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Are Larger Wheels and Tires a Waste of Money?

habitat1habitat1 Posts: 4,282
edited April 10 in Acura
An otherwise very intelligent golfing buddy recently purchased a 2007 Mercedes E350 with the "free" sport package that included larger 18" staggered size wheels and tires. On the 19th hole, we did a little math after I bet him that the difference in tire replacement cost with that "free" sports package would exceed the gas savings he would get from the E350 V6 over the E550 V8. Even I was surprised at the results:

E350 standard tires = 17" V-rated 245/45. Tire Rack replacement price for Pirelli's = $147 each. Including shipping and mounting/balancing, about $750 per set. Expected lifespan of these tires = 30-35k miles with rotation. E350 Sport tires = 18" W-rated 245/40 front; 265/35 rear. Tire rack replacement price for Michelin's $263/310. Including shipping, mounting/balancing, about $1,400 per set. Expected lifespan 12k-15k miles, no rotation possible.

Difference over 6+/- years and 100k miles (buddy drives 16k miles a year): Standard = 2-3 sets at a total cost of $1,500-$2,250. Sport = 6+ sets at total cost of $8,400. Or a whopping $6,150-$6,900 more for the E350 Sport. By comparison, the additonal cost of gas for a E550 V8 @18 mpg instead of the E350 V6 @23 mpg would only be about $4,000 over 100k miles.

In my own garage(s) are a 2004 Acura TL 6-speed (17" 235/45) and 1995 Nissan Maxima SE 5-speed (15" 215/60). The former required new tires at 22,000 miles at a total cost of $800. The latter has gone 155k miles, and just needed it's 3 replacement set, bringing the total cost up to $1,300 for 13 years and roughly 7 times the mileage on the Acura. Yes, the TL handles a little better than the Maxima. But it sure as heck isn't within a country mile of my 911. It's still a FWD sedan for goodness sake.

It seems to me, at a time when a lot of people are concerned about gas prices, the added cost of equiping the family sedan with larger wheels and high performance tires is both financially imprudent and, at least in the case of cars like the E350, an enormous waste of money (it still doesn't handle as well as a non-sport 5-series, IMO).

So I pose the question - how prudent are 17-18-19 inch wheels and low profile, high performance tires on a family sedan?


  • boaz47boaz47 Posts: 2,744
    here I might have some agreement with you. But then it is all about the look with these bigger wheels. It is no more or no less prudent than a short skirt on a happily married mother of four. But in some cases it just looks good.

    But I do agree low profile tires don't last very long and do dip into the wallet. With 35 and 40 series tires you can almost feel the paint stripe of a crosswalk.
  • elroy5elroy5 Posts: 3,741
    For some, the extra cost of larger wheels and tires is worth it, for looks, performance, or both. In my case, as long as they are decent looking (no wheel covers please :P ) the size, or bling level, is not important.
  • jipsterjipster Posts: 5,345
    What was the bet?
  • habitat1habitat1 Posts: 4,282
    What was the bet?

    19th hole dinner and drinks. ;)
  • habitat1habitat1 Posts: 4,282
    For some, the extra cost of larger wheels and tires is worth it, for looks, performance, or both.

    Perhaps, but I wonder how many others have done the math and realize that, on cars like the E-class, the sport package wheels and tires will actually cost them several thousands more in tire replacement over the life of the car?

    I consider myself pretty financially prudent, and I didn't give it much consideration when I opted for the $200 "HPT" package on my Acura TL 6-speed. I certainly didn't realize at the time that I would need to spend roughly $5,600 in tires for my TL to get the same mileage (155k) I got out of my 1995 Nissan Maxima SE for under $1,500 in tires.
  • tpetpe Posts: 2,342
    I think this would be a more relevant question if you were considering larger, performance tires for a vehicle like a Honda Accord. Even if your buddy got the smaller tires I've got to believe the lifetime ownership costs of the E350 significantly exceeds that of cars offering comparable utility. So basically he's willing to pay more for some intangible value that can't be easily converted to dollars and cents. The same rational can be applied to what options a person chooses.

    I do agree that most people probably don't realize just how much they will end up spending on these larger wheels.
  • habitat1habitat1 Posts: 4,282
    I would agree with your suggestion that most folks willing to pay $50,000+ probably doesn't care as much about paying $8,000 vs. $2,000 for replacement tires over 100k miles. But I've also seen business associates of mine spend hours shopping Mercedes and BMW dealerships for a lease deal that saves them an extra $30-40 per month. Yet, the high performance "sport" tires on a E class or 5 series can equate to an extra $75-$100 per month in replacement costs. And many of those associates couldn't tell the difference - they think "sport" is listening to ESPN on XM satellite radio.
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 28,845
    My Passat came with the 17 inch wheels and tires. I liked the handling and did not like the ride. I would never buy another vehicle with low profile tires. The ones I see around here on SUVs just look stupid to me. Unless of course you get the ones with spinners, ooooo :shades:

    looking at an ML320 CDI, I will opt for the fattest tires available for that vehicle. I plan to go off road from time to time.
  • bumpybumpy Posts: 4,435
    I liked the handling and did not like the ride. I would never buy another vehicle with low profile tires.

    What was the aspect ratio? I find that 60-series is a good balance between handling and comfort for a daily driver on unkempt roads.

    As for giant wheels, one thing I'd like to do eventually is put some lightweight 15s and 40-series (maybe 35?) rubber on the S2000. Tricky part is figuring out whether or not a 15-inch wheel can clear the brakes.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,403
    Personally I find any tire above 17" of questionable benefit. Aside from the loss of power and braking (not too noticeable in a higher HP car of course)there is stress on suspension. Some cars, like Porsche, were bedeviled with occasional chassis stress, like creaking, groaning and glass seal leakage due to 18" tires.

    Aesthetically, it's the rare car that looks good with big wheels...certainly the "formal" looking cars like a Benz look very clumsy in those 18" running shoes, IMHO. It's more suited to a Mitsubishi EVO.


  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 28,845
    I think they were 235/45X17. The stock 16" road much better. Did not drive it long enough to tell about the handling.
  • tpetpe Posts: 2,342
    I was looking at the new Miata when it came out. I like leather interiors and the only way to get this is with the top trim level. Unfortunately you are now stuck with 17" wheels, which I think is ridiculous for a car of this size and power.
  • habitat1habitat1 Posts: 4,282
    As for giant wheels, one thing I'd like to do eventually is put some lightweight 15s and 40-series (maybe 35?) rubber on the S2000.

    My 2002 Honda S2000 came with 16" wheels, 55/205 and 50/225 series tires front and rear. If you dropped the wheel diameter down to 15" and put even lower profile 40/35 series tires on them, I think you'd have an ugly mess. Both from driving dynamics (suspension) and aesthetics. Not to mention that your speedometer and odometer would be way off.

    I'm not a fan of boy racer modifications in general. But with the S2000 in particular, it's so good out of the box that I think it should be a criminal offense to mess it up.
  • bumpybumpy Posts: 4,435
    My main motivation for the smaller wheels/tires is to get rid of as much unsprung weight and angular momentum as possible. I'm not worried about pretty, and mine has a 4.77 aftermarket gear so I already have the yellow box to correct the speedo (presumably; I've never actually seen the thing).
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 28,845
    Bigger tire diameter takes you further than your odometer indicates. Also you are going faster than your speedo. I believe that is the way it works. So a guy with monster tires will get more miles before the warranty expires.
  • elroy5elroy5 Posts: 3,741
    You can get smaller diameter wheels, and still have the same tire diameter (higher profile). Therefore not changing the speedometer. However, on an S2000 it would look very strange IMO, and it would probably affect the handling. Isn't that what an S2000 is all about?
  • oldfarmer50oldfarmer50 Posts: 6,213
    I guess there are two types who go for larger wheels and lower profile tires. The first wants appearance over anything. The 22 inch chrome wheels on an Escalade come to mind.

    The second is interested in performance upgrade. I have always wondered just how much better your handling gets as you go to a lower profile tire. Lets say I start out with a car that has 225R50 tires on 17" wheels and go to 235R45 tires on 18" wheels. Would I notice the difference? Assume that the tire brand and type were constant.

    2009 PT Cruiser, 2008 Eclipse, 1995 Mark VIII, 1988 GMC Van

  • habitat1habitat1 Posts: 4,282
    Lets say I start out with a car that has 225R50 tires on 17" wheels and go to 235R45 tires on 18" wheels. Would I notice the difference?

    Excellent question. I suspect the answer is "not much" - and that's the point of my starting this forum.

    When I test drove at least 6-7 Boxster S's before buying a 911S in September 2005, about half came with the standard 18" wheel and 45 series tires and half came with the 19" 35 series upgrade (they were also wider tires in the 19"). I honestly had a very difficult time telling the difference in my test drives. Maybe on a track, but not on public streets. Alternatively, for those Boxster S's (and 911's) that came with the PASM option (Porsche Active Suspension Management), the difference was profound. Push the "sport" button, electronically stiffen the adjustable suspension, and what was already minimal body roll completely vanished and you were glued to the road (and felt every bump in the process). That was the case whether you had the 18" or 19" wheels, although at that point, the 19" felt a little "firmer".

    In the case of my Acura TL 6-speed, I can immediately feel the difference between its stiffer suspension and faster stopping Brembo brakes, compared to the automatic transmssion model. But among 6-speeds, I could not tell the difference in handling between one's equiped with the optional "High Performance" tires and the standard ones. That's not to say there isn't a difference, but relatively speaking, a high performance tire is not going to turn a FWD 60/40 weight balanced Acura TL into a 335i with respect to handling. Suspension set up, weight balance and all those engineering refinements that make a Porsche a Porsche or a BMW a BMW are far, far more important to handling than slapping high performance tires on Honda, Infiniti, Acura or Mercedes, IMO.
  • boaz47boaz47 Posts: 2,744
    You would notice the difference but it is much more noticeable if you go from a 16 inch set to a 18 inch set. In my experience the low profile tires will grip better because they don't tend to have much side wall flex. At least they feel more secure if you are using them on a car rather than a truck. But they give a harsher ride as well. They will wear faster but that might be because they tend to be made of a softer compound to provide more grip.
  • 1racefan1racefan Posts: 932
    I think it depends on the vehicle.

    A lot of sports cars have stiffer suspensions to begin with (rougher ride), so going to a smaller sidewall wouldn't make a difference in overall ride quality. The smaller sidewall may help in cornering situations, but I would guess you wouldn't be able to detect a huge difference when hitting bumps during straight line driving.

    My friends went from 16" to 17" (and smaller side wall) wheels on a Chevy HHR. On this vehicle, you can feel the bumps more during straight line driving with the 17" wheels, and smaller side walls.
This discussion has been closed.