Are bigger wheels good for your car? Or just all show but no go?

Arif · Dec 17, 2020 09:00 AM

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A simple way to give your car a fresh look is to fit it with a set of new wheels. It is the easiest form of “modification” and window shopping the right fit for your car can be fun. While the design/pattern of the wheel is subject to individual taste, one common “upgrade” is to go for wheels with a bigger diameter.

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Perodua Myvi GT

Bigger wheels are aesthetically pleasing and give the car a more athletic look. Even manufacturers seem to agree to this and fit bigger wheels on range-topping variants. If the car was a person, fitting on bigger wheels is the aesthetic equivalent of not skipping leg day.

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How wheel size affects tyre profile. Photo: oponeo.co.uk

When upsizing the wheels, the outer diameter of the tyre needs to be maintained. So, bigger wheels equal lower side profile. Upsizing your wheels in a video game may have had no effect on your ride and handling, but the real world doesn’t let you do things without consequences.

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Are bigger wheels good for your car? Or just all show but no go? 01

There is a point of diminishing returns as you go up in size. Photo: siamagazin.com

So, what are the consequences of upgrading to bigger wheels?

There’s the good and bad, and we’ve got them listed for you here

Good – Better feedback

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Photo: modernclassicsmagazine.co.uk

None of us are the great Caroll Shelby, but a lot of us make it our business to make performance our business. A great benefit of bigger wheels is improved performance, especially in the corners.

Bigger wheels = lower side profile = less tyre flex

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You can flex your money, muscles, and tyres. Photo: boarwheel.com

Now, tyre flex is not a bad thing (in fact it has its own benefits), but less tyre flex does reduce the wobbles in the corner and provide a crispier feedback if that’s what you’re looking for.

Too stiff of a tyre side wall is also not a good thing, so make it a point to strike a good balance.

Good – More space for bigger brakes

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Photo: tarox.com

As high-performance cars evolved over the years, they became more powerful, larger, and heavier (for safety reasons). Their wheels got bigger too (from the factory), and it was more than just an aesthetic upgrade. Bigger wheels give more space for bigger brakes, which is important to accommodate the increase in power and weight.

Good – It just looks good

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Bigger wheels can give your car a more domineering stance. With the right sized wheels, even the cutest of city cars can look decently aggressive.

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It's a simple spell but quite unbreakable. Photo: mediaindonesia.com

They’re the aesthetic equivalent of the human legs (or arms). 

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Concept cars tend to have bigger wheels for better visual impact

And now let’s get “sensible” talk about the bad ..

Bad – Weighs more (if compared to smaller wheel of equivalent material)

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Compared to a 14” stock steel wheel, a 15” alloy wheel could weigh less. So, this argument only applies if the material and manufacturing method are kept constant.

Let’s say you decide to put the 15-inch wheels of the Perodua Alza on a Perodua Axia. It’s going to weigh more. And more weight equals more rolling resistance, which equals more load on the engine, which equals higher fuel consumption, slower acceleration, bla bla bla...

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A simplification of the physics of it. The moment of inertia is the product of of the wheel mass and the wheel radius. Photo

Although generally true, the topic of weight has to take into consideration the combined weight of the wheel and tyre. I don’t know what setup you’re running (and wish to upgrade to).

So, if adding unsprung weight to your car makes you lose sleep at night, go ahead and weigh your wheels and tyres for peace of mind.

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The equivalent of a shoe store. Photo

A bigger but lighter wheel (with constant outer tyre diamater) could actually be better.

Bad – Less comfort (NVH)

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Who to blame? Photo

Lower profile tyres can be noisier and ride harder, but I’m pretty sure you didn’t care anyway.

That’s why some modern luxury car brands don’t ride as well as they used to anymore.

Bad – higher risk of damage

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Photo

Since there is less tyre to protect your wheel, they are more susceptible to damage.

Bad – higher cost

You get less rubber for your money since low profile tyres have a higher price tag. But that’s just the way it is. You could say it’s because of economics of scale, “supply & demand”, or exclusivity. They just cost more.

Conclusion

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Bigger wheels with low profile tyres are great if you want more feedback or if you wish to put bigger brakes on your car. Do take note that some wheel sizes are also just way too big for the car that you have.

“Driving engagement” usually comes at the cost of comfort, so the balance is really up to your preference.


 

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Arif

Writer

Previously an engineer in an automotive manufacturing company and a highway concessionaire. A part-time research student on biofuels and diesel engines. Obsessed with vehicle electrification and the future of transportation.

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