2018 Ford Expedition

The 2018 Ford Expedition offers up to 22-inch standard rims. Manufacturers have moved toward larger rims and tires for looks and traction, but smaller sizes can improve speed and comfort.


Some automotive observers contend that the days of cars as status symbols or offering sex appeal — particularly for younger owners — is waning.

But one automotive accessory goes against the grain: wheel rims and tires.

Many new vehicles today are equipped with standard rims of 16 or 17 inches and offer optional sizes up to 20 inches or more. A couple decades ago, 13-inch rims were not uncommon on smaller models.

Custom shops showcase tricked out designs and offer wheel "spinners," but prized rims no matter their other perks typically are super-sized, up to 28 inches or so.

According to car watchers, larger rims can provide driving benefits such as stability and a shorter braking distance. But the foremost reason involves looks.

"Larger wheels give cars a more aggressive stance and greater stage presence, which is why automakers install king-size rims on concept cars. They look cool," Rick Popely wrote in a Cars.com article last October.

A 2014 piece in Auto Insider on "seven advantages and disadvantages of bigger wheels" put it this way: "Wheels can have a huge visual impact when it comes to overall appearance of your car and most of us would like to get a set of bigger meaner wheels for our ride."

A factor in the growing average size of wheels has to do with the surge in truck and SUV sales, which require fairly large tires and rims compared with typically smaller passenger cars. Yet even the 2018 Honda Fit, considered a subcompact, includes 16-inch black alloy wheels on its Sport model, which starts at $17,500.

Also three years ago, Consumer Reports took a look at "plus-size tires" and concluded that larger tires and the wheels to mount them on can handle and corner better. But the oversized wheels tend to lose grip in snow or inclement weather; so they’re a better deal for drivers in warmer, drier climates.

"Figure on at least $1,000 for four plus-one (a size larger than normal) wheels and tires for a car and $5,000 or more for the largest plus sizes sold for SUVs and pickups," the guide noted.

In addition, a wider and larger performance tire and wheel package "handles like a dream," according to Auto Insider. Wider tires make more contact with the road, which decreases the braking distance. Stiffness from larger wheels adds to stability.

But larger rims and tires have their foibles, too. They weigh more and make the engine work harder than smaller wheels, slowing acceleration and boosting fuel consumption; they offer a less comfortable ride because there’s more road contact; and even for a set of "average wheels with decent tires," they drive up the cost to $2,000 or more, the online site pointed out.