Pros & Cons of Low Profile Tiresby James Dixon
Sales of low-profile tires are rising, and manufacturers are constantly increasing their low-profile offerings. To some eyes, they are sleek and sexy, but to others, they are anathema. To sporting drivers who like to push their cars to the limit, they offer improved handling at the cost of a less comfortable ride and greater exposure to damage. To the average driver, their advantages are harder to discern.
What is a Low-Profile Tire?
A low-profile tire is one with a shorter sidewall than a traditional tire and a wider tread. When you look at it directly from the side, the distance between the rim and the tread is shorter. Manufacturers express the profile of a tire as its "aspect ratio," which is shown as part of the code on the sidewall of the tire. The code is divided by a slash--for example 195/55R15V. The number following the slash denotes the aspect ratio. The smaller the number, the lower the profile of the tire.
Some people buy low-profile tires because they like the look of them. But from a driving point of view, the primary reason for doing so is improved handling at speed. Because they are wider, low-profile tires provide better grip and responsiveness in cornering. The bigger rims that go with them (if the rims were the same size as regular ones, the overall diameter of the tire would be smaller) also allow for bigger brakes. These enable you to stop more quickly, which is a plus if you are driving very fast.
Unless your car was designed to run on low-profile tires, it may be less stable when fitted with them. In any car with low-profile tires, you will certainly experience a harsher ride than with traditional tires and will feel all of the irregularities in the road surface, and both the sidewalls and the rims are more likely to suffer damage. Low-profile tires are a particularly poor choice if you live in the snow belt, because they provide significantly less grip on snowy surfaces.
From a strictly practical point of view, for most drivers, low-profile tires are frankly not an ideal choice. Most of us do most of our driving either at heavily controlled speeds or on highways that are engineered for high speeds in cars with regular tires. But if you like to head for the twisting roads of your nearest mountain range and let it rip, low-profile tires will certainly give you the cornering power you yearn for. And if you simply like the look of them, what do a few more bumps matter?
If You Buy Them
Buy a full set. Never mix low profile and regular tires on the same vehicle.
James Dixon has been a professional writer for nine years, during which he has contributed feature articles to magazines such as American Angler, Art & Antiques, Office Buildings and Quest. He holds a degree in classics from Cambridge University and is currently the house-magazine editor for a non-profit.