I grew up with the Pierce Brosnan era of the James Bond franchise, and it became one of the most significant factors in me becoming an automotive enthusiast as I grew into a teenager. What those movies couldn’t prepare me for, though, were the dangers of having too much wheel.
I lived in a household that encouraged me to start working as soon as I could. With a job at 16, and parents co-signing on some debt to help me build credit, we went looking for a car.
The first one I ever test drove was a manual first-gen Mazda RX-7 that had been sitting in my parents’ mechanic’s storage yard for as good as forever. I think he wanted $4,000 for it, and I remember hating the idea of buying it and driving it, because it was a heap of junk I knew would break all the time. Part of my disinterest was also an unfortunate trait I probably picked up from my mom, which was that I liked new things, and not old things.
My parents and I eventually settled on an automatic 2007 Honda Civic Coupe, which I think I ended up paying around $10,000 for. I’ll just say this is well before I had any grasp of the type of car-buying practices common among the Jalopnik community. The Civic was ultimately a good car, but I would be a hero to this day had I’d gone for the RX-7, in hindsight.
But my first car was very boring to me and during my first few years of working, I started reading the popular car websites and made new friends that knew what they were talking about and suddenly the Civic became an embarrassment to teenage Justin. I wanted something nice. I wanted something flashy.
Fast forward to my sister’s search for a used Jeep Wrangler, and I found myself with time to kill on a CarMax lot. I had been web-exploring used BMWs of the Pierce Brosnan James Bond era, with a heavy crush on the E38 7 Series, but interest in the smaller cars of the time as well.
On this CarMax lot I found an E46 3 Series 325ci with a manual, and after arguing with my parents for a long time, I traded in my Civic for it. I loved this car. To this day I consider it the best car I’ve ever owned.
But even with the satisfaction of owning the type of car I’d wanted since childhood, I couldn’t stop myself from manufacturing a new problem to spend money on solving: my car’s 16-inch “Style 43” wheels.
This lead me to my first-ever exploration of Craigslist, on the hunt for 18-inch OEM BMW wheels, to really fill out those subtle E46 fender flares. I found a listing for 18-inch “Style 269” BMW 1 Series wheels that I liked a lot, so I reached out to the seller and arranged to go pick them up in my dad’s truck that weekend.
Upon arrival, I saw the 1 Series with its different wheels on, and I saw the stack of wheels I was there to buy. They looked huge, and I got a little worried. The guy, who seemed very preoccupied the entire time I was there, greeted me and then hit me with, “Oh, by the way, they’re 19-inch wheels, not 18-inch like the listing said, I was confused. Hope that’s ok.”
Almost certain that it was not “ok,” I said, “that should be fine just let me look it up really quick,” and then I proceeded to frantically search through forum after forum on my phone to see if anyone had been stupid enough to put 19-inch wheels on a car manufactured before 19-inch wheels were ever a mainstream option. Some said it could work, depending on wheel width, some said you’d be crazy to try it.
Teenage me decided to cut the check, loaded the wheels, and set up an appointment for new tires. I got very lucky to find they just barely fit when I got home, and I went for a quick test drive and took some very exciting first photos to send to everyone.
But my idiotic choice to not just leave those 19-inch wheels behind and go find some other, smaller wheels I could live with would cost me. When I took the car to get new tires, the people at the tire shop looked at me like I was crazy and told me they probably didn’t have rubber that would fit without rubbing. There are few times in life I’ve felt as frustrated and panicked as I felt then.
But their search showed they had just two options they could put on the wheel. The cheaper one was too big and would rub, and the only option that would fit cost twice as much. Without much of a choice, I went ahead with it, despite not really expecting to spend that kind of money.
Look at how ridiculous it turned out:
Deep in the back of my mind I knew that I looked ridiculous. I was driving a car that screamed “I am a teenager with too much money, officer, please write me the ticket,” and I did get a lot of tickets in my time with the E46. I have never “gotten out of” a ticket in my life.
But the wheels caused me financial hardship in other ways, too. Eventually I became a manager at a place that did food delivery, and one time I was out of drivers and decided to deliver myself to a local barbershop.
I pulled up, walked in, and the entire room of guys started telling me how nice of a car I had. “How do you afford that car with a delivery job? I can’t even afford a car like that.” They asked me questions, like what year, how much power, what size wheels... Then one of them hit me with it.
“You ain’t getting a tip with a car like that.” I forced a laugh, took the receipt signed for exact change, and left.
All of this is to say, please warn your teens about the dangers of putting too much wheel on their car, and to pay attention to the warning signs. Even though they, much like teenage Justin, may not listen to reason.
So listen up teens: bigger wheels will cost more. The tires will cost more. It will be more painful if you rub them. To most people, it will not look better. You will lose money.
All it will do is communicate to everyone you lack taste, judgement, and self control. Take it from me; it will diminish the memories of an otherwise great car. Just don’t do it.