Latest Question: Tire Vulnerability (May 15, 2018)

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Chris asks: Just a follow up to my suggestion of an article about the lower profile tire problem i mentioned a few days ago. My mom came up for mothers day yesterday. She’s 82.  She said, I’m getting rid of the Mercedes. Why mom? I’m tired of all the flats.  hahahaa…..  she bought a GLK a couple years ago and I went to look at it, and it had the same tire size as my wife’s E350. Go figure. She lives in the suburbs of Philly.

My reply: For readers who missed the first part of this, Chris was asking about low profile (short sidewall) tires and their greater vulnerability to blowouts/damage of the sidewall. He asked why these types of tires are being fitted to cars that aren’t high-performance cars (which benefit from the sharper steering feel/lesser flex of short sidewall tires).

The main reason is styling. People seem to like the look – and so the OEMs (that’s industry jargon for the car companies) put them on their cars. This includes even family-type cars and SUVs.

I agree it makes not much if any sense.

Unfortunately, it’s often hard to change the factory short sidewall tires to a tire with a taller sidewall because of the diameter of the wheels. Installing a tire with a taller sidewall would effectively increase the overall diameter and possibly cause interference and other problems. So, to get the taller sidewall tires, you’ll probably need to go with a smaller diameter wheel.

The good news – sort of – is that in many cases there is a factory option; a smaller diameter wheel/taller tire combo that was offered from the factory and so which should be a direct, bolt-in swap.

It will not be a cheap swap, though.

I personally wish standard cars would go back to sane-sized wheel/tire combos.

. . .

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  1. Even 16 inch tyres put more stress on suspensions and steering systems. I had a 92 full size wagon with 15″ tyres. Got 300,000 km b4 doing any suspension work. Now have 2 cars with 16″ tyres and both have had major suspension repairs at 200,000 and 220000 kms. What will 17s and bigger do to modern suspensions, esp. with an increasing number of parts made in china? Harsher ride produces more wear on suspensions, greater weight makes changing flats all but impossible unless you have Arnie’s arms, the tyres wear out quicker, and more wheels are being destroyed with the short sidewalls. And lower fuel economy.

    • Hi To5,

      Many new cars now come with 17, 18 even 19 inch wheels; 20 inch (and larger) wheels are not uncommon. I don’t get it. For a high-performance car, maybe. The short sidewall tire flexes less, steering response is sharper. Fine. But for a family sedan? A minivan?

      It makes my teeth ache…

  2. I don’t think most want or like these behemoth tires and they’re simply pandering to a small, stupid crowd.

    I often see these stupid combos on vehicles that didn’t come that way. Vehicles that are going to have a short front end life,but man (cue Cheech)they’re “charp”

    I often see them when they’re only a mile or two from catastrophic failure.

    If I see this condition on something that came with them I’ll warn the driver if I can.
    On vehicles that weren’t designed for them I turn a blind eye.

    Driving against the speed limiter I came upon on an older Tahoe doing about 45 on the shoulder. When I’m a couple hundred yards from overtaking it I see the driver’s side front wheel sling out to the left further than steering components would have let it. Ah well, he was only about 5 miles from town. Last I saw he was creeping along hoping the tire wouldn’t blow.

    • “and they’re simply pandering to a small, stupid crowd.”

      This! Except the crowd’s bigger than you think and they all flock to the yuppie McMansion developments of South Jersey to keep up with the Joneses together.

      Never imagined Mercedes the type of company to pull some nonsense like this, boggles the mind.

      • Hi Moose,

        They’re all doing it… the big rims thing. It baffles me – like the ongoing popularity of rap “music.” Of course, the Germanic barbarians who sacked Rome thought the Romans effete for talking baths.


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