Ask 4WAAM – Wide or Skinny Tires

Time waits for no man and there is never enough of it. We get emails from time to time asking questions that range from simple how to, to in depth technical questions. We always have the best of intentions and try to answer them in a timely fashion but in reality we do a terrible job of it. 

Because we also often get asked the same questions over the course of several years I wanted to resurrect this article from 2015. Once again a discussion we have had lately ended up as a reader question. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to resurrect an old article with some new info and insights.

Wide versus Skinny Tires:

Wide tires are all the rage. They look good, they handle well on-road, and just abuot every person will tell you how much better they are off-road.

Couple items to think about throughout. Wider tires use more fuel due to higher rolling resistance and more rubber on the road, they tend to hydroplane more, they are heavier and take more energy and effort to turn.

Let’s look at some terrain to see what might work better.

Mud:

Big wide tires seem like the perfect choice for every situation on paper. In practical terms they are usually no more effective and in some cases less effective than their skinnier counterparts. Mud is one of the biggest areas where wider is definitely not better.

Take a look at this video of a mud truck. Tall, skinny tires backed with insane horsepower.

The wider the tire the more power you need to push it though the mud. Which is the point we were making. Wide tires push the mud, they offer more resistance, and require far more power to try and motor through the muck. A thinner tire cuts through the mud, slicing through the terrain and offering significantly less resistance.

Snow:

Snow is another area that a wider tire seems like a better choice. Once again it depends on the terrain and conditions.

Wide works excellently when you need to stay on top of the snow. Hard pack on the Tundra of the Antarctic, packed snow in the frozen North or areas where the snow is always snow on snow traction offer some advantage. The counter argument to this is rally racing and general purpose snow tires. Both of which tend to be more traditional narrow tire sizes.

Those skinny tires cut through the snow instead of compacting and pushing the snow just like our mud scenario. You have to decide what works best for you but in most circumstances I would choose a thinner tire.

Rock:

Rock is a mixed bag of what might or might not be better. A wider tire will offer more tread width to span openings, a thinner tire can weave through obstacles.

We still prefer a thinner tire because of the aforementioned benefits above and when aired down still give you the enhanced contact patch you want. The narrower tire width allows the Jeeps overall width to stay under the fender flares allowing you to still fit though openings a stock Jeep squeezes through.

What’s better?

We are a bit biased as you can tell from the article. We have a soft spot for the thinner tires. In a perfect world, there would be an abundance of 35 10.5 tires on the market to satisfy our desires. Those fat 12.5-inch tires look sweet under any rig and certainly work well.

One last benefit of those thinner tires, there is more clearance to hard parts. They allow you to run a taller tire and still have room to control arms, inner fender liners, and other parts that a wider tire would normally rub on.

The best tire for any given job is what you choose to fit the terrain and what you think looks good. We would opt for tires that fit what terrain we are driving on and met the needs of everyday use over, looks and cost.

Keep in mind that two tires of relatively the same diameter will have similar contact patches when aired down to the same pressure. Air pressure holds a vehicle up and at any given weight thinner tires will deflect more given similar size. The same weight supported by less surface area. It’s like laying on your bed versus standing on it. You weigh the same but the bed deflects more when you are standing.

Tell us what you think in the comments. Wider or thinner tires?

William Connor

As the Editor, William is responsible for all the good, the bad, the ugly and the indifferent that happens at 4WAAM. William brings a wide range of experience to this role having been a cook, a painter, a machinist, part time mechanic, computer programmer, and writer. He also wields a freely shared opinion on just about everything., just ask him.

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