set of wheels with road salt and grime if you don’t have to?
Bigger is not always better. There's a sizing sweet spot that provides better grip and those head-turning looks without compromising your vehicle's original engineering. So, let's get some basics down before you upgrade to new rolling stock.
Of Wheels and Humanity
The first known wheels were made of wood, despite what Fred Flintstone's granite-shod convertible would have you believe. Automobiles even used wooden carriage wheels for quite a while. Increased power and weight soon outstripped wood's capabilities, and wheels were upgraded to steel, either in a stamped, welded dish or a lighter hub, spoke and rim design. Lightweight steel-spoked wheels lingered until the 1950s, especially on nimble foreign sports cars, but larger American cars needed the stronger stamped and welded wheels.
Steel's weight penalty led racers and enthusiasts to explore magnesium—a metal as strong as aluminum, but even lighter. Unfortunately, pure magnesium corrodes very easily unless it's properly sealed and can even catch fire in an accident. Magnesium wheel fires are still singled out in firefighting courses today, as taking a water hose to a burning magnesium wheel only makes it burn more intensely. These earlier magnesium wheels didn’t get much use outside of racing because of these on-road liabilities.
What some old-schoolers call "mag" wheels today are actually a safer, more stable magnesium alloy or more frequently, an aluminum alloy that’s been painted or chromed. Beyond these alloys, there are now ultra-lightweight carbon-fiber wheels, but those are still far more expensive than an alloy set. For now, most wheel upgrades involve aluminum alloys.
How Much Rubber Do You Need?
One of the reasons why people opt for larger wheels and tires revolves around the contact patch—specifically, how much tire touches the ground at any given time. Maybe you’ve upgraded your engine for more power and now your tires break loose if you just look at them funny. You’re going to need more contact with the ground (and thus, more grip) in order to use that extra power for more than sick burnouts.
There are two ways to increase the size of the tire's contact patch: make it longer or wider. A longer patch of tire tread means that the tire's overall diameter increases. This works better on a four-wheel-drive truck, but if you increase the diameter of the tire on most passenger cars, you’ll have problems.
First, there’s the obvious issue. The tire can rub other parts of the car, like the wheel well.
Secondly, because the radius of the overall tire is larger, the car’s effective gearing gets taller, which robs it of acceleration. Gear ratios are usually written like “4.10:1.” The higher the first number is, the more that gear multiplies the input torque that ultimately spins your wheels. Problem is, it takes longer for a larger diameter tire to complete one rotation.
Parsing the Sidewall: What Those Numbers on the Side of Your Tire Mean
So, if your gearing is set up to rotate the wheels a certain number of times with a smaller-diameter tire, using that same gearing with a larger-diameter tire won’t rotate that tire as many times. Your 4.10:1 gear ratio may effectively be a “taller” 3.75:1 ratio because of that larger tire diameter, thus slowing you down. (There are handy calculators online for how a change in tire size affects your gear ratio if you’re serious about modifying your car’s gearing to compensate for this.)
Furthermore, your car’s anti-lock brake system isn’t calibrated to handle the increased angular momentum from all that extra spinning weight concentrated near the rim and it can malfunction as a result. You may not notice this until you hammer the brakes going into a slippery corner and slide off into a hedge.
So, on street cars, we customarily go wider with wheels and tires to increase the size of that contact patch. While you still need to ensure that wider tires will fit inside your wheel wells without rubbing, it’s common to add an inch of width to your wheels—for example, going from a 7-inch-wide rim to an 8-inch-wide one. That allows a wider tire to be mounted.
While you’re adding width to your wheels, you may also want to increase your wheels’ diameter. Then you can fit a tire with a wider tread and a lower profile for better handling. Thanks to the lower profile, the overall diameter of your wheel and tire combo stays pretty close to what it was before. Adding an inch in wheel diameter but subtracting that inch from the sidewall of the tire is called a Plus 1 upgrade as it’s pretty common. Similarly, we can usually go even lower in profile with a Plus 2 (for example, going from 16- to 18-inch wheels) or Plus 3 (16- to 19-inch) upgrade on most vehicles without running into a problem.
The same principle of changing an inch in wheel diameter but compensating for that inch in the height of the tire’s sidewall can be applied to downsizing your wheels as well. Keeping the overall diameter of your tires the same also means that you won’t notice any changes in your speedometer. Speedometers usually calculate your car’s speed by measuring how often your wheels are spinning. If a significantly different tire diameter causes your wheels to turn more or less frequently than it used to, your speedometer won’t give you an accurate speed.
There are reasons to be cautious about up-sizing your wheels and tires, especially with less powerful cars. Wider tires have more rolling resistance than their skinnier counterparts, which can negatively affect your fuel economy. More mass from heavier wheels can have negative consequences as well. As noted, their extra momentum can mess with safety features like ABS, but the extra weight also requires more power to move, which wrecks both your fuel economy and your acceleration. Those wheels’ extra unsprung weight can also overwork your factory springs and shocks.
As the aspect ratio of a tire drops—that’s the lower profile we’ve been talking about—a number of things change. Shorter sidewalls are stiffer and less compliant, so the tread itself moves less. This in turn improves grip and enhances road feel through the steering wheel. That's good!
A Guide to Plus Sizing
A 1-in.-larger rim diameter and 1-in.-wider rim width is a “Plus 1” size upgrade; in this case, the 16-in. rim below. Plus 2 and 3 are shown, slightly exaggerated, on the 17- and 18-in. wheels. Choose a tire that’s close to stock height.
However, the contact patch becomes more square than oval. That increased width of the tire on the pavement makes the tire more prone to hydroplaning on wet roads. Even at modest speeds, there’s a higher chance for the rubber to ride on top of the water instead of piercing through the water to the pavement. This reduces grip to nearly zero, which is a Very Bad Thing.
At the same time, ride quality suffers. One major downside to shorter sidewalls is the increased risk of wheel damage. Those short sidewalls put the rim of the wheel much closer to potholes and curbs.
A short, wide contact patch has more contact area on the road, but that's only if the wheel remains perpendicular (or nearly so) to the ground. The suspension's job has just gotten tougher. A taller, more compliant sidewall deflects more, and thus, has an easier time keeping the contact patch on the ground. With a wider patch and more grip, the car’s body rolls more, lifting the inner part of the tread off the pavement and reducing its grip. Without returning the suspension, handling can actually suffer.
It’s All About Geometry
There’s one more thing you need to be careful with when shopping for new wheels and tires: how does it all fit?
Many cars use a centering hub, which is a raised center section of the hub that mates with a matching recessed part of the wheel. It's intended to keep the wheel precisely centered on the hub, more so than by just tightening the lug bolts. Some wheels may not fit this hub properly, requiring the use of a spacer or even a different wheel.
Furthermore, the new wheel has to have the correct offset to clear the suspension and brakes. The offset is the distance from the hub mounting surface and the wheel’s centerline, which is the middle point between the rims. It measures where the tire sits laterally from the hub of the wheel.
Don't Get Rubbed the Wrong Way: Maintaining Adequate Clearance
If the rim is wider than stock, there may not be enough clearance to the ball joint or steering arm to permit half the extra width to go inside the wheel well. It may even rub the fender! Worse yet, significant size changes can upset steering geometry and overstrain wheel bearings. (As with effective gear ratios, there are online calculators that show you exactly how a change in wheel and tire size affects your steering geometry and handling.)
Our advice: Purchase a proven wheel-and-tire combo specifically designed for your vehicle, or go to a shop that specializes in modifying your kind of ride. Places like Tire Rack offer myriad wheel and tire combos based on your specific car and its dimensions. That being said, when wheels come in designs ranging from cute teddy bears to gladiator-like protruding wire hubs, we can’t blame anyone for wanting something more custom.
If you make significant changes to your wheels, you follow it up with the appropriate changes to the rest of your vehicle so that everything works safely as it should.
Stef Schrader routinely breaks and attempts to take project cars on race tracks. She enjoys fancy cheeses, good coffee, fast Porsches, traveling to new places and rare, weird cars. She lives with a large collection of Fisher-Price Puffalumps and an overloaded parts shed.
How do you match tires with rims? ›
Width and diameter are the two factors that determine tire and rim compatibility. For diameter you'll need to be sure that your tires and wheels are an exact match, e.g. a 215/65R17 tire will only fit on a 17" diameter wheel. There's a bit more flexibility when it comes to wheel widths.How do I choose new tires for my rims? ›
We typically like the wheel diameter to be less than half the overall tire diameter. For example, a 17-inch wheel would be the max for a 35-inch tire. Tire manufacturers list a range of recommended wheel widths for each specific tire. They typically recommend a wheel that is 2-3 inches narrower than the tire.Are upgraded wheels worth it? ›
So, are road bike wheel upgrades worth it? Upgrading your road bike wheels is the best thing you can do for your cycling experience. The right wheels can make a significant change in terms of weight and overall performance.How much does it cost to upgrade rims? ›
Changing and replacing your tire rims can cost anywhere from $200 to $500 per wheel or $800 to $2,000 for your entire car. The price depends on your vehicle and the car service, but the minimum cost of changing tire rims is around $200.What size rims go with 33 inch tires? ›
33-inch tires work well with rims that measure 15 or 16 inches in width, while 35-inch tires should only be used with rims that are at least 17-inches wide.What size tire for a 9.5 in rim? ›
|Rim width||Minimum tire width||Ideal tire width|
|9,0 Inches||235 mm||245 or 255 mm|
|9,5 Inches||245 mm||255 or 265 mm|
|10,0 Inches||255 mm||265 or 275 mm|
|10,5 Inches||265 mm||275 or 285 mm|
Although you should get new tires any time they need to be replaced, in general, the best month to buy tires is either October or April.Is it cheaper to buy tires and rims together? ›
By packaging your wheel and tire purchases, you save time and only pay for one total installation—half the price of having them installed individually.Do tires have to match rims? ›
Matching Wheels & Tires on Each Axle
If you decide to use mismatched tires or wheels, you need to ensure that each axle of your vehicle contains the same tires. On a 2-axle vehicle, the two front tires should match and the two rear tires should match. Rear tires do not necessarily have to match the pair of front tires.
Definitely. They have a more immediate impact of ride quality, noise level, handling, etc., than wheel size does. A bald tire will have poor traction, handling, and stability. A brand-new tire will have excellent traction, handling, and stability, but will also be louder.
Do bigger wheels get better mileage? ›
However, for freeway driving at high speeds, having larger tires can help increase the vehicle's fuel efficiency. Is this because while it is easier to get a smaller wheel and tire moving than a larger one, once moving, the engine works harder to make the smaller wheel cover the same distance as a larger one.Are OEM wheels stronger than aftermarket? ›
Typically, OEM wheels are made of alloy or steel. Steel wheels are often a cheaper option that offers more durability. They are significantly stronger than alloy and aftermarket wheels. These are recommended for powerful vehicles and cold regions with long winters.Is changing rims bad for tires? ›
Switching tires from your rims involves stretching the tire over the outer lip of the rim. Over time, this can strain the tire and increase the chance of tire damage.Are tires for bigger rims more expensive? ›
But replacing a standard 17-inch alloy wheel with an 18- or 19-inch alloy rim will add weight — unless it's an expensive, lightweight type. Bigger wheels cost more money. The bigger you go, the more expensive the wheels and tires.Is it worth having two sets of rims? ›
Each season, mounting, dismounting, and balancing tires causes premature wear in the tire's bead area and can lead to an increased risk of air pressure loss. By owning a second set of wheels, you reduce the amount of handling of your eight tires and, consequently, the risk of breakage on each of them.Which tire is taller 33 or 285? ›
Are 33 inch tires the same as 285?
|Measurement||33 inches tires (285/75/16)|
33” tires are a bit more comfortable, while 35 inch tires offer better control. So, to summarize, if you plan on driving in rough terrain with many hills and valleys, go with 33 inch tires. If you plan on driving on flat ground or mostly on dirt roads, go with 35 inch tires.How much bigger is a 33 inch tire than a 275? ›
Is 275 the same as 33? Tires that measure 275/60 R20 are equivalent to the 33-inch.Should tires be wider than rim? ›
As a general rule of thumb, it's safe to fit a tire up to 20 millimeters wider than stock on the original rim. The actual width of the tire will vary depending on the width of the rim: The tire will expand 5 millimeters for every half-inch (12.5 millimeters) increase in rim width.How tall is a 9.00 x16 tire? ›
This tire stands 36.3" tall and is 10.4" wide at the section, so it is comparable, but nevertheless taller. This size would be considered the same as 9x16.
Can you put 275 on 9.5 rims? ›
A 265 or 275 width tire on a 9.5" wheel should not a problem per se. I run 275/30 on the front 9.5" VFF103s and the turn in is great.How Much Should 4 new tires cost? ›
How much does a set of four tires cost? The price of a set of four tires will depend on the size and type of tire, but the median price for four tires is between $460 and $1,280. If you have smaller tires and decide to go with a cheaper option, you could pay below that range.Is it better to buy 4 tires at once? ›
It's always best to replace all 4 tires at the same time. This is because all 4 tires spin independently of one another, and different tread depths and/or styles can cause them to spin at different speeds. That could potentially damage the drive train, and possibly affect an indirect TPMS system if the vehicle has one.At what age are tires no good? ›
It may be tentative, but tires do have an expiration date. There is a general consensus that most tires should be inspected, if not replaced, at about six years and should be absolutely be swapped out after 10 years, regardless of how much tread they have left.When should I buy new rims? ›
When Should Rims Be Replaced? Any time that your rims are compromised, cannot hold air, or cause braking and handling problems mean that they need to be replaced. A worn or broken rim could cause a sudden blowout even if the leak seems slow or the crack appears minor.What type of rims are best for winter? ›
Aluminum rims are lightweight and won't add too much weight to your vehicle. They also tend to look more modern and stylish than steel rims. Additionally, they have excellent heat dissipation qualities, which can help reduce brake wear during cold weather driving.How do I know what offset I need? ›
Measure the distance from the floor to the straight edge and divide by two. That calculates the centerline of the wheel. If the centerline number is smaller than the hub measurement, offset is positive; if it is larger, offset is negative.Should new tires go on front or back rear wheel drive? ›
According to Tire Review, new tires should always go in the back. Rear tires provide the vehicle stability, and if they have little tread, then stability is lost.Should I put bigger tires in the front or back? ›
While it's fine to put narrower tyres on the front and wider on the back, it's pointless to put wider tyres on just one side of the car. This would change the weight balance and would mean one side of the vehicle would grip differently to the road when braking. It would change the cornering dynamic, too.Should all 4 tires be the same brand? ›
Primarily, you should avoid mixing different tire brands and different tread patterns. There are rare exceptions for approved mixed-tire fittings, but in general, manufacturers do not recommend tire mixing at all.
Are 18 or 20 inch wheels better? ›
While 18-inch tires might provide a more comfortable ride, 20-inches may handle better.Are 17 or 19 inch wheels better? ›
The 19-inch wheels are going to be the fastest and the 17-inch wheels and tyres are going to be the slowest. This is because of the fact that as the sidewall height is decreased in increasing the wheel size the handling becomes a lot sharper as the wheel face interacting with the road increases more.Why do I feel every bump in the road? ›
Feeling every bump
If you start to feel every bump on the road, it's a clear sign that there is a problem with your shock absorbers or struts, that needs to be checked. An easy check is the bounce test. Simply push your entire weight down on your car's bonnet. Release and count the number of times the car bounces.
For example, larger tires decrease your fuel economy because they are heavier, while smaller tires increase fuel efficiency. Bigger tires also have a higher rolling resistance than smaller tires which means they require more resistance and effort to get them rolling.What type of tire gives the best fuel mileage? ›
- Michelin Energy Saver A/S. The Michelin Energy Saver A/S is one of the most popular fuel-efficient tires on the market. ...
- Dunlop Sport BluResponse. ...
- Bridgestone Ecopia EP001S. ...
- Pirelli Cinturato P7 Blue. ...
- Michelin Energy Saver+ ...
- Goodyear Assurance Fuel Max.
Remember, power and economy are affected by transmission, drive axle ratios and tire size (revolution per mile). Change one, and you throw the equation off. With today's new tires, there is virtually no difference in mpg due to tire size.Which rims are the strongest? ›
Steel wheels are the cheapest and most durable wheel option on the market. They generally run from about $50 each and are great for standing up to winter conditions, and particularly for heavy or hard-working vehicles.Are wider rims stronger? ›
Wider rims support the tire better and allow for lower tire pressures. As rim and tire widths increase, rolling resistance (and wheel weight) consequently increases, but we've found 30mm-wide rims provide a nice compromise for most riders.Why are OEM rims so expensive? ›
OEM Wheels are Higher-Quality
OEM wheels may be the more expensive option, but this is because of their quality. These wheels are created to perfectly fit a specific car model, so they'll directly impact the quality of your car's performance.
Tires are a part of the wheel setup. For instance, your vehicle has a set size of rims, but you can buy different sizes of tires to fit those rims, as long as the middle of the tires is the correct size. That being said, a vehicle with bigger rims will often be able to fit larger tires than other vehicles.
How do I know what rims will fit my car? ›
Put simply, to find if your wheels will fit your car, measure the distance from your wheel's center point to where it is mounted. This is the offset. Add that to half your wheel's width to find the back space and subtract it to find the front space. Compare this to your wheel well to see if it fits.Will any 20 inch tire fit a 20 inch rim? ›
Width Matters Too
Just because your rim is 20 inches in diameter and you found 20 inch tires doesn't mean they'll fit. You need to know the width of your rims before you can buy a set of tires.
Will Smaller Tires Affect My Transmission? Smaller tires can also affect the performance of your vehicle's transmission. The transmission needs a specific circumference. Changing the circumference will change the needed gear ratios inside your transmission or differential.Will putting bigger wheels change speedometer? ›
Tire size and speedometer accuracy are directly linked to each other. Up-sizing, or installing a taller tire, will lead to a speedometer reading that is slower than your actual speed.What are the benefits of larger wheels? ›
Larger wheels offer better traction, and because they have more rubber on the tire, this also means a better grip on the road. Larger tires are better for car cornering and handling than your regular tires. They also reduce the braking distance and improve braking overall, adding to safety.Should I buy all 4 tires? ›
It's always best to replace all 4 tires at the same time. This is because all 4 tires spin independently of one another, and different tread depths and/or styles can cause them to spin at different speeds. That could potentially damage the drive train, and possibly affect an indirect TPMS system if the vehicle has one.Do bigger wheels affect ride quality? ›
Does Ride Quality Change with Wheel Size? Yes, ride quality varies significantly with wheel size. Noise level and handling are also majorly affected by wheel size. Figuring out which wheel size is best depends on the vehicle and what the driver values.Do all rims fit every car? ›
Be Wary About Putting Wheels from Other Vehicles on Your Car
To fit correctly, offer the proper driving dynamics, and ensure safety, the wheel must have not only the proper bolt pattern, but also the proper width, centerbore, offset, and load capacity for the vehicle.
You cannot simply go out and put on a larger wheel and tire and expect your car to be the same. Your car is designed to roll on a specific wheel and tire size. Changes to either may start a cascade of handling and mechanical issues if you don't plan carefully.What is the advantage of 20 inch wheels? ›
The thin, low-profile sidewall that comes with a 20-inch tire is also typically stiffer than the sidewall on a tire with the same overall diameter but smaller inner diameter. This improves how a tire feels on turn-in, as there's less squirm in the rubber, leading to more direct steering and quicker handling response.
Do 20 inch tires ride rough? ›
Due to a decreased sidewall, 20-inch tires can increase the discomfort you feel when going over potholes, speed bumps, gravel roads, and other road hazards. If you're into off-roading, 20-inch tires might not be the best choice.