By on December 12, 2019

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

In keeping with this month’s theme of “winter is coming” (perhaps it’s already arrived where you live), denizens of the sun belt with their blemish-free highways will have to put up with another question that hardly applies to their lifestyle.

We’ve asked you in the recent past about winter rubber, and even implored you to share the contents of your trunk, but today we’re going to discuss aspect ratio. With winter comes potholes, and it continues to amaze this writer the number of people who choose style over steelies, forgoing the wheel-protecting cushion afforded by a taller tire.

Obviously, your author’s choice of winter rubber does not match the aspect ratio of his summer tires. Going down in wheel size and up in sidewall height is a tradition around these parts; last evening’s blinding lake-effect snow squall hammered home the point that Mother Nature is only just gearing up.

With her wrath comes the proliferation of potholes following numerous freeze-thaw cycles. Adam knows it, which is why he shod his new MKX in 18-inchers for the coming season, replacing the 20-inchers his Lincoln arrived with.

The lowly Cruze parked outside Casa Steph may have arrived with factory 15-inchers (GM clearly spared no expense), but those rims were quickly set aside for winter duty the moment the new chariot arrived. Gone are the embarrassing 195/65 Continental all-seasons, replaced with mid-grade Goodyear 205/65 snows with a little more meat on their bones. Summer stock wraps around larger 16-inch wheels. The previous-gen Cruze, which afforded buyers better wheel selection, donned 215/60 R16 winter rubber in place of its 215/55 R17 summer hoops.

Besides the buffer provided by extra rubber and air between your vehicle’s wheel and the menacing road surface, a taller, perhaps narrower tire digs in a bit better in the deep stuff, and a stock steelie resists the unbalancing effects of snow and ice buildup better than a wide-open alloy job. There’s also the basic issue of ride quality when road surfaces go to pot. Which is why I question the benefits of outfitting an expensive(ish) vehicle with the same sized winter rubber as summer; even more so when the owner chooses to just swap tires and not wheels.

Style over (relative) peace of mind, I guess. To each their own.

To those of you in the snow belt, what’s your go-to winter tire swap? Are you like so many others who downsize their wheels in order to upsize their sidewall?

[Image: Steph Willems/TTAC]

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45 Comments on “QOTD: Sidewall Salvation?...”

  • avatar

    “a taller, narrower tire digs in a bit better in the deep stuff,”

    So help me understand why you went from a stock 195/65 to a wider 205/65, if narrower is better.

  • avatar

    17” rims wrapped in 37” tires, what’s a pothole? My KO2s glide over road imperfections with ease.

  • avatar

    Tall, slim with lots of sidewall. For those mean streets

  • avatar

    I’ll stick with the stock 19” hoops on my Accord this winter — I’ve already discovered a small bit of curb rash to have addressed in the spring under the wheel/tire warranty I purchased. Hopefully that’ll be the worst of it. I know where potholes become an issue on 90% of the roads I usually drive, which has saved my backside in the past. (Unlike my Dad, for example, who’s cut three tires in the last 20 years!)

    Perhaps next year, after a year of wear, I might minus-one to a set of snows.

  • avatar

    To answer the question. I’m going to try to get by with the factory 20 inch ” rubber bands ” that came with my 19 FWD Impala Premier.

    Lake effect snow isn’t a huge factor, here on the north shore of lake Ontario . That being said , it does snow and gets bitter cold, and the pot holes can and will eat tires and wheels .

    The Bridgestone all season with 7500 KLMs ( 4600 miles ) have “so far” been adequate .

    The factory all seasons on my previous vehicle (2015 EB Mustang ) could be down right frightening on a snow covered road . I went with the Michelin X ICE, sized as close as I could , to the point of buying matching OEM wheels .

    I’m an aesthetics guy . The styling of the Epsilon Impala can be a little subjective ?? IMHO the tires and wheels make the car . Steelies, and higher profile tires ???..Yuck !!

  • avatar

    Snow? Lol.

  • avatar

    My comment is awaiting moderation , I haven’t the slightest idea why ??

  • avatar

    Here in the Sunbelt (at least in North Texas) we’re more likely to get ice than snow. At least with snow you have some traction. With ice? Stay home.

  • avatar

    So is Lol a four-letter word now?


  • avatar

    For narrow, bite-through-the-snow tires it’s hard to beat the Ford Model T. 3-1/2″ wide, or 89mm.

  • avatar

    Agree with the writer, up until steelies alone are considered OK. Wheel covers, which are super cheap and now come in numerous attractive styles, are a necessary addition. Otherwise in cold climates the whole car looks like a POS almost half the year, in which case the owner should just buy the cheapest car available and give up ;)

    • 0 avatar

      What about buying some steelies and having them chromed?

    • 0 avatar

      I have to disagree on the steelies. Plastic doesn’t belong anywhere near a wheel. May as well glue on a plastic hood scoop too.
      Naked steelies show you mean business.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve always run naked steelies, if I’m not able to find a decent set of cast off OEM alloys. Guess I’m just cheap.

        Town&Country traded its factory 225/65R17s on the OE 9 spoke alloys for some cheapo cast off 17 inch steelies off a junkyard Pacifica, with the same 225/65R17 profile for my Falken Eurowinter snow tires. The larger 2012+ brakes on these vans a) keep me from using 16 inch wheels. B) I ended up needing to buy 1/4 inch spacers to clear even 17 inch steelies due to the offset of the Pacifica rims.

  • avatar

    If you had an extra $26,900 laying around, you could just buy this:

  • avatar

    Moderation, shmoderation!

    First the “Read all comments” nonsense, now this.

    This place is getting worse by the day.

  • avatar

    Good looking steelies are possible. The 14” wheels on most Volvo 240s looked perfectly fine. They did have a center cap covering the lugnuts. In hindsight, maybe that center cap wasn’t a great idea; a lot of them were broken in service by owners and by mechanics. (It was a two piece center cap where you popped out the small piece first- easy to do for anyone with the mental capacity to open the owner’s manual… oh and be able to read a picture book.)

    There are other examples of good looking steelies in automotive history, you just gotta look.

  • avatar
    Joshua Johnson

    For my Infiniti QX70S née FX50S:

    “people who choose style over steelies”

    Insert “Why not both?” meme.

    Summer is Infiniti OEM 21″ wheels with 265/45 and no absorption capacity at all.

    Winter is Infiniti OEM 18″ wheels with 255/60 and supreme absorption. The 2005-era G35 wheels fit over the Akebono brakes perfectly. Nokian Hakkapeliitta winter tires are really good.

  • avatar

    My car came with 19″ rims and summer tires (20’s are optional with even slimmer rim protectors); I put snow tires on the 18″ OEM “base” rim in the same size as the tires these rims come with from the factory. Feels good to have a high-quality rim and exactly the right-sized package (including offset). So many people ditch their OEM rims and put them on Craigslist or Kijiji…a bargain bonanza for people who live in winter.

  • avatar

    No where near snow here in FL and yet I still went from 19/20 down to 18/19s on my C7 to gain sidewall. I hate the look and ride of low profile tires. They are expensive, difficult to mount and your one pothole or curb away from a bent, scratched or cracked wheel. No thanks. Those alligator curbs / rumble strips on Sebring are not very forgiving.

  • avatar

    We don’t get a foot of snow a year here but I like sidewall anyway. They ride better and to my eye they look better too. I got the dealer to swap the factory dubs on my old Ram for 17s from another truck. I went out of my way to find a 301A Ford with 17s in lieu of the 18s that the 302As all come with. If I buy a Challenger next year as planned the first thing that it’s going to get are 18″ take offs.

    • 0 avatar

      The nice thing about trucks and sporty cars lots of people like to customize them with fancy wheels so you can frequently find take offs in good condition cheap. My truck is running on some take offs, that are a +1 as are my Daughter’s summer tires. In both cases nice condition factory wheels with tires that had less than 1000 miles on them cost less than the tires alone would have before tax, mounting and balancing.

  • avatar

    For me it depends on what the vehicle originally came with. Often times I use the factory aluminum wheels for the winter tires and the summer tires get a +1 or maybe +2 wheel. In other cases I do run my summer tires on the factory wheels and get a -1 for the winter tires. In yet other cases I use the factory sizes for the winter and go +0 for the summer tires.

    No steelies here, they are more likely to get packed with snow and hold it that most aluminum wheels.

  • avatar

    My low trim Jetta wagon came with 55 series rubber on 16″ steelies. Having little affection for the plastic wheel covers, when the OEM rubber gave out, the new skins went on a set of OEM VW 16″ alloys, so the 16″ steelies were available for being winter pothole sacrifices.

    However, I found on eBay a set of 4 Dunlop snows, of the correct size for my wagon, already mounted on correct size VW 16″ steelies, for less than what only 2 new snows would cost, located nearby. So, I ended up with 8 VW steelies, spares for the spares.

    Already paid off. Last winter I dinked one of the snow tire steelies. So had the snow pulled off the bent rim and installed on one of the spare steelies.

  • avatar

    More sidewall is better in general for daily driving. The TourX comes with 18 which are fine but some of the forum members are trying to figure out 20 in fitments. My reaction is: “Why Though?” Bigger sway bar? Maybe. Better tires? Absolutely. Less sidewall? NO.

    The only thing I miss about my Highlander with 17 in rims is the tall sidewalls.

  • avatar

    My little econobox came from the factory with 55 profile tires on 15″ steelies. Even for the summer setup, I wasn’t going to go for any less sidewall, so the factory all-season tires got put on a set of used aftermarket wheels, and the original steelies are now wearing winter tires (I rattle-canned the wheel covers too, a perpetually grey car in perpetually grey skies is dreary enough).

  • avatar

    Not so much a matter of style as a matter of using what was on hand.

    My Highlander is the only car in the household we’d ever drive in snow for any reason. When I got it, three of the four ugly factory “Chromtec” wheels were curb-rashed. So I got the dealer to cover a take-off set of wheels, same size but in good condition and of a much more appealing style, from a newer Highlander SE. That leaves me with four ugly Chromtecs, only one of which is sellable for any significant money (as they are essentially impossible to repair). The only reasonable thing to do with them is put snow tires on them. So as soon as our youngest is skiing age I will do exactly that.

  • avatar

    If I could have found steelies, I would have bought them. It’s an interesting exercise to try to find the damned things. As it is I bought a set of import alloys and applying the “minus-one” formula (wheel and width minus one inch).

    I did use the formula to calculate absolute tire diameter and matched it as closely as possible to that of my summer tires. Doing so, my odometer and speedometer are still pretty accurate.

  • avatar

    To be completely honest I stuck with the same tire size that came on my car from the factory when I went to go get new tires. Ultimately I ended up with a set of General Exclaim HPX all seasons in 205/50R17’s. First real winter test was yesterday and they performed admirably.

  • avatar

    I grew up in PA and lived there until I was 27, and also spent some time in Delaware.

    I agree with the author that for newer cars, not downsizing is really sacrificing safety for style. On older cars,(lets say the 70’s and 80’s) where 16″ wheels were considered pretty large, and steel with a cover was standard, just changing tires made sense. But today, when entry level family sedans are coming with 17″, 18″, and sometimes 19″ tires, downsizing is the way to go for winter tires.

    But I would like to have more sidewall in general. I wish auto manufacturers would offer taller, more narrow wheel/true combos. I always look for OEM wheels from smaller models that may have the same lug pattern as my ride, so I can have more sidewall. That worked on the Q7, where I took of the 19″ wheels, and put on some 17″ wheels from the same year A6. I had to look hard to find the right tires, but it was such a quieter, smooth cruiser after that. It did make the Q7 look more truck-like though, which was not the intent.

    I have not been as successful with the Q5, as even the A4 from that year came in 17’s and 18’s, just like the Q5. So, really, not a significant enough change to warrant the research time and labor to do it. Especially since I do not have to worry about cold weather now.

  • avatar

    I had to buy a new set of winter tires for my C-Max. The previous owner included a set that was OEM sized at 225-50/17, so as a result I bought some 17″ steel rims from an Escape so I’m locked into 17″.

    I figured with the 17″ rims, a little more sidewall would be good, so I took Tirerack’s advice and chose a 215-55/17. So far it’s working out okay with no noticeable speedometer difference. And the Blizzak WS80s are much better than the Firestone Winterforce garbage that came with the car.

  • avatar

    16″ steel wheels with hub caps all year long on our Odyssey, with dedicated winter tires. It’s a van. It’s fine.

  • avatar

    Bought Mazda steelies for winter for my 6. Instead of solid black crap, they look like cheap alloys and are silver-painted with a center wheelnut hubcap. And the steel is thick beyond my past experience. $90 each Canuck bucks for the 17 inchers. Avoided the 19 inch wheels Mazda puts on its higher end turbos when I bought new and got the 225/55-17 on the lower end turbo. So no downsizing for winter – I got the high end Toyo snows with walnut shells in the rubber. The older version did really well on my last car, and are quiet. I actually prefer them to the OEM all-season Yokahamas which are allergic to rain, and have dull steering response in the dry.

  • avatar

    Canadian here – a downsized rim with a taller sidewall and a narrower path is the way to go. This can be a challenge. Most major tire retailers balk at selling you anything different than what the door placard says. Additionally some SUVs and CUV owners are no better off. The manufacturer designs their ride with low profile “sporty” 50 series tires, negating the reason for buying something different than a sedan.

    My Crosstrek came with 225/60/17s. According to Subaru that’s the smallest rim size you can use, and partially true as many 16″ rims (OEM and aftermarket) foul on the brake calipers. With a little measuring I was able to fit some Forester XT rims, and I’ve been rolling on 215/70/16 winters for a few seasons now.

  • avatar

    I used to use steelies, but was lucky enough to find 18″ alloy wheels on closeout from Tire Rack for our 17 Sienna SE for snow tires instead of buying 19″ snows and swapping them off every season. It was something ridiculous like $75/wheel for wheels that were originally $125 a wheel. They were also gunmetal,blending nicely with the Pre-Dawn Mica that the van wears.

    For my ’17 Golf, I was able to find close-out 17″ wheels also on Tire Rack that were a decent pattern ( look alike R-type wheels, but not quite and not nearly as expensive) to replace the 16″ factory alloys that now wear the snow tires. The low price on the wheels allowed me to wrap them with Michelin Pilot AS3 tires, which really wakes up the handling of the Golf over the 16″ Hankook Optimos it came with.

    I try to go down a size in winter, it seems to help absorb the impact of our awful Pittsburgh roads. And usually cheaper too.

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