Wide or narrow tyres? What you choose will affect your driving...

25th April 2019
Lanna Cooper

Many drivers want their summer tyres to look flashier than their winter equivalents. That is why wider and lower tyres are usually selected for the summer, whereas narrower tyres are commonly used in the winter. The tyre choice affects the car’s appearance, driving comfort, and many other characteristics. In Central Europe, car owners usually have two sets of rims: one for the summer and another for the winter. A common choice is to use slightly larger and more expensive rims for the summer tyres.

If you have your winter tyres on when driving to the tyre retailer to purchase summer tires, it is important that you know the size of your current summer tyre set. Otherwise, your current rims may not fit your new tyres, said Martin Dražík, Product Manager for Nokian Tyres Europe.

When shopping for tires, you should follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. You can check your car’s registration certificate for the recommended tyres size and any alternative sizes.

Narrow tyres are cheaper but wider ones look better
The correct tyre width is also affected by the sorts of characteristics the owner is looking for in their car and its handling. The tyre width will affect their price and several other characteristics, such as grip, noise level, driving comfort, and appearance.

Replacing narrow tyres with wider ones will usually increase rolling resistance and, therefore, slightly increase fuel consumption. In summer tyres, size is also a question of esthetics; a wide tyre is thought to look better than a narrow one.

If the driver wants to switch to a larger rim diameter, the tyre profile needs to be reduced. This allows the outer diameter to remain within the legal limits and the tyres will have enough room to rotate, Martin Dražík explained.

The tyre profile refers to the ratio between the height and width of the tyres. Since the most popular sizes are narrow with a high profile, they are manufactured in greater numbers than wide tyres with a low profile. That is part of the reason why narrow tyres are usually cheaper than wider ones.

Both types have their benefits
The volume of air in a tyre will particularly affect their driving comfort. The larger the rim diameter, the less air will fit in the tyre. High profile tyres with plenty of space for air are more comfortable than wide, low profile tyres.

From a safety point of view, both types have their good sides: On a dry road, wider tyres will offer more grip than narrow ones, but the risk of aquaplaning will be higher with wide tyres.

In the winter, narrow tyres are better under extreme conditions as they provide higher surface pressure against the road. Narrow tyres also work better than wider ones in loose snow and slush. Wider tyres, for their part, will offer more grip on hard surfaces, Martin Dražík said.

What do the tyre markings tell us?
A tyre may be marked 205/55 R16 94V XL, for example. Here’s how to read the markings:

205: The width of the tyre in millimetres at normal pressure. The tread width will always be smaller, but it varies depending on the tyre model and manufacturer.

55: The tyre profile or the ratio between the height and width of the tyre. For example, the number 55 means that the height is 55% of the width. The smaller the number is, the lower the tyre profile will be.

R: Tyre structure. R refers to radial tyres that are used on all passenger cars in Central Europe.

16: Rim diameter in inches.

94: The tyre's load index. The number 94 means that one tire can carry a maximum load of 670kg at normal pressure. Smaller numbers mean a lower load-bearing capacity.

V: The tyre's speed rating or its maximum allowable speed. For example, V means that the tire cannot be driven above 240 kilometers per hour.

XL: If the markings end with 'XL' (Extra Load), it means that the tire can carry a higher load than a corresponding regular tyre.

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