Low-Profile Tires Are Ruining Modern Cars

The Volkswagen Up GTI I had in France last summer was a dream. It also had 17-inch wheels and low-profile tires. Off the coast, I ran over what seemed to be an innocuous small rock in the road. I knew something was wrong in about the next 10 seconds.


Low-profile tires are all the rage these days, and mostly for aesthetics, as automakers want to project “performance” or whatever. But most people, even the ones who think they are into super hyper ultra performance, don’t need these garbage pieces of rubber.

Sure, they might offer some advantages at the track, but most people don’t spend every day at the track. Most people drive their cars on roads, which develop potholes, which are deadly to low-profile tires. Do you enjoy the stress of driving a car with low-profile tires that could be felled any second by some innocuous-seeming obstruction? Then by all means, feel free to sink your money into low-profile tires.

For the rest of us, I propose a ban. Tires with bigger sidewalls can take more abuse, and they also look better. And when you run over a pothole you don’t end up with a massive repair bill, as our friend Jason Fenske of Engineering Explained recently did in his Tesla Model 3 Performance:

Not much about this vid is surprising—$2,600 to replace two tires and two wheels on a luxury vehicle is about right—but Fenske is totally correct about the uselessness of the Model 3's tires. The pothole that took out his two passenger-side tires did not take out anyone else’s in the one hour and 40 minutes he was stranded on the side of the road.

That’s because those folks either managed to avoid the pothole or had tires with proper sidewalls. Or they just got lucky. At any rate, driving a car with low-profile tires is an invitation to disaster, especially on a car like the Model 3, which, as Fenske points out, weighs over 4,000 pounds, putting even more stress on its 20-inch Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires. (The tire in question is a rather low 35-profile tire, 235/35/20 to be exact. It is yet-lower profile than the 195/40/17 that blew on the VW I was charge with.)

This is not a Tesla problem, or a Volkswagen problem, or anyone’s specific problem, it is a problem with any car with low-profile tires, especially as luxury cars these days try so eagerly to show off their performance bona fides, and get heavier and heavier. I’ll also note that my Honda Fit has tires with big sidewalls. I’ve never punctured them, even hounding the rough roads of NYC.


When that Up GTI with the low pros blew the front passenger side tire I stopped by the side of the road and looked in vain for a spare in the back. Instead, all I could find was some fix-a-flat goo that had the effect of not working at all. I had had the car for a total of about a week.

Illustration for article titled Low-Profile Tires Are Ruining Modern Cars
Photo: Erik Shilling

Remove these things from our lives post-haste.

News Editor at Jalopnik. 2008 Honda Fit Sport.



I know that you can’t always see every pothole, or avoid every pothole in every situation. Let me state that up front. I live in Chicago. Potholes are a way of life. I’ve driven my lowered BRZ into some invisible potholes at night that had the car basically fall onto its front bumper. I’ve also hit potholes violently enough to make me pull over and cry for 5 minutes straight.

HAVING SAID THAT, I’ve been driving around Chicagoland for years now on 18" wheels, with 255/35 tires, and I have never had an issue! I feel like people need to be a little more observant when they drive. I see so many people just barrel over potholes, dead squirrels, bits of debris, seemingly without even noticing them. Like, come on, a dead squirrel doesn’t take much effort to avoid! People will just plow over all manner of horrific road hazards without a care in the world, and it makes me wonder if they are paying attention to where they are going at all.

This was my first proper car that I modded, and I knew the risks of moving to an 18" wheel, and I was just as worried about tire damage as you guys are (especially with my previous vehicle being an old Outback with a sidewall many inches taller), but I’ve been amazed at the abuse that this setup can take without any seeming ill effects whatsoever, and I also think that my being an intelligent human being with a pair of eyes that can be used to scan the road and avoid nasty hazards has also played a huge role.

Now, none of this is an argument against fatter wheels. For the general public, a fatter wheel will always make more sense for durability, cost, and many other reasons. I just wanted to say that my personal, anecdotal experience no longer has me yelling, “YOUR TIRES WILL BE BORKED WITHIN A WEEK,” when I see someone tossing some low-profiles on their vehicle.