Hooniverse Asks- When it Comes to Tires, How Thin is Too Thin?

You’ve seen them, rubberband like tires that appear to have been spray-painted onto the rims. Man, they look double dutch boss, but rolling on them must feel like you’re in Fred Flintstone’s car. They usually don’t come from the factory that way – unable to traverse a rail crossing at any kind of speed less risking a blowout – but for aftermarket you can never be too thin, or too rich to afford those gum-bands.
Even though those kind of low profile tires are punishing over anything other than the Hubble mirror, is the look worth the trade off in ride quality? For those whose identity is intrinsically tied to their wheels it may very well be. If your car is an extension of your persona then having 275-25R tires may be a singular expression of your individual identity.They may also indicate that you are a D-bag.
But where does the line between aggressive handling tires and D-bag lie? There’s likely a point when tires go from Gymkhana to Gym-Troll, but how do you know what that point of delineation is? What’s your take on car tires, how thin is too thin?
Image source: [virtuamod.com]

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  1. Paul_y Avatar

    My problem lies more in the 'bigger is better' mentality behind most folks' wheel selections.

  2. acarr260 Avatar

    I like more flex in my sidewalls…
    <img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2144/2549642932_6babb9c752.jpg&quot; width="500" height="375" alt="87 Chevy">

    1. SSurfer321 Avatar
      1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

        <img src="http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5100/5465022579_6630cc48e9_b.jpg&quot; width="600/">
        Hey, it's just an XJ Cherokee with an altered aspect ratio…

    2. SSurfer321 Avatar


  3. FЯeeMan Avatar

    I understand the benefit of a shorter sidewall is a stiffer tire. Then I look at every racing series in the world, and wonder what, exactly the advantage is…
    I think the d-bag line is very close to factory spec.

    1. skitter Avatar

      A lot of that is down to regulations.
      F1 engineers in particular hate the tire size that's handed down.

      1. FЯeeMan Avatar

        That may be, but an F1 car handles far better than any '98 Civic or '88 Caprice on the road. 😉 Drag tires, however, need some sidewall flex (or "wrinkle", if you will).
        And, somewhat OT, I think the Pirelli's F1 are running this year have made for some fantastic racing. Not thrilled with the results of three of the first four races this season, but the gettin' there has been entertaining!

      2. PowerTryp Avatar

        Actually they hate the wheel and it's all due to the fact that it's 13" in diameter. They would kill to put a 15-18" wheel on there because then they wouldn't have to spend countless hours designing a brake package that will stop a car like that to fit inside a 13" wheel.

        1. skitter Avatar

          An even better point.

          1. FЯeeMan Avatar

            But, how else are you supposed to prove that you're the best engineers in the best racing series in the world if you're not continually getting more performance out of more restrictive regulations?
            /I'd rather see them cut back on the regs, have a few safety, general dimension & fuel consumption rules and let 'em go at it.

  4. lilwillie Avatar

    Anything less than a "50" is to small of a sidewall for me.

  5. P161911 Avatar

    You shouldn't be running larger than a 17 or 18" wheel unless you need something bigger to clear the brakes. In most cases 35 or 40 series is the absolute lowest and then only on a really high performance vehicle.
    I'll have to check, but I think my truck is running 75 series on factory 17" steel wheels.
    Checked at lunch, 245/70-R17s.

    1. dragon951 Avatar

      Agree. On a road car, anything under 40 – 18 is definitely hurting your performance. The only real reason to go bigger is to accommodate larger brakes. Otherwise you are just adding unsprung weight to kill your acceleration. Even LMP and GT classes don't go below 34 or above 18".
      LMP1 rears are 37/71-18. [(71-45.72)/2]/37 = 0.341 approx. 370/34 – 18
      GT2 rears: 31/71-18 –> approx. 310/41 – 18
      On the track, the car definitely gets up on the sidewalls in hard cornering, and with no sidewall, that S5 is just going to grind it's rims/tear the bead and blow out. Also keep in mind that LMP1 cars weigh in at 900kg, so they will definitely ride the sidewalls much less than a 1750kg heffer.

    2. ChuckyShamrok Avatar

      45 series on 17" alloy on my truck. But mines the 2wd go fast edition. I'd like to go up for a 18", but rim selection for 6×114.3 bolt pattern is all BALLAH status

  6. west_coaster Avatar

    I'm always amused when someone I know is looking at a new car, usually European or Japanese, and INSISTS on opting for the "sport package." Never mind the fact that they're going to drive in heavy traffic every day to the office, and then the shopping mall on Saturday and Sunday. By God, the sport package and its lower-profile tires is definitely for them.
    The other shoe drops when they have to replace the tires. "Holy crap! The tires wore out in only 12,000 miles. And do you know what the same set of Michelins would have cost??? Like two grand! So I got the Kung-Fu's instead for eight fifty out the door. The tire guy says they're just as good."

    1. FЯeeMan Avatar

      I had a valid reason for opting for the bigger wheels on my Dodge Caravan. I got the 17s (instead of 16 or 15s) because it was the only way I could get a full size spare instead of a doughnut. I've put that full size spare to good use, too. (oddly, it's the only vehicle I've ever owned with a full size spare, and it's the only one I've needed the spare on. Maybe that's telling me something)
      I did have an AAARRRRGGGHHHH!!!! week when I found out that Dodge had Michelin develop a 265/17R60 specifically for the Caravan and nothing else on the road uses that size.

      1. Alff Avatar

        Dodge is a master of that – a fact I pointed out to the dealer's aftermarket specialist several years ago when he tried to get me to "upgrade" to 20" wheels and 50-series tires for my 4-wheel drive work truck.

    2. Alff Avatar

      Your post has me contemplating painting "Kung Fu" in white letters on my sidewalls. Very funny.

    3. BGW Avatar

      Sounds like my co-worker. He got t-boned by a red light runner in his year-old Camry, then took the insurance payouts and bought himself a gently-used MS3, not really knowing what it was but, hey, it looks cool. He really didn't understand turbo lag and his driving style was torque-steer-into-tree waiting to happen; the one time I rode with him to a vendor meeting–on the interstate, in the pissing rain–was what you might call a pants-shitter. Fast-forward a year and he nearly blew a gasket when it failed inspection for worn tires and, lo and behold, the recommended new tires cost 2x what they did for his Camry! Imagine the nerve of those ripoff tire shops! He went with the Kung-Fus as well and, within 2 weeks, had traded the MS3 in on a new…
      Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. 18" wheels. But at least torque steer won't be an issue.

      1. Thrashy Avatar

        I really don't understand why people are so cheap with tires. Even if it costs you 1200 bucks to replace a set (you must be driving a Corvette or something), and you go through a set every two years (which is quite a feat if you've got the car aligned right and you're not autocrossing), that only comes out to 50 dollars a month. Compared to how much you've spent on gas in that same month, fifty dollars seems a pittance for something that, as Bridgestone wants to remind you, is your only contact with the road. Those 60-dollar Kung-Fus may be cheap, but they're also as hard as rocks. Hope you enjoy skidding!

    4. dragon951 Avatar

      Lol, he got 12000 miles and he is complaining? Tell that to my Advan 032Rs with their mighty treadwear rating of 60. Granted, I drive less than 2000 miles a year, so I am covered for a couple of years.
      In the vein of the actual post, I believe there is some sort of saying that goes: "The single best improvement you can make to your car's handling is the tires" …or was it "the driver"? I can't think, my neck is too sore from 'g's.

    5. scoutdude Avatar

      At that is why a lot of performance cars are involved in 1 car accidents. Either they don't notice their tires are bald after so few miles and then hydroplane with just a little moisture on the road, or they balk at the price of quality tires and then find out the hard way that their car doesn't stick to the corners any more with the Dung-low tires.

  7. Van Sarockin Avatar
    Van Sarockin

    As long as the minivan gets the same tire wear as an NSX or 370Z, all is well.

  8. Alff Avatar

    Nevermind the rubber bands, the factory spec 45-series tires I bought for the Subaru yesterday are too thin. This is primarily an adverse-weather commuter vehicle, with periodic bursts of exuberance to remind the turbo why it's there. There aren't a lot of twisties around to take advantage of minimal sidewall flex. In short, the all out performance advantages are not worth the trade offs in comfort and pothole survivability.
    On the other hand, the 65s on the Alfa handle corners just fine and look right doing it.

  9. FЯeeMan Avatar

    No, the spare well is the same. It didn't occur to me at the time that I could just go buy another tire/rim to put up in there.
    As I said, I've never needed the spare on any other vehicle I've owned, just the one that had the full size… 🙁

  10. muthalovin Avatar

    Just Right:
    <img src=http://image.automobilemag.com/f/29834566+w750+st0/2010-ford-f150-SVT-raptor-wheel-vertical.jpg" width=550>

  11. facelvega Avatar

    There was a test in C&D last April where they tried every wheel and tire combination available on a VW Golf, chosen because you could get a Golf with everything from a 195/65R15 to a 235/35R19. Their findings: roadholding peaked by a few hundredths on 17 and 18 inch rims, but acceleration and fuel efficiency got worse every time the sidewall got narrower, to the tune over the whole range of .3 seconds to 60 and ten percent of the fuel economy.
    I don't know if they'll let me repost their table, but here goes:
    <img src="http://www.caranddriver.com/var/ezflow_site/storage/images/media/images/effects-of-upsized-wheels-and-tires-tested-chart2/3501103-1-eng-US/effects-of-upsized-wheels-and-tires-tested-chart.jpg"&gt;
    <a href="http://www.caranddriver.com/features/10q1/effects_of_upsized_wheels_and_tires_tested-tech_dept” target=”_blank”>http://www.caranddriver.com/features/10q1/effects_of_upsized_wheels_and_tires_tested-tech_dept

    1. Luke Coloardo Avatar
      Luke Coloardo

      That mostly due to weight. Very misleading chart.

  12. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    I'd love to pretend to be all hard core/logical and talk about diminishing returns as wheels get over about 16 or 17" and aspect ratios get under about 45, but ill-fitting wheels can do for a car's overall looks what pink Uggs with tassels do for that girl ahead of you in line at Starbucks.
    Anyway, on newer cars, it's still hard to see a reason to get under about a 40 series, and that's only on something that sees regular hard drivin'.
    On a classic, I'd say you can go as thin as about 55 series, maybe 50s with the right wheels/tires/stance (see Trans-Am style vintage racing).

    1. mr. mzs zsm msz esq Avatar
      mr. mzs zsm msz esq

      Pink Uggs and tassles, I'd like that look! I'd have to say that she would have to be well coordinated to pull that outfit off though.

      1. PowerTryp Avatar

        If she's wearing pink Uggs with tassles just give me a few minutes with her, I'll get her to pull that outfit off.

      2. SSurfer321 Avatar

        Are the tassles ON the Uggs or more strategically placed? Are the tassles also pink? Inquiring minds want to know!

        1. mr. mzs zsm msz esq Avatar
          mr. mzs zsm msz esq

          I don't know, how flexible is she? They could be pink and on the shoes then.

    2. Tim Odell Avatar
      Tim Odell

      I was talking about these: http://www.uggoutletboots.com/images/ugg-classic-
      They make me go ewwww.

      1. jeremy![™] Avatar

        oh good lord… people who where those need to be punched in the face…

        1. Alff Avatar

          …hides feet under desk.

          1. Deartháir Avatar

            Well, on YOU, they're just fine!

          2. Alff Avatar

            [youtube VzPsdkTCufs http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzPsdkTCufs youtube]

  13. FЯeeMan Avatar

    This is a bit OT, but I'm sure the hive mind can help me out here…
    I picked up an '03 Passat, and the speedometer is off by 3-5MPH, depending on my speed. I've verified w/2 GPS units & pacing against other vehicles. I know that if I've got cruise set at 70MPH indicated, I'm doing 65, but at 40 MPH indicated I'm doing about 37.
    My instinct tells me that the tires are too small, yet I'm running 195/65R15, which is the correct size. Is it because the tires are well worn (getting replacements shortly), or is something else likely going on?

    1. SSurfer321 Avatar

      I doubt tire wear would account for that large of a discrepancy. On my truck if I run the 33" (stock 28") tires without recalibrating speedo, I am off by 10mph at 70mph (accidentally doing 80). Which by the way makes for a great excuse to The Man when stopped for speeding.
      Sounds like a VW electrical gremlin to me.

    2. tonyola Avatar

      Some years ago, I remember Car and Driver did a study of speedometer error and they found that German cars tended to be almost always optimistic in that the reading was higher than the actual speed – sometimes as much as 10%. An error of 3 to 5 mph isn't that much. Just about all speedometers have some error. This is why cop cars are equipped with "certified" speedometers.

    3. Alff Avatar

      Unlikely that worn, stock sized tires would account for that much error. On the other hand, it's common practice for manufacturers to calibrate speedometers to read higher than actual speed. I suppose they consider it erring on the side of safety (I've wondered if this isn't the same reason so many cars pull lightly to the right).
      Doing a speed test with and OBD computer connected will tell you if this is built-in error. If so, the computer will read the actual speed while the speedo comes in lower.

      1. adolf Avatar

        Cars pull to the right because the road is not flat, it is crowned for water run off. Because the road is higher in the middle the car has a tendency to pull to the right (lower side of the road) due to gravity, some cars are more sensitive than others. Also cars with really wide tires tend to follow grooves in the road as well.

    4. Deartháir Avatar

      The speedometer is always a bit slow on a Volkswagen. Up here, it's around 2-3%; I've had a few customers tell me there is a very strict law in Germany that says that a speedometer may never show a speed slower than what you're actually doing, so German speedometers are always a bit fast. I haven't confirmed that yet, however.

    5. scoutdude Avatar

      That is within "spec" the law says you can be up to 10% off in the car is going slower than indicated but 0% off in the car is going faster than indicated direction. The fact that between brands the same size tire can vary in height and "snow" tires often start off as a larger diameter than a regular or all-season tire of the same size and you'll find that many cars over state the speed slightly. The fact that your tires are worn does play a small part in that since with that small of a diameter the 1/8" difference in diameter is a larger percentage than it would be on a larger diameter makes your car more a little more sensitive to worn tires. But overall yes your car is a little worse than average. Do a miles traveled check vs the odometer with the GPS and you'll probably find the % difference to be less as it's calibration is usually closer to actual.

      1. FЯeeMan Avatar

        Hadn't thought about checking the odometer. Will have to look into that.
        Got me thinking – the fuel consumption computer is probably off, too. I won't mention that to the wife, as she's already a bit peeved about paying $4.50 for premium, despite my assertion that the difference in fuel price is more than offset by the difference in mileage.

        1. Thrashy Avatar

          You could always have a slighty wider tire fitted. All other things being equal, a wider tire with the same height number will be taller, since the height is listed as a percentage of the width. If a 215/65-15 fits under fenders, it'd slow down the speedo by about 4%.

        2. Deartháir Avatar

          Nope, odometer and fuel consumption calculators are bang-on accurate, even though the speedo is out. Again, it's out by design on all German cars, so the odo and fuel calculators are on a separate circuit.

  14. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
    Peter Tanshanomi

    <img src="http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y41/DarkLeathe/102_2276.jpg&quot; width="500">
    55-series tires are the bottom edge of appropriateness. On the vast majority of production street cars, anything under that is just an expensive, hard-riding, pothole-prone styling exercise. And a tacky, ill-proportioned one at that.

    1. dukeisduke Avatar

      The larger wheels are a guaranteed profit generator for the shops, after any encounter with a curb or pothole. I was driving in the rain one day, and watched a guy in a Chevy pickup with what looked like a set of 24s make a left turn from a side street onto the thoroughfare. He got on it a little too hard, broke the rears loose, then did a neat 180 into the median with the right rear wheel. It bent the you-know-what outta that 24.
      Another problem is that a lot of those wheels (like the MBs that Discount Tire sells) are now made in China. Quality, what quality?

    2. dustin_driver Avatar

      <img src="http://www.ridelust.com/wp-content/uploads/protege_5.jpg"&gt;
      My stock P5 wears 195/50-16s and rides well. Looks good, too.

    1. alewifecove Avatar

      That about sums up my feelings. I have a friend with 45's or something like that on his 09 A4. Looks silly. Rides worse than my 01 Ranger.
      The term 'buckboard' comes to mind…

  15. Deartháir Avatar

    I know I'll be in the minority here, and I don't care. I love the look of great big wheels and tiny rubber. But only down to 35-40 series. Anything smaller than that, and it's not that the tires look too small, it's that you've probably picked a wheel that's too big for your car.

  16. Thrashy Avatar

    I keep two sets of wheels and tires for my car, the OEM-spec 175-70/13, and a set of 195-50/15 summer tires. The difference in ride quality is astounding – going to the 15s is akin to adding 25% or so to the spring rates in terms of harshness. The tradeoff, or course, is that the 13s feel a whole lot sloppier.
    Barring something ridiculous like a 300-width tire, I think the functional cutoff is around a 45 series or so. Past that point, there's too much of a practical tradeoff for no real benefit

  17. ZomBee Racer Avatar

    I'm sorry, those are not tires. I don't know what they are, but they are not tires.
    I will forever be addicted to the George "Troz" Throsley school of thought. Nothing says bad-ass more than big-fat Bernie & Krass sidewalls and a flaming set of zoomies, something that may have altered my brain as a kid following the "How to Draw" section of CarToons magazine back in the 70's.
    I "still" remember how to draw them, 3 decades later.
    <img src="http://image.carcraft.com/f/9225129+w750+st0/ccrp_0608_3_z+dodge_charger_daytona_pickup_truck+show_car.jpg"&gt;
    <img src="http://www.noe-v.com/images/articles/tros02.jpg"&gt;
    Yeah, THOSE are tires…

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
      Peter Tanshanomi

      Thank you for the CARToons flashback. Finding the newest issue at the corner store and dashing home to lay on my bed and read it was was absolutely, positively the high point of my month, every month.

      1. ZomBee Racer Avatar

        I was never lucky enough to buy them, but WAS lucky enough to have a good friend whose mom did. MAD magazine too. She was cool.

    2. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
      Peter Tanshanomi

      And, coincidentally, Chrysler Design Department picked up the call.
      <img src="http://www.gotbroken.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/2005-dodge-ram-daytona-rear-angle-view-588×441.jpg&quot; width="500">

  18. From_a_Buick_6 Avatar

    My Mustang rides on 18" wheels and 50-series tires. I could have paid another grand and got 19"s on 45-series tires, but that just wasn't worth it. The wheels looked better on the car, but at least one of them would have curb rash on them right now, whereas I've just missed ruining my 18"s on several occasions.
    55-60 is probably about right for an everyday car. 40-50 for something more performance oriented. 65-75 for a truck. And 18" is about the limit of good taste in wheel size. The fact that most Camaros and Challengers come with 20"s is just stupid.

  19. Alff Avatar

    Sounds like the Volvo needs donks.

    1. mr. mzs zsm msz esq Avatar
      mr. mzs zsm msz esq

      Why did I not think of that!? Now I wonder if the bolt pattern or no power steering will cause more trouble.

      1. Alff Avatar

        A kid at the local burger shop used to run oversized wheels and 50-series tires on his lowered Amazon wagon. It looked surprisingly good.

        1. mr. mzs zsm msz esq Avatar
          mr. mzs zsm msz esq

          Fred had something like 215 14" wheels on an Amazon for a while, but turning became a real chore so he gave-up on those. It did look good though.

  20. smokyburnout Avatar

    As mounting tires is usually part of my job description I have a special appreciation for how much low-profile tires suck. I think 55-series is where I start complaining and 45-series are the skinniest I've ever managed to mount.
    Running 65s on my car, which look too skinny because they are.

  21. mad_science Avatar

    Part of the problem that leads to 19++" wheels on newer cars is the size/shape of this. Wheel arches; you have to go huge just to keep the same proportions as 16-17"s on something from the mid 90s.

  22. ptschett Avatar

    Coming from a Dakota on 265/70R16's and a T-bird on either 215/70R15's or 225/60R16's (depending on which wheels I wanted to use) my Challenger's 245/45R20's looked silly to me at first. I've mellowed a little bit… now when I have both the Dodges in the garage, both look a little silly to me.
    Fortunately, there's a wheel for that, just as soon as the Challenger's factory tires are a little more worn-down…
    <img src="http://www.dodge.com/shared/2011/challenger/design/wheels/tertiary/11_d_chll_des_whe_18inRallyeWheel_ter.jpg"&gt;
    (Of course, what do I do with the 20's? Seems silly to use one's bigger/shinier wheels for winter tires… I would ponder selling them, but I am a hoardertoo frugal…)

    1. smokyburnout Avatar

      Did it seem silly to use the 20s as winter tires before or after you found out snow tires in 245/45R20 are like $300 apiece?

      1. ptschett Avatar

        On second thought, maybe I will have to let someone inflict the obnoxious bling of the low-line 20" Challenger wheel onto their own member of the LX family. (That or get some crazy-sticky summer rubber and see how well this 4100 lb boat autocrosses…. of course those are probably $300 tires too.)

  23. buzzboy7 Avatar

    <img src="http://i261.photobucket.com/albums/ii53/pafree/414054.jpg&quot; width="500">
    Need I say more? And that's on stock 15×5" rims.

    1. Alff Avatar

      Looks like they have the most important aspects of the Baja Bug covered, without the extra effort or expense.

      1. buzzboy7 Avatar

        Offroad ability: Check
        Stock Beetle Good Looks: Check
        I see it as a win win

  24. dustin_driver Avatar

    Sidewall can be a good thing. Example: V6 Mustang
    <img src="http://cdn.getauto.com/photos/3/23233/1c/1ZVBP8AMXB5119794-1c.jpg"&gt;
    Saw one just like that at my local Ford dealer and I was struck by how nice the 60-series tires looked. Gave the car a very old-school feel. First time I've wanted a Mustang, well, ever.

  25. Eggwich James Dio Avatar
    Eggwich James Dio

    All this fat billowy sidewall talk is going to make me throw up. Sure, bigger wheels are bit heavier, but so long as the circumference is the same, those tires filled with pressurized air have some serious weight to them, too. But I'm offtopic already, dang.
    I don't like super low-profile, and I don't like wheels over 18 inches, not because they don't perform, but rather because I'm "thrifty."
    275/40/18, that's the perfect tire storm for my car, considering availability, performance, and price. You can get a quality performance tire for 180 bucks. I'm sure you can spend two grand if you want, but if you're buying in a popular size, there are quality, affordable options out there.
    And has been mentioned, just as sidewall is a ratio to tire width and therefore an arbitrary number, wheel size/appropriateness is a ratio to wheel well size and arbitrary as well. Some cars look great with 19s or 20s.