Wheel vs. Tire Performance: Which One Gets the Respect it Deserves?

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Wheel vs. Tire Performance: Which One Gets the Respect it Deserves?

It still bothers me when people refer to tires as “wheels.” Yes, they are inseparable, like peanut butter and jelly (grape, preferably), Hewlett and Packard, and Batman and Robin, to name a few famous pairings

They are a package deal and always will be. Even if a solid tire is invented that performs and rides as well as an air-filled tire (millennials may become centennials before that happens), the wheel will still be necessary in order to attach the tire to the vehicle.

But wheels get all the hype. They have the good looks that elicit stares from everybody else. Car owners ask for them because they want to dress up their vehicles.

It doesn’t matter that tires are the only contact point between the vehicle and the road (or off-road) surface. Wheels get all the attention, while tires do the dirty work. It’s the allure of form over function.

I get it. Tires are almost always a necessary purchase that forces the driver to dip into his or her savings. It is usually unwanted. Wheels, on the other hand, don’t have to be replaced. When wheels are purchased, it is with discretionary income. It’s a fun purchase.

This is especially true when plus-sizing. Wheels are bought, while tires are an afterthought, often purchased only because the low profile of an ultra-high performance tire looks cool with the wheel. Never mind tires are the reason your customer can drive up to 186 mph if he or she so chooses.

This is not a knock on wheels, which add to your bottom line in big way. I understand why there are so many wheel displays in your showrooms.

When wheels are purchased, it is with discretionary income. It’s a fun purchase.

I just think tire performance is too often taken for granted. When I hear of a tire referred to as a wheel, I just get a little defensive.

There’s a reason ultra-high performance tires are often categorized as HVA (high value added) tires: They provide amazing grip and handling under dry and wet conditions, and they do it in a way that keeps the driver safe.

Tread patterns and sidewall styling also can be aesthetically pleasing. Compare a 2017 UHP blackwall tire with any tire from the muscle car era. There is no contest: Today’s tire designs are much more exciting.

To be fair, wheels are not all about the bling. There is a reason one of our most popular online topics is about the importance of wheel offset to vehicle performance.In last year’s Performance Handbook, Jacques Gordon, a regular contributor to Modern Tire Dealer, wrote about the relationship between the size of a car’s wheels and its influence on ride and handling.

“Changing wheel offset moves the center of the contact patch inboard or outboard, which changes the scrub radius, which changes the way the car feels and handles during acceleration and braking.”

Maybe custom wheels don’t get enough respect from your customers, either.

In the end, I guess it doesn’t matter whether or not the max performance, asymmetric tire or the black mesh, monoblock aluminum alloy wheel gets the most credit when it comes to vehicle performance. If you make the sale and install them properly, you will make the customer happy. Then you will get the respect you deserve.   ■

If you have any questions or comments, please email me at

To read more of Bob Ulrich's editorials, see:

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