Rims and MPGs

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One of the teeth-aching disconnects of our time is the feigned obsession with MPGs on the one hand – and the very real obsession with huge wheels (and tires) on the other hand.

The two together amount to weight loss on the Burger King Plan.

Not that there’s anything wrong with big wheels as such – if that’s what you like. Just as there’s nothing wrong – as such – with Whoppers. What makes the teeth ache is people who talk about losing weight  . . . and eat Whoppers.

Also people who talk about saving gas . . . who buy cars with big “rims.”

Just as a diet of Whoppers adds to your waistline by adding calories to your diet, larger wheels and tires hurt fuel efficiency because they add weight and increase rolling resistance.

But people seem to like the look – and as a result, even minivans now come with 17 and 18-inch wheels. Bigger (larger diameter) wheels than exotic high-performance cars such as Ferraris used to come with.

On Ferraris and other cars like them, there’s a solid functional reason for large-diameter wheels. Ferraris and such are performance cars – and people who buy performance cars value  . . . performance. This includes faster steering response and firmer handling. Large-diameter wheels enhance all that by making possible the use of comparatively short and so stiffer sidewall tires, which flex less.

And having a wider contact patch enhances traction, which increases lateral grip threshold (how fast you can corner the car before it begins to lose traction and slide out of the corner) and improves straight-line acceleration by putting the power to the pavement – rather than up in smoke.

But there’s a price to be paid for all of that – just as there’s a price to be paid (at your waist – and possibly, your cardiologist) for dining on Whoppers every day.

Short sidewall tires result in a firmer ride, which has to be counteracted by suspension tuning. And there’s no counteracting the more rapid wear – and increased vulnerability to damage – which is part of the deal when you have a car with tall – and wide – rims fitted with short-sidewall tires.

Your car will also use more gas than it would if it were wearing smaller-size wheels and tires. See above point about weight and rolling resistance.

Which you’d think would be an important consideration to people buying cars that aren’t Ferraris.

To economy car buyers, at least.

But, nope.

Most new economy cars come standard with at least 16 inch wheels – the same diameter wheels that Z28 Camaros and Mustang GTs came with back in the ’80s. And all new hybrids come standard with at least 15-inch wheels, the same diameter as the wheels that came with my ’70s V8 muscle car, the Orange Barchetta (1976 Carousel Red Pontiac Trans Am).

Most new hybrids offer as optional equipment wheels as large as 18 inches, which is almost as silly as fitting a new Ferrari with 15 inch wheels.

It runs contrary to the point of the thing.

A couple of weeks ago, I test drove the Kia Niro hybrid (reviewed here). It comes standard with 16-inch wheels, with 18-inch wheels available optionally. The effect of just changing wheel sizes on the car’s fuel economy is striking.

With the 16s, the Niro carries an EPA rating of 51 city/46 highway – which is very good. But if you buy the optional 18 inch wheel package, the mileage drops to 46 city and 40 on the highway.

That’s a difference of 5-6 MPG.

Imagine what the car would be capable of with 15s. 

Actually, we don’t have to imagine. We can cross-shop. The Kia Niro’s cousin is the Hyundai Ioniq (reviewed here) and it shares the same basic drivetrain with the Niro. But it comes standard with 15-inch wheels.

And gets 57 city, 59 highway – a difference vs. the 18-inch-equipped Niro of 11 MPG in city driving and 19 on the highway. Some of that is due to the Ioniq’s more slipper shape – but still.

Imagine how it’d do with 14s – and very skinny, very low-rolling resistance tires.

Wait, we don’t have to imagine! Honda used to offer just such a machine – the Insight hybrid. Not the current one. The one they sold back in the early-mid 2000s. It came with a 14-inch wheel – and was capable of 70 MPG.

Granted, the original Insight was a two-seater and smaller than today’s hybrids. But the juxtaposition is interesting. The original Insight – and the fuel-sippy cars of the past, many of which achieved about the same or even better mileage than the fuel-sippiest cars of today – delivered excellent mileage. . . because they were focused on mileage.

Other considerations  such as “rims” – were secondary.

Today, they’re not.

. . .

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123 COMMENTS

  1. Some time ago I ran across a white paper on Expedition Portal regarding tire selection. The original link is dead, but in this post it is reproduced.

    https://expeditionportal.com/forum/threads/tire-selection-for-expedition-travel.194617/

    In short, the author makes the argument that a tall, narrow tire is better in most on and off pavement situations, with the exception of:

    “soft sand, snow and soft mud that’s depth exceeds 110% of the vehicles minimum ground clearance.”

    The higher contact pressure of a tall, narrow tire is a prime reason, and the author also points out that the lower rolling and frontal resistance, and rotating mass is beneficial.

    • Oh, the author also uses train wheels to illustrate the concept. Very narrow, smooth wheels on a smooth surface and yet it still has massive traction due to the high contact pressure.

  2. Regarding the wide vs narrow tires in snow question, one thing that hasn’t been addressed is the fact that a wider tire absolutely takes more effort to be pushed or to pull itself through deep snow, so it’s a factor of traction vs resistance.

    So if you’re always driving on packed snow or plowed roads, it might not make so much difference, but if you frequently have to drive through unplowed snow and/or drifts, a tall narrow tire is going be better every time.

    I wouldn’t bet on a wheeled vehicle emulating a snow-cat!

    • Try Mattracks, one thing that hasn’t been brought up is fresh snow is easier to find traction in than disturbed snow.

      • Mmmmm, sorta yeah …. except following a set of tracks is easier than breaking through wind packed snow. I do this pretty much every morning and evening in the winter, so I have a pretty good idea of what I’m talking about. Criss-crossed tracks can be a pain, though.

        I think Mattracks are a little outside the current discussion – ha!

  3. This reminds me of my neighbor, who drives his Cadillac sedan with 18″ rims and Pirelli tires with the low sidewall. I know he doesn’t drive very fast, but the look is enough to prevent you from being able to stop laughing.

    I’m just waiting for the fun when the first heavy snow comes. I hope he likes to slide!

  4. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but I think we are missing a few pieces to this puzzle.

    I had experimented years ago swapping rim diameters and aspect ratios to achieve the same circumference, but aside from some rotational inertia changes which could worked around, I am not seeing the basis for this argument …..

    Increasing the circumference while using narrower tires/rims could maintain the size of the contact patch, but elevating the wheel center would necessitate altering standard steering and suspension geometry in order to lower the vehicles CG closer to the ground. Not necessarily a big deal, but it all depends what the vehicle is going to be used for.

    Conversely, I would suggest that people have numerically increased the aspect ratio to provide better traction and keep vehicles from hydroplaning; THAT issue being the result of a mismatch between functional design parameters, customer misunderstanding, and manufacturers being more than willing to give the customers what they think they want. Again though, taking a much larger set of variables into perspective, I do not see how this argument holds water (no offense). Unfortunately, I don’t think there is enough data here to make the assertion.

    • BR, the hydroplaning issue you raise is interesting. I wonder if tire sizes which would offer greater flotation would be more prone to hydroplaning; or if such is more just a matter of speed; rotation; and type of tread? No doubt, all of those things play a part….but how does tire width figure into it?

      Interesting…..

      • @Nunzio – What started this was that I used to have a 1982 VW Rabbit Diesel. It had T rated tires which had a low carbon content, thereby limiting the heat transfer at higher speeds. I think they were 165/70R13 (possible 155/75R13); that was a long time ago. They’d last longer, in this case 80,000 miles, but the price I paid was in performance.

        The harder rubber would drift more on the corners and require a longer stopping distance, but here’s the kicker; since the 1974 oil embargo and the speed limits being capped at 55mph, the majority of the population has given the environment a back seat to the immediate gratification of getting ANYWHERE faster. The oil companies weren’t complaining, either, both in tire and fuel sales. This was all to satisfy the throng of over caffeinated drivers who make stupid decisions to commute hours to work instead of actually having a real life.

        Well, as it turns out, the true cost of that “luxury” has been not only having to buy TWICE as many tires, but also that the tire dust from all those 220,000,000 tires per year winds up in the vegetation along the roadside and our storm drains. The “average” tire weighs between 20 to 110 lb, depending on its use on autos vs tractor-trailers, but for this argument, I’ll just throw in a figure of 37 lbs each. This comes out to 4,000,000 tons of this toxic debris being dumped by the roadsides every year in the US alone.

        Your average tree-hugger thinks nothing of the S and H (40,000 miles) or W and Z (20,000 miles) rated tires so long as they can get to Starbucks before the commuter rush, and to most of them, the 1974 Oil Embargo was right after the Civil War so has no relevance to today. Sorry, I had to get that off my chest.

        That increase in average speed necessitated increased stopping capability, which brought the evolution of the high-carbon content tires of the racing world out onto the freeway. Within the last several years, there has been much in the way of better tire design, but we are still stuck with wider tires taking up the slack for traction on what designers perceive to be “average” driving conditions.

        Unfortunately, all new tread design aside, physics is still physics and while wider tires just look “bitchin”, they can invite an accident through hydroplaning. I can personally attest to having eliminated a constant tendency for my 1994 Golf to hydroplane under wet conditions with the stock 185/60R14s; a problem that completely disappeared when I dropped down to 175/65R14. The golf always needed snow tires in the winter, whereas my 1982 Rabbit and 1974 Saab would easily punch through snow with much narrower tires. All these vehicles were similar in body weight; all front wheel drive.

        Pardon my lack of brevity.

    • Out here in the Real World, I can tell you that a narrower higher aspect tire on a smaller wheel (same OD) provides better traction in mud/snow, better ride, decent handling, and is vastly cheaper in cost.

      Not sure about gas mpg, but it is certainly no worse and might be a little better.

  5. I’ll defer to you on the rolling resistance question, Eric, but I’m afraid I have to correct you on the Whopper analogy. If you decline the bun, you can heap your Whopper with fatty sauces and cheese, all you like, and lose weight. Of course, you’d have to avoid other sources of carb, also (I promise to link back to libertarian thought).

    Weight gain absolutely requires insulin. Type I diabetics, who lack insulin, are emaciated, because they can’t store fat. Insulin is activated in response to glucose spikes in the blood. It’s the bun, the fries, and the soda, that put the weight on. Those plus the whopper will also put on weight, of course, and the insulin will effectively store the fat from the whopper. The trick is to not use insulin, and calories will seem like they “don’t matter.” In fact, overuse of insulin, on the standard diet, not only puts on weight, but builds up resistance to insulin, because of the toxicity to cells, when forced to eat excess glucose. Taken far enough, this becomes type II diabetes, whose sufferers are always overweight, to some degree.

    Back to the topic at hand: Government fatwas on health are equally damaging as those on health, but you can survive your car breaking better than your body. And since 1980, the government has actively promoted a low-fat, high carb diet, which has resulted in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease rates going through the roof. The solution? More fatwas, now on doctors, so they have to hand you a gov’t-approved nutrition flier every time you enter the office.

    The upside? You can’t tamper with most of your car’s equipment, or run afoul of laws, but you CAN tamper with your diet. Turn the rules upside down, eat bun-less whoppers, and cure obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and drastically reduce heart disease risk. I’m not just shooting from the hip, here. I’ve lived it, and published it: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07DT9P32K/

    • Depends on an individuals genetics, Tom. That’s why some people have success with some diets, and others don’t. The fats in those buns are more of an issue to many- fats which are disguised under various names, like “dough conditioners” and other chemical names- which all pale anyway in comparison to all of the animal fat in the burgers- which by law can be as much as 33%- and usually are, as fat is cheaper than meat…..

      My grandfather, who was from Italy- ate pasta almost every day of his life- and was skinny. Likewise, I can eat a lot of carbs (I eat whole grains though, with no junk, fillers, or added fats) and do fine- but gimme sugar or meat, and I’ll pack the pounds on. (It’s inconceivable to me, how people can eat meat every day and not weigh 800 pounds….)

      These anecdotal faux “scientific” studies look at people as if all humans are the same. We are not. There are so many variables in genetics, lifestyle, diet, etc. it is virtually impossible for any study of any group of people to be meaningful- there are literally millions of variables which can never be addressed.

      The best diet advice is: Eat in extreme moderation, and keep it natural. That trumos the last 60 years of “scientific studies” and dietary “science”.

      • I was leanest (11% bodyfat) when I ate no carbs. Had great energy and would actually lose weight if I averaged less than 3500 cal/day (very active).
        Throw in carbs and I pack on the fat.

        Like you said above, genetics.

  6. A question then, do larger wheels make sense in, say, northern Canada where we have sever winters, roads are slippery in winter and there is lots of wildlife on the road? More traction means less chance of slipping and shorter stopping distances if a 2000 pound bull moose jumps out in front of your car. Is that a fair analysis? Once accident can cost more than one might save in gas by having smaller wheels. Is that a reasonable analysis?

    • The wide low profile tires have less ground pressure per square inch than narrow tires under the same vehicle weight, which translates to less traction on snow and ice.

      This what we’ve learned living out on unplowed back roads in Montana.

      • Yep. I’m a narrow tire fan for my pickup. The other guys on the Ford truck forum insisted that a wider tire was better for traction and handling. My elderly F250 came with 16.5×8 rims which I replaced with the more current 8 lug 16’s from a junkyard.

        The narrowest tire that any of the forum users would admit to was a 235/75. I went with a 215/85 in a 112 load index tire. It’s tall enough to look right in the wheel well, as if that is a consideration, but is narrow enough to cut through snow to the hard surface, and to handle mud well too. Running 80psi in them makes for a very solid contact surface and reduces rolling resistance.

        There’s a reason that commercial tires like that one are used by UPS and others on their vans. The cool looking wide tires will spin you off the road into a ditch in even a light layer of snow on the road.

        • We call those skinny tires ‘grave diggers’
          It will work in mud – if there is a bottom to it.
          Should work great in snow – as long as there isn’t ‘bottomless’ mud underneath.
          Will probably bury itself if stuck in sand.

          • How many people do you think commute to work and shopping in sand ????

            In bottomless mud, you would want a wide tire but still with a lot of sidewall, and then air down to about 10psi.

            • You never specified the intended use or where you are using it. My needs for a work truck sound significantly different from yours.
              Agree with Nunzio – no one tire can do it all & siping matters.

          • Flotation vs. bite- that is why it is impossible to find a tire that will work well under all conditions.

            One thing that makes a huge difference in any tire, on ice and snow, is siping. I always choose a good all-terrain tire with plenty of siping.

            I’m running Hankook Dynapro’s in 265/85/16, load range E, and they’re about the closest I’ve ever come to a do-everything tire. Best tires I’ve ever had. I’ve never gotten stuck with ’em, and they’re pretty good in the snow (Although I don’t drive much in the snow- as it rarely snows here; and when it does, the locals don’t know how to drive in it- they’re dangerous!)

      • I think ppl have it backwards… this is my opinion… wider/more contact patch is better in snow/ice, the reason is the same why it’s better on dry roads — more is better. The narrower tires aren’t cutting through the snow, because there’s STILL snow compacted underneath them (or ice). And here is the biggest reason IMO why you want wider/more contact patch for snow/ice… because even though you technically have less traction due to the lower weight (per square inch), you STILL have the MINIMUM weight needed to achieve the maximum possible traction on snow/ice. There’s some number that’s a minimum amount of weight that you need (per square inch) to get maximum traction, but even a small compact car has ENOUGH, so in a heavy truck/etc you ALWAYS want the lowest weight per square inch because it’s still plenty of weight to get maximum traction. AND, in the case where a narrow tire CAN’T reach bare/sticky ground, then you want maximum “float” (minimum weight/drag). A good example is how an ATV will go through the snow/ice better than a heavy truck — it weighs alot less per tire contact patch, and the same reason why offroaders use wide tires — not narrow ones.

        • Harry, as someone who lived the first 39 years of my life in the [shudder] Northeast, and who has pretty much nothing but pick-ups my entire life, I can tell you that wide tires REEK in the snow.

          The narrower tires, even if they can’t cut all the way through to dry ground, at least can cut through to the solid packed stuff. the wide tires just don’t do it- which is why flotation tires for the beach/sand/mud are always as wide as possible.

          You math would seem to make sense, but the problem is, when it comes to contact patches, it is not a linear calculation (Maybe BrentP will come along and ‘splain this better) as size of the patch increases both with the diameter of the tire, and increases exponentially with width….

          I used to think the same as you….but real life disabused me of this error.

          • Maybe the narrow tires seem to work because, due to sinking deeper into the snow, they have more contact with the snow, so they’re actually working because they have more contact patch. I still think narrow tires are not going to get through to dry ground, ~90% of the time, wider tires are better. BUT… again, this is my belief of how it works, I could be wrong lol, it just still makes sense to me.

            Example, small compact cars do better in the snow/ice (they don’t get stuck as often) than heavier cars/trucks. I think it’s because they weight alot less.

              • One crazy exception, one of my Friends had a LUV 2wd and during one particularly bad snow He could go anywhere in that thing. I guess He was floating, street tread on top of that, finally He hung er up in a snow drift.

                    • Hi Nunz,

                      The Chevy Luv (which if I recall correctly was a rebadged Isuzu) was from what Rush called a better managed time. You and I can remember it. It was a friendlier, calmer more reasonable time. Today, it’s Cod Piece Fever Time. No accident that as Americans in the main are running scared of “threats” and obsessed with saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety that cars have grown huge and ugly and angry looking, too.

                    • So true, Eric!

                      What once existed!
                      Literally not a day goes by that I don’t hearken back to the late 60’s; 70’s; and early 80’s.

                      We still had a good measure of actual civility and genteelness then. It was the last remnant of the pinnacle of Western civilization [The emphasis is on ‘civilization’- something which has gone away, now].

                      Sure, it wasn’t perfect, and we were already far from being free- but that civility, and the fact that most people still valued freedom, went a long way. And with gov’t not being as big as it is today; not as brazen; and without all of the fancy technology, it was MUCH easier for those who valued freedom to fly under the radar and actually still have a good deal of it.

                      I remember those Luvs, too. (I know they at least had Isuzu motors)- A friend’s older brother had one when I was 15. It was a little cramped for 3 people….

                      Damn, eric, I couldn’t make it through the days if it weren’t for the memories of those times! We got to experience something that was only here for a brief while, and which will never be again. Yeah, we may be able to roll back a lot of the tyranny by leaving the police state- but we’re never gonna see that culture and civility and quality which we experienced the last remnants of.

                      And this is the problem with women, too: Never mind that viable ones are too young to have known of what we are speaking of- but even the old hags who lived through those times, don’t “get” it; they don’t value it; they don’t know of what we speak. Between that, and the lack of Libertarian women (and the lack of loner-women, for me)….and the general lack of GOOD women….these things are why we can never truly have the emotional and intellectual oneness which is so essential to abiding luv.

                      (Well, I got a day of bushhogging ahead of me, so I’ll have plenty of time to think further upon these things! Eric: “Oh noes!!”)

            • @Crazy Harry
              No matter what you are driving, the side-to-side cross-tread elements of any tire design are what are required for the tire to “paddle” its way UP the ramp of the snow in front of it. When the snow is at axle depth and very dense, it acts like a tire chock and unless one also has cleats or chains, the vehicle is going nowhere.

              Interesting about that vehicle weight to tire width issue. It really also depends upon the temperature, the tire rating (S, H, W, V, Z, T, etc) will indicate a measure of increased adhesion in snow and ice conditions. While T tires used to typically have a slightly different sidewall construction and a definitely harder compound, they were a little harder to acquire traction in cold weather, but that drawback was easily lost if the tire was narrower. A wider tire may do very well on dry pavement, and just the opposite on wet pavement. That should give you at least some idea of the priorities in looking for a tire.

              Some tire designer would no doubt be able to explain this priority in better detail, but shy of that, I’m just giving my experience with them. That increase contact you spoke of, by itself, won’t accomplish increased traction; for that, one needs to factor the cold weather stickiness of the tire as well as the cross-tread design (the paddling ability, for lack of another name). Change one variable and all the math changes.

              What I can tell you is that my driveway used to empty onto a steep hill. After some storms, the hill was like an ice rink, but the ’82 VW Rabbit Diesel didn’t even sneeze; it took the corner and went right up the hill when other cars were having to go down to the bottom of the hill first to get a running start. The difference was THAT pronounced.

              Today, so much of the whole auto and tire industry is based on vehicles being some extension of people’s troubled inferiority complex, feelings of inadequacy where the general public is NOW supposed to see some guy with big tires and assume he also has a huge schlong. Yes, people really are that stupid.

        • Nunzio is correct.

          I have a rancher neighbor who lives near a bad drift spot and is constantly asked to rescue people in bad winters. He has one old 4×4 farm with tall narrow tires and chains all around that he uses for feeding cows and pulling out pilgrims. It’s the only thing that works on those conditions.

          Yes there are a few very light vehicles with wide soft tires that can float on top of snow in some conditions, but for general use it doesn’t work.

            • It’s often easier to use the tractor since it won’t ever know it’s pulling a pickup. The best pickup I ever had for running on top of the snow(in 4WD)was an 84.5 Nissan with 9.50X15 tires on much wider than stock wheels. Too bad Nissan nor any aftermarket maker ever produced a locking rear diff unit for them.

              • Well, I dunno – maybe he just doesn’t want to start a tractor when some yayhoo isn’t smart enough to stay home or drive 20 miles around the other way?

              • finally an outfit started making them at least for the Hardbodys, the name escapes Me now, I really considered getting one for my 99 Frontier, the units were made of solid good steel and were a bit noiser on turns.

      • The best snow tires I ever seen, were “Pennsylvania Turnpike” in the G78 -Flavor, the wet snow traction was incredible, the only thing close I have see these days are the Armstrong “Norseman” tires. The old “Desert Dogs” did fairly well all around the year, the “Commercials” did pretty good with a full fuel tank in the back.
        Back in the day we didn’t have the pleasure of 4WD, so We learned to drive without it( a “Squareback” Beetle would actually push snow with the front bumper)
        Nothing beats “Mattracks” for almost any condition.

        • Yeah, amazing how back in the old days we managed to get around in all but the worst conditions with RWD 2wd.

          Now folks need AWD of 4WD just to get to the store in 1/4″ of snow.

          • We knew better than to drive into what many people don’t think about until they are mired. Folks don’t have the common sense of vegetable oil anymore.

            • Scary thang is, all the 4×4 and AWD vehicles are giving people greater confidence, while their driving skill does not increase one iota- so we have a lot of inept drivers running around in dangerous conditions, who are even more embrazened to drive beyond their abilities.

              The 4×4/AWD encourages them to drive in slippery conditions; they drive as if on dry roads, without even giving a thought to stopping….

          • Back right at the 1st of the year, 69 I think(we had a helluva cold, wet winter in W. Tx.)my sister and BIL were at my parents house along with myself. We were 140 miles from Lubbock of which we had to return that night, jobs and school being on the agenda for the next day.

            We got to Post Tx. 3 miles from the caprock which was in a blizzard. Things weren’t too bad as far as I was concerned, The wind still blowing snow hard but it was bearable.

            We get to the bottom of the cap where US 84 took the 2-3 miles to climb 900′ or so. The blizzard was a bitch up on the flat plain and the road was extremely thick with snow up till a few miles on the plains where it was deep but not nearly as much as the assent happened to be.

            We had to fall in behind the truck with the snow plow clearing the road. Somehow I was first in line with the sis behind me in their Camaro and me being in my Malibu. I had the 1st gen Goodyear Polyglas tires and they did really well in the snow as did the same tires on the Camaro. Once the snow plow pulled over it was every man for himself. Being in the lead(countless vehicles piled up behind me)I did the only thing I could, try to drive as fast as possible for the conditions which was probably 45mph if that.

            Nobody behind as far as I could see wanted to be in the other lane and followed my tracks. Finally, I see headlights coming up and I just wanted whoever was in such a hurry to make a quick pass and be gone. It wasn’t to be however. Some guy in a tiny Jap pickup, and you know it had skinny tires, decided he could pass me, the problem being I was blocking the N wind for him and he didn’t have a grasp of that dynamic, a cornering wind for the traffic. Coming up on my left he was getting the wind broken for him and gaining a lot of power at the same time. Every time he’d get not even fully past me, he’d lose it and slide off in a spin. The fool did this 3 times, expecting a different outcome I suppose. 3rd time was charm and he spun across in front of the traffic behind me and gathered no one else with him and went into a ditch with deep drifts.

            That was the last I saw of that fool and I drove the next 40 miles into Lubbock with the same line of vehicles behind me, everyone else knowing a good thing when they saw one.

            Like Anon said, we had the sense to realize what we could do. Probably somebody was in a vehicle that could have run faster but nobody wanted the lead since they’d have had to pass in a lane that was just getting worse. These days it was be the biggest clusterfuck you ever saw with those conditions and people in 4WD vehicles would be sliding off and wrecking with each other……and probably somebody in an older FWD car would be doing fine. Maybe if you had an OLD RWD car you’d be fine too.

            • Best car in snow I saw back in the 60s was a friend’s ’65 Toronado. Dry weather though he used to claim he had to back into parking spaces. I don’t know why.

  7. If “larger wheels and tires hurt fuel efficiency because they add weight and increase rolling resistance,” why are they used on the very tractor-trailers that require fuel efficiency the most?

    • Hi Vonu,

      Several variables at play; with regard to heavy trucks, load-bearing and traction are big ones. Fuel efficiency isn’t everything. Note also that with heavy trucks, wheels/tires are generally “dualie.”

    • It’s not the larger wheels themselves, but the relative percentage of wheel/tire to the total diameter.

      Heavy trucks need lots of big wheels and big tires to carry all that weight.

      • Large trucks use a variety of wheel/tire combos for a variety of reasons. Some like the low-pro tire on a typical 22.5 or 24.5 wheel. They like them to get less height giving better handling. Box trailers in hard side winds are esp. prone to be blown around(now we see almost all dedicated trailers of this sort with panels underneath for decreased wind resistance which also create a low pressure under the trailer). They’re good in the plain states where high winds commonly blow that sort of rig off the road. A good example is howling South wind on I 20 and I 10 in west Tx. There are days here with high wind warnings for trucks on east/west routes for the most part. Truck stops will be jammed packed on those days or days of ice/snow.

        24.5’s are a better choice for rigs that will run off-road such as ranches and lease roads and everyone who does that avoids low-pros. A 24.5 has a larger diameter than the 22.5 and generally stand about 43″ tall. They roll over rough ground better than 22.5’s which are great on highway running. The 24.5’s also have a higher load rating and once again, this helps when running overloads day in and out.

        You might hear people speaking of the two sizes as “bigs”(24.5) and “littles)22.5. I won’t get into the Super 100 debate.

        But there’s a plethora of specialty size tires for trucks with heavy front end loads and they can easily be seen to be larger and wider than the rest of the tires on the rig. This is off-road type stuff along with heavy hauling where you might have a much larger load on the steering axle because of pulling multiple-axle trailers. They’re seen often in the oilfield on trucks that are built heavier than a regular road tractor. It’s this type of truck most often seen these days with 2 gearboxes to better match load and conditions. A Spicer 4X5 is a common choice. These have been more common to a few decades ago on road trucks.

        18 speed transmissions are common in road tractors along with various weight rated rear diff’s and tire sizes since they’re a single stick unit. Gearhead truckers like two gearboxes letting you match engine rpm and speed to the maximum advantage.

        • How well will a new driver who didn’t learn how to drive a manual of any speed do with a 13 or 18 speed manual? Which roads are traveled by the “18 speed transmissions … common in road tractors?” I never drove anything more than 10 gears before I began driving LCVs.
          The best way to prevent trucks from being blown off the highway is to avoid them deadheading with competent logistics and strategic pricing.

          • As far as trucks getting blown off the road, it’s not uncommon for same carriers to have light loads or for some freight companies to have doubles(rarely a triple) and 50 mph wind with higher gusts are rank for just about any size big rig.

            The last boss I had was querying me about why I wanted to have a DOT physical certification since he didn’t run interstate. Well, that should be obvious since you have shit equipment although I just remained silent.

            I could hear the gears whirring and then he asked when I got my CDL. 1968 I replied.

            I’m not worried about what newbies know or don’t and it would be a rare employer who’d start someone in a rig that’s probably going to be a higher dollar tractor with more power than ordinary although getting the best fuel mileage with any rig depends on how often you can split gears and if you have at least one OD gear.

            Personally, I enjoy driving a twin stick set-up since it gives me a way to fine tune fuel mileage and engine wear.

            I don’t see the “roads traveled” with an 18 speed as being here nor there. LOads vary greatly on the same road different load, different day.

            We have 75 mph speed limits almost everywhere in Tx. and other states. Not having an OD is a fuel mileage limiting factor. And nobody has to point out you can have a 10 speed with no OD and get good mileage with the proper diff. ratio. High speed gear ratios aren’t often found in heavier diffs so being able to use the same tractor for different hauls is a big plus when you have to get off pavement at each end of a haul and sometimes, the entire haul.

            I can’t help but look at all this from an owner-operator standpoint which I was most of my driving life. I have run the same runs with the same weight and trailer type as friends who have OD transmissions and even with higher power engines they’d commonly get 6 mpg to my 5mpg with a ten speed. That’s a lot of money come end of the year when you have commonly run 600 miles in a day.

  8. Hey Eric not to hijack this thread but will you test the plane/car hybrid from volvo? it can cruise 200 MPH in the air for 500 miles. uses electric?? and a 300 HP motor

  9. Great write up Eric!

    For a while the Honda CRX-HF model(HF being for “high fuel mileage”) had rims that were a highly sought after commodity because Honda made them specifically for the HF model to make gains in MPG. They were aluminum, 13″ diameter rims that were incredibly light. Autocrossers would fit them to their Si models for an advantage in auto crossing.(The Si’s came with 13″ aluminum rims, but those rims were much heavier)

    Other things Honda did in their HF specific model was lessen the amount of sound deadening, use a wide ratio transmission and a higher compression head(from the old CVCC design) that was 2 valve instead of their newer multi-valve heads. So while it didn’t flow as well at high RPM’s, it utilized the compression stroke more efficiently at lower RPM’s.(well suited to a wide ratio transmission)

    Honda always excelled in that area(fuel mileage) until the gov’t fatwa’s homogenized cars. (Just like Volvo’s and safety)

    Interestingly, though the 1.5 HF is an awesome fuel economy car(I had one) that is still fun to drive, the early 1.3 liter versions supposedly got the best gas mileage…and they hard carbs! (3-1 barrel carbs! A tri-power! lol)

  10. I recently purchased a new CNG Impala, the only thing I disliked were the 18 inch wheels. I called the tire rack for a 17 inch winter package and was told that 18 was the only option, considering the spare is a 17 inch wheel it shows the mindset today. 18 and larger wheels are fine if you’re !iving in Dubai but not in the real world.

  11. I just bought a set of shiny new 215/75R15 skinny whitewalls for the vehicle known to my family as “the Sanford and Son truck” (64 C10). $238.96 out the door, and they ride great. During some totally non-scientific testing the little 230 coupled to a 3 speed manual and 3.73 posi gearset turned in a respectable 18mpg milling around town. By comparison, my much more efficient (but considerably larger) 2.7 Ecoboost F150 gets……..18mpg running around town (with twice as many forward gears to boot).

    I run 15’s on my Comet – I’d go down to 14’s if the brakes weren’t quite so close. Having some sidewall to wrinkle helps shave a couple hundredths off the 60 foot time. There’s a reason that NHRA fuel cars stick with 16″ wheels and haven’t gone for “twennies” or something equally goofy.

    For that matter, I used to drive trucks with 57″ wheels, but the tires were 12′ diameter, so still proportioned better than what the automakers are foisting on us.

    • Morning, EG!

      The following is coming from a guy who has been test driving cars for 20-plus years, with my share of track time: My 1976 TA – on 15×7 wheels, with larger than stock 245/60-15 tires – has more grip than and higher cornering limits than probably 90 percent of drivers could make meaningful use of. Modern performance cars on 19-20 wheels with extremely low profile tires have a functionally meaninglessly higher grip threshold for these drivers. They haven’t got the skills to make use of it – and to do so on the street means driving the car at a clip that is truly Banzai! and severely illegal and (this is coming from me) probably not sound policy on the street given what could go wrong and how fast you’ll be moving when it does.

      Meanwhile, my car rides better.

      The main everyday advantage these ultra tall/wide rims and low profile tires give the average driver is sharper steering response.

      That’s it.

      • eric, probably more likely these days 99.9% of all drivers could not make use of all the grip, and for Fwd cars, extremely understeering to a point of having it snap around on you is beyond the ability of everyone who doesn’t do it professionally.

        I can or at least could, take a car to the limit of traction at high speed and stay right on the ragged edge. That was something I’d practiced for years and quite honestly didn’t personally know anyone else who could.

        I realized quickly that Fwd was the difference between night and day and I didn’t have a car I was willing to abuse to figure it out.

        Rear wheel drive, power on tap to drive with the throttle and a car you could feel approaching the limit is a whole nother beast and even adding in limited slip differentials could and would change the handling of the very same car.
        It was only after being able to hold one on that ragged edge did I appreciate Why NASCAR style cars had open diffs.

        What a shock it was one day pushing a FWD car hard through high speed curves when the left front tire on a left hand curve decided to have a belt or two come loose and it snapped around backward instantly, no warning at all. Doing 85 backward beside a fence was unsettling to say the least.

        That was the first of what would eventually be 2 sets of identical tires that were replaced with warranty I’d have been better off to not use the warranty.

        A guy I’d meet years later who owned some successful tire stores told me that was the problem with buying tires from Sam’s Club.
        While the tires they sell meet all DOT specifications, they are seconds, the very reason they could undersell their competition.

        I had seen this before on other tires on others cars. I’m cured.

        • I won’t buy tires from Sam’s anymore for the same reasons. When you warranty a tire 3 times and they are all bad right off the shelf…fuck their warranty.
          You may notice that the (arguably) fastest cars out there that don’t just go in a straight line do not use low profile tires, hmm…

  12. Nothing more ridiculous that putting 20s or some such on a truck or full sized SUV.

    I shopped the Grand Cherokee I’m in now specifically looking for the “un-upgraded” stock rims and high profile tires.

    Three New England winters (and roads) later and the tires are fine, and an average of 25 MPG with the standard PentaStar V6.

  13. Most of the fuel-sippy Datsuns and Toyotas and such of the 70’s and early 80’s that got c.40MPGs with a carburetor and simple drivetrain, had 13″ wheels. You could buy a whole set of good-quality tires for ’em for around $100 !! (Or kinda sketchy tires for well under $100). Now THAT was economy! -Simple cars with little to go wrong, that got amazing MPGs and were cheap to maintain…if only they weren’t deathtraps that rusted away into nothing…… I never drove those things (I’ll gladly pay the price in MPG and higher maintenance for a large vehicle) but damn, I miss those days, when such cars could exist!

    • Ever had one of the Volvos of the era late fifties to real early seventies? 1800 o4 200 cc iron block and head pushrod engines, eight port referse flow head (breathes REAL well) mounting a pair of 1 3/4 inch SU carbs. The cars were solid sedans or wagons, heavy for their class (ca 2300 lbs) but when properly tuned they ould return 42 or so MPG whilst cruising at 85 mph for hours on end. Those cars HANDLED, too….. VERY good cornering and braking. The 140 series, ’67 onward, carried four wheel disc brakes. All of those cars mounted 15 inch rims, and the tyres were very close to the original VW Beetle size…. I beleive 155/76/15. Michelins worked very well, but so did Dunlop and Continental. I’ve had a set of them last 80,000 miles of pretty hard and fast driving.

      Owning, and working on, a string of those cars made me wonder WHY in the world anyone would ever go and buy a riceburner….. or worse yet Volkswagen. NONE of the English sedans (pardon me, saloons) ever approached the Volvos for fuel economy OR reliability. Friend of mine raced a 1967 122S on the sports car track under SCCA sanction. He ran the whole season never touched the car except for minor tweaks between races. the MG B’s, TR 4’s, would have to do complete engine teardown and rebuild every two or three races, thus missing a few, so he’d finish every weekend and got the most points over the season. Made them FURIOUS……

      • Hi Tionico!

        One of the under-appreciated qualities of the cars from that era was that their grip limits were low enough to make it fun to drive them close to them – something which is effectively not possible today (on the street) with modern cars because even the least of them have very high limits and to approach them needs serious speed; god help you if an AGW catches you!

  14. The 2018 Camry Hybrid Base model with 16″ steel wheels is rated at 51/53 mpg. I drove one and it plows in the turns. You can hear the tire drag across the ground. The 2018 Toyota Camry XLE Hybrid is rated at 44/47. The reason for the difference is twofold. I attribute about 2 mpg to the tires and the rest to the use of NiMetal Hydride batteries. A friend of mine has a 2005 Acura MDX which used to get about 18 mpg with Good Year fuel economy tires. With regular Cooper CS5s, it gets about 16, a two mpg drop.

  15. A lot of old school tire Guys long for the days of the almost extinct 235/75-15 , fairly inexpensive and fairly durable.Once had this idea that a lot of tire shops could stock the most common size tires and cover 90% of the vehicles, it would be impossible now.
    Common sense flew out the window a long time ago an old”skinflint” friend of mine had a fleet of GMs and He related the advantages in economy over juggling the tire sizes and I believe Him, the younguns around here put some of the most outrageous tires on their Tacomas and Diesels( of course you can get enough power out the Diesels to actually pull them{wish they would put mufflers on the things- t who wants to listen to construction equipment all day ?}

    • Hi Kevin,

      Yup. Even the “handling” advantage of low-profile tire is dubious. The limits of grip are now so high that – as with emissions regs – incremental improvements are effectively meaningless. I doubt one out of 1,000 drivers has the skill to push even a current family sedan to the limits of its grip on 17 or 18 inch wheels. And a car like a Corvette with 20s?

      Even if a driver has the skill, he has to drive at speeds that are unsafe (as well as feloniously illegal) to even approach the grip limit of the tires/car.

      The whole thing’s as retarded as getting a freezer to notch down its temperature another 5 degrees below freezing.

    • Funny you mention the 235/75/15 tires, which all of my 1980s Dodges take. I could buy them anywhere years ago; now I have to rummage around on the Internet. The set on my ’85 Dodge van I got years ago for a very good price was because the local shop wanted to get rid of them–demand was zero. Ah well. Progress.

  16. Hi Eric.

    There is one thing I like about those 18 inch tires: no more bottom outs. I can’t tell you how many times I scraped the bumper of my old Mazda 626 when pulling out of a sloped driveway.

    • Hi JRO,

      Yes… unless the car is draped low over those 18s!

      As you guys all know, I test drive new cars each week – and many are vulnerable to front end damage for just this reason. The coffee shop where I often go to work has a steep driveway entrance. The angle where it meets the adjacent road is not good news for lowered high-performance cars or even just “sporty” cars with body kits and chin spoilers, etc.

      But it’s potholes I fear most. Have lost more than a few low-profile tires (and rims) to these!

      • I replaced a top-of-the-line Focus with a base model. The reason? The low-profile tires on the old one were a pain in the ass. I love the softer ride, the cheaper cost, the longer lifespan and not having to worry about damage from potholes or having to constantly check the air pressure.

        • Hi Bobster,

          Amen. Meanwhile, even trucks are now coming from the factory with short sidewall tires on 18,19 and 20-inch wheels. Maybe they should include a set of gold teeth in the glovebox with every purchase?

  17. Along with impractical rims/tires is the newest absurdity – SUVs with reduced “U” – utility. It started with Mercedes, sedans as coupes (Koops?). So now too many vehicles are looking coupeish, with limited usefulness.

    I have a coupe, and a space-efficient SUV, and won’t be buying into the latest illogical fad.

    Book: “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” – the world had the tulip mania and now an electric vehicle mania, tire/wheel mania, coupe mania. Follow the leader – maybe a lemming.

  18. Yeah low profile tires are a pita. You’ll never use their “extra” handling – as mentioned they love to go flat at the slightest pothole and theyre more expensive. If I were to buy a daily driver again it would likely be a jeep cherokee with those 15 or 16 inch tires with the big wide walls on them. If its still offered that is. I live in Chicago which is pothole central of course.

    • Hi Mark,

      These big rims/low-profile tires are another thing the marketing boys have convinced most people they need ad so most cars now have them to one degree or another. It used to be the case that most cars had steel rims and a 70 or maybe a 60 series tire, which makes perfectly good sense for most cars. But there’s less money to be made selling 15×7 steel wheels and 225/70-15 all seasons than there is selling 17×8 alloys and 45 series “summer” tires to go with them, so – voila!

  19. Watch out for that 0.5″ deep pothole…whoops, too late! Well, there goes your 30″ wheels (and probably the entire front end along with it ?).

  20. Another issue to me is the really low profile tires in the North East is very flat prone with all the potholes we have. My wife got a MB E350 and the dealer ordered all these models with the ‘sport’ rims, I think they were 40’s profile. They do look good. She had 3 flats in 2 years. Even bent the rim twice. Luckily I bought the tire and wheel insurance (they lost). We finally gave up because my wife couldn’t handle the inconvenience and potential safety issue, and had to buy all new rims and tires. We went one inch rim size down and fitted 45’s. No more flats, and it rides much better.
    So, when I was looking for a new car a year ago, I looked at all RWD avail. sedans, and all of them had very low profile tires. Even the new Kia Stinger. So when I settled on the 300, one of the reasons was higher profile tires. No flats for me in a year. Potholes this past spring here were like a war zone it seemed. If anyone traveled Rt 8o in PA from Stroudsburg going West this past spring, you know what I mean. And my daughters Charger V6 has even higher profile tires, and they still look pretty good.
    So how bad is that for car manuf., part of my decision was tire profile?

  21. Taken to the extreme example:

    …(Dr. Nicholas Lownes) continued to say “[CSX’s] idea is that steel wheels, on steel rail are the most efficient way to transport cargo. This method has the least amount of friction possible. Once a train is rolling, it takes the least amount of effort to keep it moving.”

    http://www.ctls.uconn.edu/do-csx-trains-really-move-1-ton-of-cargo-500-miles-on-1-gallon-of-fuel.html

    I would add that the contact patch for a railroad wheel and rail is about 2 inches on a straight track and only a little more on a curve.

    Same thing is true on a motorcycle or bicycle wheel. Because the wheels have a round profile the contact patch is canoe shaped -which also makes it near impossible to hydroplane BTW. Recently most of the pro cyclists have switched from the super-narrow (and harsh riding) wheels and tires of recent years back to the old wider tires. They realized the contact patch is so small as to not matter to the efficiency of the bike compared to the comfort they get from the larger tires.

  22. You’re absolutely right! Cars come with wheels that are far too large. I bought a Focus RS last year, and this thing comes with 19″ wheels. The tires are very expensive for it, potholes will do them in, and the ride is harsh. I bought a set of aftermarket 17″‘s which just barely clear the brakes. The ride is comfier, tires are $100 cheaper each, and my mpg is up by 2. This car sucks for mileage, but it went from 16 average to 18 average.

    • OL said;”…17″‘s which just barely clear the brakes.”

      I was gonna say, some of the reason for larger wheels is to make room for bigger brakes, pretty sure you don’t need 20″ wheels to ‘barely clear’ though.

      • Who NEEDS such monster brakes on a FOCUS???!!!??? Smaller diamter discs and a wider pad contact area, and the pad friction surface beig longer, will give the same braking effort, but admittely not quite so much fade resistance…. but then, with the new ceramic materials, that even is not an issue anymore.

        Your Focus gets ONLY 16-17 mpg? That’s insane!!! My 20 year old Ford One Tonne Extended VAN, tipping the balance at 6500 lbs empty with two gallons fuel (not the usual 36+) returns 17 or 18 mpg. Of course, it DOES have that amazing 7.3 Powertroke. But I’ve done long interstate trips towing a HUGE heavy trailer, gross combination weight at 27,000 plus, lbs and it STILL got 15 mpg at freeway speeds. and your Focus only gets one PMG more? My total weight was about seven times your Focus, and windage of van and trailer likely three times your car. did not now those Foci were so thirsty.

  23. One thing I cant get – this obsession with huge SUVs on low profile tires…. reminds me of a cartoon of an elephant in ballet shoes……

  24. “Most new economy cars come standard with at least 16 inch wheels – the same diameter wheels that Z28 Camaros and Mustang GTs came with back in the ’80s. And all new hybrids come standard with at least 15-inch wheels, the same diameter as the wheels that came with my ’70s V8 muscle car, the Orange Barchetta (1976 Carousel Red Pontiac Trans Am).”

    Come on Eric….you often bring up the point that modern cars have vastly improved performance. I seem to recall you noting that today’s V-6 Camrys are at least as fast as those old Mustang GTs and Camaro Z28s. Can’t we come up with a rational compromise between ultimate performance and absolute mpg?

    Surely you don’t think it makes sense for modern Camrys, or even minivans, to be skating around on 13 inchers….or do you???

    • Hi Mike,

      Horse for courses!

      A 15-inch wheel on a family car is more than adequate for ay driving done at speeds within 20 percent of lawful maximums. Most people drive slower than that.

      Performance cars driven at performance speeds are, of course, another type of horse!

      • eric, so much bullshit. ….even in nomenclature about wheels and tires.
        I have run countless tire and wheel and wheel combinations on trucks and there are wheels of various types and some refered to as Erie style and other designations for a wheel and separate hub in which the part holding the tire slides over the hub which is part of the axle assembly is held on with wedges and nuts separated by a spacer between 2 wheels which are still known as wheels.

        There are 3 piece wheels that consist of a wheel with an inside rim being part of the wheel, a separate outside rim held together by a split ring. They’re dangerous and have been eliminated for a long time thankfully. Still, they are wheels, not rims. Talk about something that makes My teeth ache.

        A few years ago I was operating a trailer with Erie style wheels and white getting a flat fixed I had to explain to the repair men how to remove them since they’d try to beat the wheel from one side then the other. That only served to jam the wheel on one side then the other.

        Cue old man stepping up, getting the wheel loosened, then grabbing the tire with each hand 180 degrees apart horizontally and sliding the wheel to the edge of the hub.
        They learned something they badly needed to know. At know time were “rims” ever discussed.

        The entire illiterate country allowed a couple brands of illiterate minorities take over tire and wheel nomenclature….and style in the process.

        You can still find people who speak of wheels, for the most part, those who are “literate and those selling wheels, especially the manufacturers.

        Some of the huge wheels on exotic cars cost $150,000/set since they are made from exotic materials and machining processes even requiring exotic mounting machines and procedure.

        Of course I know you understand this but the average “rim” guy is lost.

        And to clarify ‘”performance”, many a picture has been taken of a competition car with large tires and wheels, then had smaller diameter wheels and tires mounted for racing. Too much rolling weight not only eats horsepower but cripples handling as well.

        Every time I see a pickup with 20’s on it I’m reminded of the old saw about a fool being parted from his money.

        Light trucks meant to be worked still come with steel wheels normally not larger than 17 and tall sidewall tires.

        I used to see all these company half ton pickups the stand and point crowd drove abandoned on lease roads with a ruined tire while work trucks had been over the same hundreds of times with no damage.

        • I think we used to call those “Dayton wheels” ?

          Not so good on logging and dump trucks because they had a habit of spinning on the hub and ripping off the valve stem, or so I was told.

          I used to change tires on those 20″ 2-piece Firestone wheels all the time and never had any problems. You just have to know what you’re doing and not be an idiot. I was always fixing flats on rocky mountain roads or putting on a “new” set of used school bus tires. Nice thing was all you needed was a few hand tools and some sort of compressor.

          • Anon, Dayton is one of their monikers. The only time they spun was when you installed a spacer that was too narrow between the wheels. It was nearly always the fault of someone buying a used spacer(cheap) not wide enough for the application.

            You should always have a point at which the nuts over the wedges load up well before bottoming out. It pays to pay attention when mounting a wheel….of any sort but esp. of the Dayton or Erie style. I ran them many years on the drive axles and the only time I screwed up was with a used spacer on the trailer which did let the wheel move and wobble eating up the hub. Once the hug is fixed you won’t make the mistake of using that spacer again. Just leave it with whoever rebuilt your hub and they’ll use it for something other than it’s original purpose.

            • Never had them myself (except on a Case tractor); just heard stories from other truckers. I guess the Dayton would be faster to change than the Budd double nuts.

              My GMC and Chevy had 10 hole and 6 hole, respectively, on single studs/nuts. I think the 6 hole matched my old army trailer but don’t think I ever had to try it out.

    • Hi Rich,

      I wish I had the resources to buy new cars and monkey wrench them… for example, buy a new Hyundai Ioniq, fit it with 14 inch steelies and the skinniest lowest-rolling-resistance tires available… and excise as much extraneous deadweight from the car as feasible (I’m betting it would be doable to cut the curb weight by 300 pounds) and see what the MPGs would be…

      On GM: Yes. And I have more inside baseball coming on that…

      • Guessing Hyundai probably doesn’t sell crate engines. It would interesting to put it into a much lighter small 1980’s car and see what it could get.

      • That’s an idea, Eric – do you think that there are any grants rolling around for that type of thing. Might as well make some money off of that idiocy.

        • Hi Swamp,

          No grants for me – unless they’re privately endowed. I won’t wet my beak with money taken from force from others.But maybe there is a wealthy Liberty-minded person out there reading this. Put me in harness! I am a hard-working donky 🙂

        • Haha. You know there is going to be no money for this kind of study. If you had all the money you needed, what type of car/suv/truck would you start with. What would you do to it? Would you test grip and handling characteristics as well as gas mileage? This could be fun.

          • Hi Swamp,

            For one, I’d like to take a VW TDI diesel and install it in a ’90s Geo Metro… I would be you a T-bone steak dinner the Metro would average at least 60 MPG and be capable of 70 on the highway.

            • A friend had a diesel Jetta he wanted to sell a couple years back. It had 300+K on it and it still ran fine. But at that mileage it was almost a giveaway in my estimation since the rest of the car was probably worn out.

              Good diesels are sometimes that way, esp. if they’ve been treated well and cared for their whole life. Probably everything body and suspension-wise were to the point of needing replacing while the transmission and engine still purred along.

                • Yep, 98 was about the cut-off point for reliable Cummins’ and sadly, the body’s have never been worth a damn and to this day Dodge diesel pickups…and even the gas jobs, have some electronic bugaboos nobody wants.

                  I saw a Dodge pickup that had the left rear wheel(bare pickup)simply explode, go across 4 lanes of I 20 doing 75, flip and roll on the west bound service road….but the two occupants walked away. They couldn’t believe it and you certainly couldn’t sell either another Dodge. That was the first I saw do that and then there was another the owner told me about. And that’s always been the problem with Chrysler stuff, no quality control on the parts. But Cummins makes good engines and that’s about where it ends.

                  • Yeah, I used to run a Clark 666 skidder with the same basic engine as the Cummins in a Dodge. It was all mechanical of course, except for the stupid fuel solenoid; and simple pull to kill handle works much better!

            • I stuck a mercedes OM617 turbodiesel in my 49 Willys pickup. The OM617 is an incredible machine, lasts forever, and respectable power in my book. I put a 3 inch straight pipe out the back, got rid of the altitude compensator (for throttle response, not to over fuel the old gal). In the 83 300SD which weighed in at about 3800 lbs, it did OK, got up to 30 mpg on the highway stock.

              In the Willys, (which all told weighs under 2000 lbs and chirps the tires on every upshift of the mercedes 4spd automatic), with all the aerodynamics of a brick wall, I’m getting about 50 mpg keeping it under 60 mph. The only reason I don’t have a more accurate mileage is I have only run through half a tank of fuel since I got her roadworthy this June.

              So, yes, the experiment is a valid one. One of the ideas I’m still marinating is putting the Ford Escort/Mazda diesel and 5 speed I’ve been sheltering into a little 800 lb tadpole trike. I’d love to do a inline 4 motorcycle with it, but can’t find a suitable non-transaxle tranny to use, unless I hack up my old gold wing and adapt, hmm….

              • And FWIW I’m running 235/75 15’s on alloys on it. I started off with a set of beautiful 20 inch chrome triple spoke knockoffs, with 50 series tires, loved the look, they filled the old Willys fenders nicely, but on the second test drive those 80 lb apiece wheel and tire assemblys got to shimmying my little 2000 lb toy and darned near killed me. Off they went, sold them for the same $250 I had into them.

              • There is a European light weight diesel designed for Motorcycles and the lot, haven’t heard much about it lately.
                The current Petrol engines are very good our current company truck is a 04 2500 CHEVY,, 6.0 LS , 365 K miles and still running strong,I can Guarantee it has never been babied, talk about cost benefit , with the demise of the Ford 300 six, the 6.0 litre LS is what the UPS box vans run for motivation, they have it down to science, so a vote for the LS GM, if I was rodding. that would be my first choice for a powerplant.
                Now unto something a little different, due to all this high priced nanny BS on modern vehicles I cannot afford anyway, been considering heading out to the 4 corners or a little farther south for a little rusted older vehicle that would like a nice 2.8 Cummins, the only thing safety wise I want is a shoulder belt( no face bombs and VSA) a locker would be nice.
                Cummins is supposed to field another crate engine likely the 5.0, they have turned up the 2.8s a bit.
                The” coal rollers” are starting to live hard around here, the Imperial State Troopers are starting to have exhaust systems enforced to a stock configuration, our local Inspection station got in trouble when they were entrapped by the “Imperial State”.

            • I think I can afford that one. I think that you are right though. I would like to something like a modern compact crossover like a CRV or a Ford Escape and put the smallest wheels and highest aspect ratio tires on it that I could get away with. Would have to inflate tires to near max rating. To retain handling characteristics, I would stiffen the roll bars. Compare handling and gas mileage on both versions. Do instrumented tests of handling G-force and push it through a set of pylons.

  25. I had no idea it made that much of a difference. I knew it made a bit, but not to that degree. Double-digit percentages of money – both in fuel and in replacement tires, 18’s being typically more expensive than equivalent 16’s – that’s some serious $$ over the course of a car’s life.

    I’ve upsized wheels a few times but I knew that I was going to lose a click or two on my mpg’s. In those cases though, the goal of those particular cars was to improve exactly what you mentioned, namely cornering and effective total spring rate via increased sidewall stiffness, instead of swapping springs or other suspension components. There is actually a pretty respectable range of handling and performance adjustment possible on most cars just by fiddling with tire pressures and going an inch up or down in wheel size, as well as swapping rubber sway bar bushings for polyurethane. My roley-poley old 2012 Passat SE with 17’s (225/55/17) was pleasant in a straight line but not so hot in the twisties or in my practice of emergency maneuvers (people should practice crazy moves every so often so you’ll know what your car can, but most importantly, CAN’T do when you need it most). And that was with very good tires (P-Zero AS+). Poly sway bar bushings for the OEM bars ($50 or so) and OEM takeoff 18’s (225/45/18, also P-Zero AS+) completely – and I mean radically – altered that car’s entire performance spectrum. Cornering, braking, acceleration, hydroplane resistance. All vastly improved. Straight line highway characteristics however remained almost the same. A little stiffer over the really rough stuff, but still very pleasant and composed under normal conditions. All because I didn’t f*ck with the suspension geometry or mechanical damping and I only lost about 1mpg on the highway mileage as measured over 30k miles. Improving handling does NOT require all sorts of boy racer foolishness in the suspension. Simple, cheap – bushings and tire pressures.

    My current conundrum, and I welcome all replies and advice, is my current car’s wheel/tire situation. It’s a 2017 VW CC with 17×8, 225/45/17 OEM. Your review from way back when specifically mentioned that in your expert opinion, the CC’s only real problem is these Continentals it comes with that aren’t as good as the chassis and suspension could be. You (Eric) said you thought is should have 18’s or at the very least, better 17’s than the Conti’s. Does anyone here think it’s worth going smaller than a 45 series tire, which is already pretty stiff, to an 18″ in 40 series? Would the result be too stiff on long trips so as to become fatiguing or annoying? I’ve got about 6k miles on the car and plan to kill these Conti’s before 20k so I have some time before a decision has to be made. I’d like to hear opinions as I can get my preferred P-Zero AS+ set for around $500 in 17″, whereas going to any decent 18″ set plus tires is going to be $1500 up to gawd only knows how much. Any CC/Passat drivers with 18’s and strong opinions are definitely encouraged to reply!!!

    • I wanted more handling on my El Camino and considered the plus, plus thing on tires and wheels but it was a tow package and I didn’t want to lose any load rating so I spoke with a friend who worked at the local GM dealership who had a T/A with the WS6 package. He said the WS 6 bushings would fit the Elco. He even installed them and got his discount on them. It was night and day and leaving the place on a hard 30mph curve I ran up over the curb not expecting such an increase in steering rate. It was like having a new steering gearbox and shocks and sway bar….but just replacing the bushings and such.

      I installed an aftermarket sway bar on a friends Tahoe and he said it changed it completely, to the point it saved his life by avoiding a wreck and being able to come back up on the pavement instead of ending up at the bottom of a gulch which he said the Tahoe would have never done before. $100 swaybar saved his life and we were both happy.

  26. I put a set of 15″ steel wheels from a Malibu/Saturn on our HHR to replace the 17″ factory wheels. Apart from anything else, I saved almost $200 on a new set of four 205/65R15 tires as opposed to 215/50R17s. It rides better and does better in snow and on gravel. Not sure about the gas mileage but it is sure no worse and might be a little better. We just got overall average of 29.5mpg on a 1500 mile round trip.

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