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Can You Put Smaller Tires On An SUV?

The Auto Sunday is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Is it the right thing to do to put smaller tires on an SUV? Will that have a negative effect on the ride?

Most importantly: Why? Why would you put smaller tires on an SUV?

Ridiculously Small Tires
Ridiculously Small Tires

SUVs are meant to go everywhere. City roads and civilized pavements? No problem! Light off-roading? Sure! Zipping down hills? Bring it on! But only if you have the right tires on your SUV.

No No No
No No No

Putting smaller tires on an SUV is counter-intuitive to what it’s supposed to be able to do.

But why do people insist on putting smaller tires if it’s not the right thing to do?

It all boils down to this: a misconception on fuel economy brought about by smaller tires on small cars.

Smaller Tires, Better Fuel Economy… For Small Cars

Tiny SUV, Tiny Tires
Tiny SUV, Tiny Tires

There’s a trend right now where smaller tires are installed into smaller cars. This is not just for aesthetic purposes. Smaller tires actually increase fuel economy due to how light the car it is attached to is.

Proper calibration ensures that the speedometer reads correct for these cars.

Plus, smaller cars are constructed of lighter materials. This gives smaller cars a better power to weight ratio. This, in turn, is related to fuel economy in the long run.

The smaller tires, reduce the overall weight of the entire car.

Your SUV is a different matter entirely. SUVs are constructed of the same light material as most modern cars. The only difference is that you need more of the material for the bigger vehicle. SUVs also have a tougher, ladder-type chassis for handling different types of terrain. That’s a big chunk of the entire vehicle’s weight right there. The engine size of an SUV is also far greater than that of a small, compact car.

The size and weight difference between an SUV and a regular car require entirely different tires to handle everything. That’s why you need the right tires for your SUV and smaller tires on an SUV is definitely not the way to go.

So let’s go on ahead and choose the right tires for your SUV

Choosing The Right Tires For Your SUV

The Right Tires Give The Right Look For Your SUV
The Right Tires Give The Right Look For Your SUV

Everyone thinks they can just slap on a new set of tires and some shiny rims and they’re good to go. This isn’t the case for everyone especially if you have an SUV. There are many things to consider before buying tires for your SUV and it’s not just about the correct size.

First off, you have to know how to read what’s indicated on your tire’s sidewalls.

How To Read A Car Tire Like A Pro

Your tires come with codes from the manufacturer to make it easy for mechanics or salesmen to read and know what type of tire they are handling. This, in turn, relates to the type of car it is supposed to be used on and its purpose.

The most basic tire code looks like this: 195/60/R15 95H

This means:

·         195 – This is called the tread width and it is measured in millimetres.

·         60 – This is called the aspect ratio which is just a fancy way to say sidewall height. The number is the percentage of the sidewall’s height based on the tire’s width. The 60 indicates that it is 60% of the tread width.

        R – Basic construction of the carcass (this is an optional mark placed by manufacturers.)

        15 – This is the wheel diameter or the width of the rim in inches.

        95 – This is the load index. This is the max weight your tire can handle.

·         H – This is the speed rating or the maximum speed appropriate for your tire.

For best results, look for the letters “LT” to make your search for an appropriate tire type easier. LT stands for “Light Truck” and this is the correct type of tire for your SUV.

Optional:

These letters may appear on your tire as a specialized or additional tire code by the manufacturer.

These letters indicate what type of tire carcass you have:

·         B – Bias Belt (the best type of tires on an SUV. The Fiberglass or steel support used for the casing ensures a radial tire-like ride on pavement and a bias ply tire-like toughness on off-road terrain.)

·         D – Diagonal (meant for off-road situations. Sad thing is, they wear down faster on pavement. They’re specifically made for off-road terrain because of its flexible tread made of nylon.)

·         R – Radial Ply (usually made of polyester. You can use this for very light off-road work but try not to overdo it. These tend to tear up when subjected to off-road abuse.)

·         If no letter appears, you can assume it is a Cross-ply carcass

These letters indicate the type of use your tire is intended for:

        P – Passenger

        LT – Light Truck (this is the correct tire type for your SUV)

        ST – Special Trailer

        T – Temporary (usually used as a spare tire)

Next, what types of terrain can your SUV conquer?

Different Terrains To Consider

Your SUV is a fun machine to drive through different types of terrain. Those who are really considering putting smaller tires on an SUV have to check this fun list of terrain that you’re going to end up missing with tiny treads.

Mud

Mudding
Mudding

Ahhh the joy of mudding!

Mud tires on an SUV will make you appreciate the power your machine has. It actually gives you a sense of invincibility as you remain in complete control of your vehicle while others are slipping and sliding. For this situation, tall, wide tires with specially designed treads are needed. The treads should be wide enough to push the mud aside while remaining on top of the surface. The treads have to be deep enough to claw your way through the muck. This will keep you from slipping and sliding and most importantly, have the time of your life getting down and dirty with your SUV.

Rock

There’s only one reason why off-roading became a very popular sport. Crawling on rocks is fun! Once again, a specialized suspension system and tires are required for this. You need to provide enough ground clearance for the smaller rocks. The independent suspension takes care of the rest.

Tires needed for these are the ones you see on monster trucks. The bigger the tires, the better. Tires have to be durable and flexible enough for the constant change in terrain during rock crawling events. Some tires even come with added silica or Kevlar to resist getting punctured by sharp rocks.

Sand

SUV On The Beach
SUV On The Beach

Heavy objects sink in sand. Tiny tires on an SUV means getting stuck immediately if you try traveling on sandy areas. Yes, that includes your favourite beach.

You will need wide tires for these areas so you can float over the sand. There are actually specialized dune tires for sand dune buggies that can be installed on an SUV providing that the suspension has been modified to accommodate such big tires.

This is one of the most fun terrains to drive your SUV in because there are no obstacles and, if you have the right tires, you can drive as fast as you can!

Snow

We have an entire article devoted to snow tires. SUVs are meant to traverse the snow without any issues. Smaller tires on an SUV could prevent you from driving down snowy roads safely.

Tires you need for this situation have to remain flexible in freezing temperatures while providing excellent grip on the road. Studded tires can also help to provide more traction.

Smaller Tires Are Prone To Getting Stuck In The Mud, Sand And Snow

Bring A Shovel
Bring A Shovel

Still set on putting smaller tires on an SUV? Now, what if you get stuck in the mud, sand or snow?

That’s a big problem. Especially if you’re on your own. Here are some helpful tips:

Always Be Prepared

Always check the road ahead of you. Try to visually gauge if your tires can handle the obstacle in front of you. Bring some tools if necessary so you can get out of a tight situation if it calls for it. Situational awareness is key to avoiding this from happening in the first place.

Rock Your Way Out

Don’t try to power your way out. Chances are you’ve already tried it. You’re already stuck. Too much gas and you’ll just sink further down into the muck.

Just rock your way out.

Put your vehicle in reverse and tap on the gas. Shift to a lower gear and move forward. Go back to reverse and repeat. The key objective here is to move even an inch further from your current position.

If the tires spin, turn it so you can get more grip.

Putting rock music on is optional.

Get A Grip

Slipping and sliding is often caused by wet or unstable material. There’s just not enough grip available. Placing dry, solid objects in front or behind the tires can help. You can use your floor mat if there are no rocks, dry plant material or wooden planks available.

If you have to, deflate your tires a little so you can have more surface area. Don’t forget to inflate them back again to the optimal pressure once you’re free.

By now, you’re probably frustrated. Get a grip. Both on your emotions and for your tires.

When All Else Fails, Call A Friend

By now, you’ve probably tried everything. Maybe you need to call a friend and ask for help. Try to minimize the number of people coming to your assistance though as it may tear the ground up more. You don’t want everyone stuck in one place because you’re their one friend who put smaller tires on an SUV and went gallivanting where he shouldn’t.

There are commercial winches available for city slicker SUVs though. If you have a winch, use it. Attach it to a tree and weigh it down with a blanket to prevent it from snapping.

In conclusion, these are the reasons why you shouldn’t put smaller tires on an SUV even if you can.

Related Questions:

Can I Be Exempted From A Speeding Ticket If My Car’s Speedometer Showed Me The Wrong Speed?

Your speedometer is going to show slow if you’re driving a car with wheels taller than the prescribed stock tires. That means you might be driving over 5 to 10 miles over the speed limit without really meaning to. Just drive slower and you can contest this by bringing a speedo calibration to court.

How Does Tire Height Affect Handling?

Your tire height has a very dramatic effect on your SUV. Tires that are too tall can make driving feel sloppy. Tires that are too short can make driving feel more accurate but it has a negative effect on your speedometer’s reading. You’ll also have to sacrifice ground clearance with smaller tires.

Passenger Tires Are Cheaper. Can I Get Them For My SUV?

Passenger tires are cheaper because they are not as rigidly constructed as that of an LT tire. That being said, you can’t load as much weight onto your SUV as it would compromise your safety. Even with an empty SUV, you can’t expect to drive as fast as you would and forget about going off-road.

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