Why You Should Downsize Your Winter Wheels

Snow tires with chains

Dormitori/CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia Commons

So, you've decided to invest in an extra set of wheels to put your snow tires on for winter driving. The question now becomes: Should those winter wheels be smaller than what you currently have on your car or should they be the same size?

Most car experts agree that if you run your vehicle with 17-inch, 18-inch, or even larger-sized wheels during the spring, summer, and fall, you really should consider downsizing your winter set of wheels to 16-inch, maybe even 15-inch, if possible. There are a number of benefits to doing so, both when it comes to performance and to economics.

Measuring Tire Size

Make sure your car can take smaller wheels before you buy anything. Some cars, especially high-performance vehicles, have oversized brake calipers or other modifications that make it impossible to fit wheels smaller than the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) size. Once you have decided on a wheel size, then you can determine the proper tire size.


While it might seem logical that larger tires do better in snow and ice—there's more surface area with which to "grip" the road—small tires and wheels actually have the superior advantage when it comes to grip and performance. It's a matter of simple physics. A smaller and narrower tire with a higher profile has better traction in deep snow and slush and is much less likely to aquaplane on the ice and in the rain. Furthermore, the smaller tire cuts through snow more effectively because the weight of the car is pressing on a more focused set of contact patches. Wide, low profile tires don't roll so much as "plow," which is a much more unstable action in the snow and ice.

Economy and Storage Considerations

Smaller wheels, whether alloy or steel, are usually quite a bit less expensive than larger ones. Steel wheels are quite a bit less expensive than alloy, and most steel rims are going to be sized at 16 inches or under anyway. Not only are smaller wheels less expensive, but smaller tires are, too, especially snow tires. While 17-inch snow tires are more expensive than 16-inch, 18-inch snow tires are much more expensive. The price curve gets even steeper beyond 18 inches.

Finally, because you'll need to store your snow tires/wheels for roughly eight months out of the year, they'll take up much less storage space if they're smaller.