A Guide to Upgrading Tires and Wheels

Learn the key factors to consider when changing your tires or wheels.

There are a few reasons why car owners upgrade their tires and wheels: Some want to enhance vehicle handling, while others want to improve the look or performance of their car. Here’s a guide on some key things to consider when upgrading your tires and wheels. 

Wheels vs. tires: What’s the difference?

While often used interchangeably, wheels and tires are two completely different things. The wheel is the metal component, made up of the rim and the disc, that’s bolted into a car’s hub at the axle. Tires, on the other hand, are the rubber tread that encompasses the wheel. Both are crucial for proper structure and automotive operation.

Wheel size

The size of your tires and wheels impacts how your vehicle handles and maintains grip on the road. When upgrading your wheels, make sure the replacements are wide enough to provide the traction you need to steer and stop. They should not increase rolling resistance too much.

When determining wheel size, consider your car’s power output. Mismatched wheels can put excessive strain on your drivetrain and transmission, damaging car components. 

Steer clear of narrow wheels as they will negatively affect your car’s handling on different driving surfaces. Many mechanics recommend using the same sized wheels as what was originally on your car. 

Wheel offset

A wheel’s offset is the distance between the hub mounting surface and its centerline. A wheel is said to have a positive offset when the hub mounting surface is more towards the street side, negative offset when the mounting surface is inward away from the road, and zero offset is when the hub mounting surface is even with the wheel’s centerline. 

When selecting replacement wheels, it is important to determine their offset as wheel offset will affect the balance of the car’s suspension. Many car owners look for wheels with a positive offset as they improve vehicle handling. 

Wheel hub

Another important factor to consider when selecting a wheel is its hub size. A wheel’s hub is at its center. The wheel bore—the opening in the center of the wheel—must be the same size as the hub. If the bore is larger than the hub, it won’t fit over it. 

Loose-fitting tires

Steer clear of loose fitting tires as they can cause damage. If you have a front-wheel drive vehicle, use heavier tires in the front. Similarly, use heavier rear wheels on rear-wheel drive cars.

Used tires

Before buying used tires, check to see if there are any holes near the sides. Tire sides expand when pressed, which creates extra pressure on the patch, causing it to pop. 

Tire size

If you are upsizing your tires, do not deviate too much from manufacturer recommendations. A good rule of thumb is that the diameter of new tires should not exceed more than three percent of the diameter of the original tires. 

Do not use tires that are too big or too small as they can impact your vehicle’s ride quality and cause damage to suspension components, and maybe even to the arches of your wheels. A wider tire will improve your car’s handling, but on the flip side, it will decrease your car’s top speed, fuel efficiency, and affect its handling. 

Whether you need new tires for your car or want to get your vehicle serviced, a certified technician at any AAA Owned Auto Repair Center can help. Request an appointment at any of the AAA Owned Auto Repair Centers near you. Or, find a AAA Approved Auto Repair Facility in your neighborhood. AAA Members save 10% on labor costs, up to $75, and receive a 24-month, 24,000-mile warranty on parts and labor.