Low Profile Tires: The Complete Guide

Nothing says sleek and sporty like a car built for speed and precision with tires that allow drivers to push … Continued

Nothing says sleek and sporty like a car built for speed and precision with tires that allow drivers to push their cars to the limit. Nowadays, low profile tires are becoming mainstream thanks to the aesthetically pleasing effect they have on the overall appearance of automobiles. However, there is more to low profile tires than just their appealing form.

What are Low Profile Tires?

 Low profile tires first made an appearance in the world of automobiles in the late sixties with the introduction of the P7, which was the first high-performance low profile tire. This brand of tires soon became a BMW and Porsche 911 Turbo favorite. Nowadays, low profile tires have crossed over from sports arenas and autodromes to the mainstream market. You can find them on sedans like the Honda Accord and on high-end cars like the Audi and Lexus.  Not all tires are created equal, so knowing the difference between a regular tire and a low profile tire is necessary when it comes to buying a brand new set for your ride. If you look at the sidewall of your tires, you will find a code that shows you its aspect ratio, which is basically the ratio of the width of the tire to its height. Low profile tires have a lower aspect ratio and a shorter sidewall than normal tires. For example, if your car has the numbers P215/65 R15 on the sidewall, then the number after the slash mark is the aspect ratio. In this case, the number 65 tells you that the height is equal to 65 percent of the width. A tire with a 50 aspect ratio or less  is usually considered to be low profile. The narrower the sidewall, the larger the wheel, and that is the reason why cars with low profile tires are blessed with this coveted sportier look.

Low Profile Tires: The Complete Guide

Characteristics of Low Profile Tires

The automotive industry is a well-oiled machine that continues to grow and evolve, and this  applies to tire design and development. Low profile tires have had their fair share of innovation and metamorphosis over the years. During the seventies, tires carrying the title of low profile had to have an aspect ratio of 80 or less, which shows just how far tire technology has come. Low profiles have a tread that guards the interior, ensuring a higher grip on the road. They are also equipped with steel belts that gives them more stiffness and a thick shoulder that guards the interior against shock and damage. The flexible sidewall shields the interior while the bread wires hold the tire to the rim. Every component adds to the overall durability and maneuverability of the tires,  so it is not surprising that the poster child for tires was the 205/55 R16, which has become the go-to tire size for middle range cars in continents like Europe. However, due to the absence of rim protection, it is no longer listed as low profile. Nowadays, many drivers can tell the difference between regular tires and low profile ones by checking if the tire comes with rim protection. This type of protection is commonly used in tires with an aspect ratio of 55 or below, which is another important characteristic of low profile tires as mentioned above.

Low Profile Tires Wear and Tear

Improved road grip and stability are what makes low profile tires popular in the world of sports cars and luxury vehicles. This, however, comes at the expense of their longevity, causing them to wear faster. The reason behind this is that tires built for speed and traction are made of softer materials that are prone to damage. So before you purchase low profiles, you need to figure out if they are compatible with both your car and driving style. For example, are you in the habit of using your vehicle to transport heavy machinery? If yes, then you need check the load index of the low profile tires that you intend to buy. The load index combined with the size and the speed rate of the tires are carefully set by manufacturers to make them last as much as any other tires on the market. In addition, both the tread and bead are reinforced in order to make them more durable. Generally speaking, there are certain habits we do while driving that can damage tires, especially low profile ones, such as cornering too hard at high speed, hitting the brakes without slowing down , or even driving without the correct tire pressure. Thankfully, run flat tire technology is now available to save drivers the hassle of changing tires on the side of the road. Bad driving habits aside , low profile tires have one enemy in common and that is none other than the pothole. Sinking into one of those holes is a recipe for disaster and may cause serious damage to your tires.

Low Profile Tires and Suspension

Many newer vehicles today come with their own set of low profile tires, meaning that the suspension system was built to complement them, hence adding to their longevity and durability. Specially designed electronic or pressurized suspension kits are an example of such a custom-made system. This system helps absorb the shock generated by hitting road bumps or sinking into destructive potholes. However, certain models are not equipped with the proper steering and suspension systems needed to accommodate low profile tires. This may result in a myriad of problems, including suspension failure. Therefore, you need to adapt the suspension of your car for new rims and tires so you do not end up paying big money at the automobile repair shop. In summary, the unique geometry of the suspension was designed to handle a specific rim and tire combination. So if the overall wheel diameter and tire combo is off when it comes to regular ones, both the odometer and speedometer will have inaccurate readings. Extreme changes to the wheel and tire sizes may also affect suspension bushings. Worn control arm bushings can cause the front end of your car to slip out of alignment, resulting in premature tire wear.

tire close up

Pressure of Low Profile Tires

Good vehicle maintenance includes checking the pressure on your tires and adhering to the recommended values. The correct amount of pressure can make a world of difference to your car and affects every aspect of the tire, including its load carrying capacity and its size and handling characteristics. Overinflate your low profile tires and you risk damaging them, since too much air pressure makes the tread footprint smaller. This can cause excessive wear in the middle of your tires. Underinflated tires also come with their own set of problems, including overheating and increased vulnerability to road hazards.  Moreover,  the contact patch where the rubber meets the road will lose its shape and this puts more pressure on the round section of the tire located right between the tread and the sidewall.

Low Profile Tires: Pros and Cons

Before attempting to buy something as costly and as vital as low profile tires, you need to know the advantages and disadvantages attached to them. When it comes to advantages, there are many positive features to consider:

  • Appearance wise, they look great and give cars a more bold and aggressive look, especially if they were accessorized with chrome wheels. This -more wheel, less tires- concept is garnering more and more popularity in the automobile universe.
  • Low profile tires have stiffer sidewalls than your average tire and this allows them to compensate for their reduced height. Add a larger contact area to this equation and you get better wheel response and increased grip on smooth surfaces. And because lower means getting stiffer springs, you receive the bonus of less weight transfer when you speed up or brake hard. This gives way to quicker stops and faster acceleration.
  • Cars with larger rims have more contact patch and road grip. This leads to better braking thanks to the larger hardware installed to accommodate these tires. Wider tires and large rims allow the driver to have better control over the car when cornering on certain roads, in addition to more stopping power, which can make a world of difference to a speeding vehicle.
  • Tires influence everything when it comes to cars, from handling to acceleration. They also take up to 20 percent of fuel consumption at low speed and up to 35 percent when you drive your car at high speed.  When it comes to fuel efficiency, lower rolling resistance is a recipe for saving money. Low profile tires have shorter sidewalls and a simplified tread pattern, which makes them the ideal choice for car owners who want to reduce ownership costs in the long run.
  • Small tires and thin wheels have their advantages, but when it comes to stability, low profile tires  win the competition and receive the grand prize thanks to their width. Moreover, the stiffness of the tires contribute to their stability, unlike ordinary tires that are more curved at the corners.

Of course, low profile tires have their disadvantages as well and those are listed below:

  • The wider contact patch area makes them a lot more noisy than regular tires. Wide equals more grooves, allowing more air to pass through them. Additionally, the reinforcements added to these tires also contribute to their noise issue. Generally speaking, the main sound emanating from your tires is essentially the air passing through the tread pattern. So, in order to know the real sound of your tires, find a freshly paved road made out of asphalt or concrete and take your car for a spin in this untarnished, pothole free area. It is important to note that both tire pressure and tread vibration may also contribute to noise issues in your vehicle. Currently, manufacturers are working on a design that creates a non-irritating white noise. This is done by adding asymmetric tread patterns of various sizes, so the air sounds are different in each section. Furthermore, softer compounds are being introduced to the tire rubber blend.
  • Drivers familiar with low profile tires often complain from bumpy, uneven rides on rougher road surfaces. This is mainly because tires of this size and height put less space between your car and the road, leaving your suspension system in charge of absorbing the shock that results from road bumps. Less shock absorption causes the spring rate to rise. This rate is made up of three elements: tires, suspension and seat cushion.  The tire has around 10 times more contribution to the spring rate than the seat cushion or suspension. So for example, when you switch from a set of the 70 series to the 45 series, you will automatically experience a rougher ride. However,  If your suspension system was custom-made to accommodate low profile tires, then you have nothing to worry about.
  • Speaking of suspensions and bumpy roads, vulnerability to damage is one more thing you need to take into account before purchasing low profile tires. One example of this is rapid deflation, which is dangerous, especially if the tire is not run-flat. A second example is pincher cut, which occurs when a vehicle runs into a pothole, causing the rim to cut straight through the sidewall. This typically happens when a driver is speeding down a bad road. The ESP, also known as the Electric Stability Program, may also break down when you make the transition to larger tires. The program, which was built to detect and reduce loss of traction, may get confused and start giving you inaccurate readings.
  • Faster wear is one more con to add to the list and this is the price paid in exchange for better grip and a more stable ride. In addition, the combination of rough steering, lower sidewalls and wheel scraping causes the tires to wear out faster as well.
  • Handling improves with low profile tires, but steering, on the other hand, may become harder. This in turn will lead to poor roll stability and the steering feedback will not be as sharp when compared to regular tire sizes.
  • Money-wise, the bigger the wheels, the more you have to pay when the time comes to replace them. For example, an 18 inch alloy wheel belonging to an SUV may cost as much as $371 dollars and the price can jump up to $569 for an optional 20 inch wheel. If you purchase larger wheels as part of an optional package on a newly purchased car, or as standard gear on a higher trim level, then the initial cost may not be as high.
  • Another issue that pops up at the mention of low profile tires is their efficacy when it comes to driving through snow and ice in winter. Low profile tires are great for braking and cornering in dry roads, but the taller sidewall of a smaller wheel size will offer you more flex and grip in such harsh weather conditions. In comparison, wide, low profile tires tend to plow through snow rather than roll, which is a much more unstable action. They also put your vehicle at risk of aquaplaning due to the wider contact patch.
  • Some people enjoy the look of extra wide tires and wheels. These tires may give you the chance  to show off your ride, but an attractive form can sometimes ruin the function of you car. Extra wide means putting extra burden on the suspension and axis, and ruining the fenders too.
  • Bigger wheels and tires are not always a good thing when it comes to saving fuel. Lower rolling resistance may contribute to more efficiency but this is counteracted by the heavy wheels that force the engine to work harder. This results in increased fuel consumption and slow acceleration as well. The negative effect this may have on your vehicle depends on your engine power. A powerful engine that generates a lot of horse power is far from economical, but it should do the trick when it comes to issues such as slow acceleration. Meanwhile, a small engine that generates around 150 horse power is great, but added weight from the tires and wheels will make it burn more fuel. You can prevent both slow acceleration and the burden of added weight by adhering to the manufacturer’s specifications. This means avoiding mounting enormous wheels on a small engine car.

low profile tires

The vast ocean of tires with their different aspect ratios and size charts can be daunting, especially if you  plan on upgrading your wheels. Choosing the right tires is not an easy task, so you need to weigh the pros and cons of purchasing low profile tires before heading over to the nearest tire shop. Remember to factor in your driving style and the weather conditions in your city since they also affect tire durability in the long run. After all, those four ring-shaped rubber components are like the multi-purpose Swiss army knife. They allow the brakes to do their job and give your vehicle the ability to swerve, speed and overcome harsh weather conditions. Without them, none of the above would be possible.

Sources:

  1. What Are Low-Profile Tires Used For? – Tires.com
  2. Low Profile Tyres: How Low Can You Go? – CarAdvice