The Only Good Thing About Low-Profile Tires Is When You Get To Replace Them

Screenshot: Engineering Explained

Low-profile tires are ruining modern cars, but that doesn’t mean you have to live with these monstrosities.

Automakers these days are simply too cowardly to not put higher-profile tires on performance versions of their cars. Those tires might have some advantages at the track, but as I’ve said before, most people don’t go to the track. And low-profile tires have one huge disadvantage for regular driving: they go flat quite easily, as I discovered myself last year in France.

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This is because cars are pretty heavy these days, and all that weight is sitting on what seem like ever tinier sidewalls. Having a small sidewall also increases the likelihood of the road impacting and possibly damaging the wheel itself, since there is less distance between the road and the wheel.

All of which our friend at Engineering Explained, Jason Fenske, found out recently in his Tesla Model 3 Performance. Fenske blew out two tires and damaged two wheels driving over a pothole that other drivers didn’t seem to be felled by, the aftermath ($2,600 for new wheels, tires, and installation) of which he talked about in a video.

Fenske knew getting a new set of low-profile tires would fix only the short-term problem, though. What his Model 3 needed were tires with bigger sidewalls, which would also require some smaller wheels.

Fenske ended up getting some 18-inch wheels from T Sportline, a company that makes aftermarket wheels and things for Teslas. Fenske’s wheels in particular are two inches shorter in diameter than what the Model 3 Performance originally comes with, and allowed for tires that have 2.75 inches of sidewall, or 0.75 inches more than stock tires. The aftermarket tires and wheels are also cheaper to replace, are nearly nine pounds lighter.

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Fenske talks about how the bigger-profile tires also help you to avoid curbing your wheels, since the rubber bulges out a bit more, but let’s cut to the thing we really want to know: Performance tests. Fenske explains in the video how the smaller wheel could make for quicker acceleration (something about “moment of inertia” that, well, is more physics than you really need to know) and in his tests—same road, same conditions, same Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, basically the same tire pressure—the smaller wheels did indeed come out on top.

The average zero to 60 mph run for the small tires was 3.34 seconds, while the average for the 20-inch tires was 3.42 seconds, times which might otherwise seem a little high for the Model 3 Performance though, as Fenske explains, he did his tests with no rollout.

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The 20-inch tires did stop slightly shorter than the 18-inch wheels in Fenske’s testing, besting them by a couple feet from 60 mph. But that result was surprising in that Fenske said he expected the 20-inch tires to be better, because the Pilot Sport 4S tires that are original equipment are wider and flatter than the generic Pilot Sport 4S tires used on the 18-inch wheels, since the original equipment tires are Tesla-specific. They have more rubber on the road, in other words, which should get you more stopping power, and does, but apparently not that much more.

One more possible difference: handling, which Fenske doesn’t test directly, but he does say that both the Tesla-specific and the generic Michelin’s have roughly the same size outer edge, even with the Tesla-specific Michelin being wider, so he doesn’t expect much difference. And while all of this testing is admittedly not completely scientific (Fenske is careful to explain all the caveats), it does suggest that, if anything with a higher-profile tire, you probably won’t notice the difference.

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You will also have less fear of a flat, which may be all the reason you need.

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About the author

Erik Shilling

News Editor at Jalopnik. 2008 Honda Fit Sport.