Air Intake 57-2540 for Ford

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Parts of a wheelPutting custom wheels on your vehicle can spice up your ride to bring back some of that new-car excitement. New wheels can also improve driving performance.

But choosing tires and wheels for today’s automobiles is a lot more complex than it used to be, given all the smart technology built into modern vehicles and the huge variety of tire types now available.

Before you buy, it’s good to know about the tradeoffs that come with changing your wheel and tire size. Your choices may affect handling. In some vehicles there could be a sacrifice in all-season traction, in others it may enhance it. You’ll likely get more responsiveness, with your ride more sensitive to road conditions than what you felt with OE (original equipment wheel and tire package). Your tire tread life could be improved or shortened.

It’s also good to have a basic understanding of fitment, meaning what wheel-tire sizes can be properly mounted on your vehicle. Without knowing, you risk a setup that could affect vehicle clearance, cause vibration issues and alter your ride quality. The wrong package can cause contact with fenders, inner fenders, struts, shocks, tie rods, brake calipers and other suspension parts.

Here’s what to know about choosing wheel-tire packages that will meet your driving goals and correctly fit your vehicle.

First, some terminology: are wheels and rims the same?

People often refer to wheels and rims as the same thing. The rim is actually part of the full wheel. It’s the outermost part of the wheel. It supports the tire and creates an airtight seal.

The wheel refers to the whole shebang. It’s a metal disc with spokes and a specific bolt pattern (the pattern of holes) where fasteners called lug nuts or lug bolts attach the wheel to the vehicle’s hub.

The rim and wheel can either be manufactured as one unit or a multi-piece assembly. For this article, we’ll assume the wheel and rim are one unit, and call it the wheel.

Rim width and wheel diameter graphicKnow Your Fitment to Choose Custom Wheels

Any vehicle will have a range of wheel/tire diameter sizes of several inches that will fit properly. This gives you some flexibility when you want to tailor wheel size for looks and performance.

Wheels are measured in inches, by diameter and rim width. The wheel diameter is how wide the wheel is across the center in inches. Rim width is the measurement from bead seat to bead seat (how wide the wheel is looking at it head on). For example, here’s a graphic showing sizing for a 17” x 8.5” wheel:

To find wheel and tire packages that will work for your vehicle, start by collecting wheel diameter, tire width and tire aspect ratio.

1. Find your wheel diameter.

This is the distance between the two bead seats, the flat spots where the edges of the tire get hugged securely onto the wheel. This measurement will be stamped on the wheel, item E in the graphic below.

2. Find the width of your existing tires.

Tire width is the measurement in millimeters (mm) from side to side looking at the tire head on. It’s marked on the tire sidewall, item B in the graphic below.

3. Find your tire’s aspect ratio.

This number is branded on your tire sidewall, item C in the graphic. The aspect ratio is a percentage. It’s the sidewall height divided by tire width. More specifically, it’s the height of the sidewall measured from wheel rim to top of the tread, expressed as a percentage of tire width. Our example tire has an aspect ratio of 65.

What tire sidewall numbers and codes meanA change in the aspect ratio usually means the tire sidewall height changes. This will result in driving performance differences.

Wheel Size and Driving Goals

With these three measurements, you have a baseline of what tire-wheel package sizing works on your vehicle. Now consider your driving goals and style preferences.

“I’m just after chill looks.”

Say you just want to personalize a vehicle to make it your own. If you’re all about the aesthetics but don’t want to change your current ride performance, it’s easy: You can keep the same sizing but swap out your wheels for something showier.

“I want better acceleration and cornering.”

If you love driving and are looking for performance enhancements, aftermarket wheels can play a role. Choosing a larger-diameter wheel will decrease the tire's sidewall height. This adds responsiveness. You’ll notice higher stability and better cornering. You’ll achieve that low-profile style you’re after. Done correctly, larger wheels can improve acceleration and reduce braking distance. You’ll feel more road feedback.

Bigger diameter wheels can also mean shorter tire life and higher price points than conventional sizes. You may feel bumps in the pavement a bit more. On full-sized pickup trucks, a larger tire and wheel package can mean you may not get as tight a turning radius as before.

Another consideration for truck owners could be weight. The maximum plus size wheel-tire package for light trucks and SUVs may make the setup heavier than OE, depending on the type of wheel you pick. A heavier setup could mean longer stopping distances along with increased suspension and brake wear.

“I want something sporty looking but I still want the smoothest ride.”

Smaller wheels are mounted with tires that have a higher aspect ratio, resulting in a more comfortable ride with less road feedback. With taller sidewall tires, you’ll feel more flex when you turn corners, and you may notice a difference in handling. This sort of package manages impacts like potholes, speed bumps and debris better, protecting the wheels from damage.

Getting into smaller wheels isn’t possible with every vehicle due to fitment. If you do have some room to go smaller, you’ll have lots of tire tread design possibilities.

“I’m planning to run my wheel-tire package year-round.”

Wheel Plus Sizing Explained

When you’re shopping for wheels you’ll come across some standard sizing terms. OE (original equipment) is the base wheel size. It’s what came standard on the vehicle from the factory.

Plus sizing is when you boost wheel diameter. Minus sizing means you’re getting into a smaller wheel. Plus 1 sizing is increasing wheel diameter by an inch. Minus 2 sizing is downsizing wheels by two inches.

You can also keep the wheel diameter the same but mount a lower-profile tire (the tread gets wider, the aspect ratio changes, but the height of the sidewall remains the same). This is called Plus 0 sizing.

18-inch wheels on a Ford Edge Hub assembly with bolt pattern

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