QOTD: Sidewall Salvation?

qotd sidewall salvation

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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  • 902Chris 902Chris on Dec 13, 2019

    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.

  • Gearhead77 Gearhead77 on Dec 13, 2019

    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.

  • Dennis Howerton Nice article, Cory. Makes me wish I had bought Festivas when they were being produced. Kia made them until the line was discontinued, but Kia evidently used some of the technology to make the Rio. Pictures of the interior look a lot like my Rio's interior, and the 1.5 liter engine is from Mazda while Ford made the automatic transmission in the used 2002 Rio I've been driving since 2006. I might add the Rio is also an excellent subcompact people mover.
  • Sgeffe Bronco looks with JLR “reliability!”What’s not to like?!
  • FreedMike Back in the '70s, the one thing keeping consumers from buying more Datsuns was styling - these guys were bringing over some of the ugliest product imaginable. Remember the F10? As hard as I try to blot that rolling aberration from my memory, it comes back. So the name change to Nissan made sense, and happened right as they started bringing over good-looking product (like the Maxima that will be featured in this series). They made a pretty clean break.
  • Flowerplough Liability - Autonomous vehicles must be programmed to make life-ending decisions, and who wants to risk that? Hit the moose or dive into the steep grassy ditch? Ram the sudden pile up that is occurring mere feet in front of the bumper or scan the oncoming lane and swing left? Ram the rogue machine that suddenly swung into my lane, head on, or hop up onto the sidewalk and maybe bump a pedestrian? With no driver involved, Ford/Volkswagen or GM or whomever will bear full responsibility and, in America, be ambulance-chaser sued into bankruptcy and extinction in well under a decade. Or maybe the yuge corporations will get special, good-faith, immunity laws, nation-wide? Yeah, that's the ticket.
  • FreedMike It's not that consumers wouldn't want this tech in theory - I think they would. Honestly, the idea of a car that can take over the truly tedious driving stuff that drives me bonkers - like sitting in traffic - appeals to me. But there's no way I'd put my property and my life in the hands of tech that's clearly not ready for prime time, and neither would the majority of other drivers. If they want this tech to sell, they need to get it right.
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