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Buying a Car: The Drawbacks to Bigger Wheels

If you’re interested in buying a car, you might be tempted to go with a more expensive trim level in order to get larger, more attractive wheels. Likewise, if you’ve recently bought a car, you might be tempted to spend big money upgrading the wheels in order to make your car more attractive. But are there any downsides to larger wheels? We think so, and we’re sharing them with you before you sign the papers on your new car — or buy a new set of wheels — so you know what to expect.

Ride Quality

One major drawback to larger wheels is ride quality. While larger wheels certainly look nice, they often negatively affect a vehicle’s ride quality, as they include less tire sidewall than smaller wheels. The result is that you feel bumps more easily, which can really put a damper on your shiny new set of wheels.

Admittedly, moving up 1 inch probably won’t affect ride quality too much — but 2 or 3 inches can start to have a major effect that might become uncomfortable over time if you prefer a smooth ride.

Money Loss

Larger wheels also might actually lose you some money. One way is by delivering poor fuel economy, as larger wheels require more force to turn, thus increasing the engine’s workload — and dropping your vehicle’s gas mileage. And while many drivers disagree on exactly how much your fuel economy will drop when you increase your gas mileage, there’s undoubtedly a negative correlation between wheel size and fuel economy.

And then there’s the money you’ll lose when you go to sell your car. Automakers often charge $1,000 or more to upgrade your wheels to a slightly larger design — and aftermarket wheels can sometimes run well over $2,000. Unfortunately, like many options or aftermarket modifications, you’re unlikely to see this money back, as larger wheels are not usually an item that commands a premium on the used-car market. As a result, if you’re upgrading to larger wheels, make sure you’re doing it for your own pleasure — because you might lose your investment.

Larger wheels can also have a financial effect when it comes time to buy tires. Specifically, larger wheels generally require more expensive tires, usually in a larger size or with a lower profile than standard tires. The result is that you may end up paying more on tires if you opt for a larger wheel size.

Our Take

Although we don’t intend to discourage you from buying a car with larger wheels (or buying larger wheels than you already have), it’s important to understand that there are several potential drawbacks if you upgrade your wheel size, such as ride quality and cost. Keep these in mind before opting for a bigger wheel for your vehicle.

Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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