Why You Should Downsize Your Winter Wheels

Smaller wheels and tires perform better in winter conditions.

Snow tires with chains
Dormitori / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons

So, you've decided on an extra set of wheels to put your snow tires on. If you've got 17”, 18” or even larger wheels on your car in the summer, you really should be thinking about downsizing your winter set to 16”, or even 15” if you can. The benefits are quite clear.

Performance

A 16” wheel will usually also be 2” narrower than an 18” wheel, and so take a tire that is both smaller in diameter and narrower.

A smaller and narrower tire has better grip and performance in snow or ice. This is both because the smaller tire cuts through snow more effectively, and because the weight of the car is pressing on a more focused set of contact patches.

Economy

Smaller wheels, whether alloy or steel are usually quite a bit less expensive than larger ones. Steel wheels are quite a bit less expensive than alloy, and most steel rims are going to be 16” or under anyway. Not only are smaller wheels less expensive, but smaller tires are too, especially with snow tires. 17” snow tires are more expensive than 16”, but 18” snow tires are much more expensive than 17”, and the price curve gets even steeper beyond 18”.

Once you have decided on a wheel size, you'll need to determine the proper tire size Make sure your car can take smaller wheels before you buy anything, as some cars, especially high-performance cars have oversized brake calipers or other modifications that make it impossible to fit wheels smaller than the OEM size.