Have you noticed how big tires have gotten? As I was walking through the shop today, I passed a 1991 Volvo 240 wagon with 14″ wheels. They looked nice but also seemed extremely small next to these 16″ wheels from a nearby 2009 Volvo wagon. Why is it that wheels have gotten so big? Were engines not big enough to handle the circumference of larger tires? In some cases, that was probably the case. My 1976 Honda CVCC had 12″ wheels and an itty-bitty engine. But my 1982 Jaguar XJ-S V12 only had 15″ wheels. Most modern economy cars have at least 16″ wheels. So, why the difference in tire sizes from then to now?
One of our Volvo mechanics suggested that larger wheels are just for style. I agree that much of the difference is just styling. Look at any artist’s rendition of a new model and the wheels are 20″ or bigger. They make the car stand out in a crowd. That’s probably why some people have jacked up cars with 30″ rims (that’s 2 1/2 feet, ya know?). They’re not very practical but they make you look. I’m no expert on this subject but have noticed that rims have gotten bigger while tire height has gotten smaller. Almost every car today comes with low profile tires and are lucky to have three inches between the rim and the road! Why is that? Popular Mechanics has the answer:
“Low-profile tires do seem to be popping up on a lot more cars these days, but they’re being offered for several reasons. Bigger wheels and skinnier sidewalls in a normal-size wheel well mean manufacturers can make room inside the wheel for larger brakes. Thin sidewalls are also stiffer and deliver better cornering and road feel. Let’s not avoid the obvious, though—low-profile tires just look cooler than regular tires.”
There you go. I guess the Volvo mechanic was right!