Upsized wheels on a Chrysler 300 sedan; Click image to enlarge
By Glen Konoroski
You’ve probably seen those cars and trucks on the road with the big 20 to 24-inch wheels and tires cruising around the streets, and they look just great. While at a big parts show for the industry in Las Vegas last year I stopped by a few of the wheel manufacturers to get their take on the “Big” wheel trend and how they can affect your vehicle.
As we all know, the trend in the auto industry has been towards bigger wheels and tires. Sizes like 16, 17 and 18-inch tires are not uncommon on many ordinary cars and light trucks. Moving up a couple of inches from 15 and 16-inch in wheels is no problem provided you don’t change the overall tire height because it will affect your speedometer reading.
When going way beyond your regular wheel size, things can get worse instead of better when it comes to performance. This is caused by the fact that the “Big” wheel/tire combination is much heavier, so the engine works that much harder to get the wheel rolling on initial start-up. This is more prevalent on four-cylinder cars with lower torque than it is on a high-powered V6 or V8 engines.
The width of the wheel is also a factor. Depending on the offset (how much the wheel sticks in or out of the wheel opening) you need to check if it hits anything when the wheel turns fully in both directions. Mid to large sized cars generally do not have a problem with these bigger wheel fitments, but smaller cars don’t have as much room in the wheel openings.
When moving up sizes, one wheel manufacturer mentioned to me that the spindle holding the rim could be subject to extra pressure causing cracking. This cracking is generally seen when the vehicle is subjected to high speed turning. The cracking is more common on light trucks and SUVs that can handle wheels that are 24-inches in diameter.
In my test, I used a Cadillac CTS with 22-inch wheels tucked under the fenders where 18-inch tires once resided. These big wheels really filled out the fenders and the car looked quite impressive. Since I was getting the “Big” tires and wheels from a dealer I had the luxury of seeing the underside of the car on a hoist to check if there were any clearance problems. As the dealer had promised, there were no fitment problems.
On the initial test run, I found that the new wheels really hampered the acceleration of the CTS. 0 to 100 km/h times dropped. In the handling department, I really found no big improvements on city streets to justify the extra cost of the tires. What I did find was that the tire stuck out parallel to the wheel, which made parking close to curbs tricky if I didn’t drive carefully.
Generally, big wheels are best on bigger cars; trucks and SUVs with generous wheel openings. In most cases you can expect a slight loss of performance, especially smaller four-cylinder vehicles. One important thing to keep in mind with upsized wheels is that your wheel spindles are under more stress and need to be checked regularly, as well as the other steering components.