Wheel Sizes – Go Big or Go Home? 2 Important Tips


There seems to have been a bit of trend developing over the last few years. Wheel sizes have been getting larger and larger, to the point where most people might as well not bother with tyres. Obviously, I do still highly recommend having tyres on your car, both from a legal and safety perspective, and if you become a member you can find out exactly why in my dedicated tyre article. Some say it’s for styling, some say it’s for function. I agree that in some cases the bigger wheels can look slightly better, improving the visuals of the whole vehicle. However, those who tell me that it’s purely functional should consider the old McLaren F1 road car.

Big wheels for a big impression. Even on a small car.
Big wheels for a big impression. Even on a small car.

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The McLaren is a car that had a top speed of more than 240 mph. And its creators, a team that has won the Formula 1 world championship on multiple occasions, decided that it only needed 17″ wheels to allow room for the brakes. If that’s good enough for McLaren, why do people need to put bigger wheels on their Minis or Fiestas? And what should you take into account when deciding what size wheels to go for on your car? Here are 2 factors to help you decide:

Vehicle Dynamics: This is the ride and handling of a vehicle, how it drives. Wheel size affects this in a number of areas. Smaller diameter wheels, and therefore larger profile tyres, will allow for a greater volume of air for the total combination size. This greater volume of air means a much smoother ride, more comfortable for long distance driving. However, having larger wheels, and therefore smaller tyre profiles, allow for a more direct connection between steering input and resultant vehicle action. In this instance, and excess amount of air would cause delay, and result in slightly less precise handling.

In the real world, most people are more likely to notice the benefits to the ride, rather than any handling deficit. This is one of reasons that I tend to lean towards the smallest wheels I can get away with. There are ongoing debates as to whether larger diameter tyres ultimately provide noticeably more grip. In many cases, grip can be improved by simply opting for a higher specification tyre, rather than a different tyre size. I won’t ever recommend an option that will compromise the safety of the readers, so this is something to think about.

Ongoing Cost: This is another reason to steer clear of the bigger wheels. The larger the wheel and tyre combination, the greater the cost. Generally is that simple, and I’m not just referring to the initial purchase cost. Larger diameter tyres will cost more to replace, so the extra spend is likely to be ongoing. Of course, if the larger tyres end up having higher levels of grip, then you’re less likely to have an accident, which will save a lot of money, and stress. So it’s not a simple argument, as it was never going to be.

The Focus wheel has huge profiles for a well cushioned ride.
The Focus wheel has huge profiles for a well cushioned ride.

Also, as there is less ‘cushioning’ effect from the tyres for larger wheels, this results in the suspension having to do slightly more work, causing excess wear there too. The fact that larger wheel and tyre combinations tend to be heavier too, compounds this. A larger amount of unsprung weight is not great for wheel hubs either.

A further aspect of cost is the damage when things go wrong. Larger wheels tend to command higher prices when needing to be fixed. Larger wheel are also more likely to be damaged initially by kerbs and potholes. This is mainly due to the reduced cushioning effect of the tyres. So we end up paying more for larger wheels that are more fragile anyway, and cost more to fix when they do break. For me, it’s a complete no-brainer.

Conclusion: Larger wheels can make a car look better. However, I’m not always sure that they are worth the extra ongoing expense. We feel the changes more than we see them, and the changes involved in increasing the wheel size are not always good ones. But do you agree? Do you think that increasing the wheel size is a great idea and I’ve got this completely wrong? Join the discussion, join the family and let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!

What are your thoughts?