Replacing your tires can be more than just basic maintenance; it can also be a great way to upgrade your car's comfort, handling, and overall performance. Stock tires on most vehicles are chosen to provide a compromise between a number of factors, but this one-size-fits-all approach doesn't necessarily work for all drivers. If it's time for you to replace your stock tires, or if you're just looking for a change, then you have a variety of different options.
The terminology around tires can be confusing, however, so this guide will provide a quick primer to help you to understand how upsizing (or downsizing) your tires and wheels can impact your ride.
Bigger or Smaller Diameter?
There has been a constant upward march in stock wheel sizes for years. Where even 18" tires were once considered an oddity only found on a handful of exotic vehicles, they have now become fairly common. 19" and even 20" tires are now available as options on many vehicles as well. If you're buying new tires, then you need rubber to match the size of your wheels, but it may also be worth considering changing your wheels up. This can be an especially good idea if you are swapping to dedicated summer and winter tires, since you can keep your old set of wheels for the other season.
Deciding to upsize or downsize isn't always easy, of course, and there are benefits and drawbacks. Larger wheels tend to have more curb appeal, but they require lower-profile tires which can produce more noise at speed and feel harsher on rough road surfaces. Tires for larger wheels also tend to be more expensive and there are fewer options available as you move to larger sizes. On the other hand, a smaller diameter wheel with a larger sidewall can provide a smoother ride and help to protect your wheels against uneven road surfaces.
Altering Tire Width
You may also be able to change the width of your tires, which can also impact your vehicle's overall performance. In general, wider tires provide better traction, but only in ideal circumstances. Many RWD performance cars use a staggered tire setup, with wider tires in the rear to provide better traction for acceleration, for example. The downside to wider tires is potentially worse traction in adverse conditions such as snow, as well as increased ride harshness.
While wider tires are sometimes a worthwhile option to consider for performance summer tires, they are a poor choice for winter tires or on any car that will be driving in inclement weather on a regular basis. Note also that drastically altering the wheel width from the factory size can drastically affect your handling, so it is worthwhile to consult with a dedicated car tire and suspension shop before making any major changes to your car's stock setup.