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If you’ve ever spotted a sleek sports car or a tricked-out ride and wondered about their wide, thin tires, you’re not alone. Those are low-profile tires, and they’re even more about performance than they are about style. If you’re interested in giving your car a full makeover, it’s important to understand the benefits and downsides of low-profile tires, so let’s learn all about them and why you might want to invest in a set!
So what is a low-profile tire?
Before we get into the pros and cons of these sporty tires, it’s important to know what low-profile tires mean and what’s actually “low” about them.
These tires are most often found in the world of high-performance and sports cars, where precise handling and braking performance are essential. You’ll also find them in the custom car scene, where the sleek, aggressive look of low-profile tires adds to the car’s unique look.
So when looking at a tire, how can you differentiate low-profile from regular tires? Well, the fact is they are simply lower. The gap between the edge of the tire and the rim (the sidewall) is shorter than on regular tires.
What size are low-profile tires?
Do you know those numbers on the side of your tire? Well, they tell you the tire’s width, aspect ratio (which determines the height of the tire’s sidewall), and the wheel diameter the tire fits onto. For example, you might have a tire with 195/65R15 on the side. The first number is the tire’s width, the one after the slash is the aspect ratio, and the third number is the wheel diameter. So 65 is the percentage of the height of the tire’s sidewall against the tire’s width, so this tire is 65% of the tire’s width, which is 195mm. That’s the aspect ratio of a standard tire.
Low-profile tires typically have an aspect ratio of 55 or less. So you might see a number like 205/45R17 on a low-profile tire, where the lower aspect ratio is 45% of 205 mm.
So, when you hear “low profile,” think “low sidewall.”
Low-profile tires pros and cons
As with everything in life, low-profile tires have some positives and some negatives:
- Better handling and stability
- More precise steering
- Improved traction and braking performance
- Great for racing and driving at high speeds
- Higher fuel economy
- Unique, sporty appearance
- Less comfortable ride
- More road noise
- More prone to damage
- Shorter lifespan
- More expensive
- May not be suitable for wet or snowy weather
The advantages of low-profile tires
Low-profile tires are often thought of as sports tires as they’re great for handling and stability. Thanks to their wider tread and shorter, stiffer sidewalls, they’re less prone to flexing, which will improve your car’s cornering ability—an essential if you’re racing or want to embrace a sportier driving style.
But it’s not all about cornering. Low-profile tires can also give you more precise steering, which is great for racing and improving braking performance. The wider surface area that comes in contact with the road gives a stronger grip, meaning shorter stopping distances.
Another benefit of low-profile tires is that they give you better fuel economy than most normal tires, thanks to their low rolling resistance—which, with rising gas prices, is a bonus. And, of course, we can’t ignore how cool they look. Low-profile tires can give any car a sportier, more customized look —perfect if you want to look like you just stepped out of one of the Fast & Furious movies!
The downside of low-profile tires
All those benefits sound too good to be true, but there are some trade-offs when you choose low-profile tires. One of the biggest downsides of low-profile tires is ride comfort. You’ll likely feel more bumps and potholes with less cushion between your wheel and the road. And because they’re closer to the road, they tend to pick up more road noise.
This also means that low-profile tires are more susceptible to damage. Hit a pothole too hard or clip a curb, and you might end up with a damaged wheel or tire. And if you don’t have a suspension system that’s tailored for low-profile tires, you can risk damaging your suspension when driving over bumps.
While these tires are amazing on dry pavement, they can often leave a lot to be desired when driving on any other surface, including wet roads or even slightly rougher terrain. Some low-profile tires are designed to cope with wet roads, but this is something you should check out when making a purchase. And if you want to drive off-road or in more wintery weather on these tires—forget about it! One final negative is that they can have a shorter lifespan and be more expensive to replace. The grippier rubber compound they’re made of can also wear out faster than regular tires, and buying a new set is generally more expensive. So, they’re not always the most economical choice.
Making the low-profile tire choice: a checklist
So, are low-profile tires right for you? It all depends on your priorities. Here are a few points to consider when making a low-profile tire choice:
- Do you race or enjoy a sporty style of driving?
- Are handling, braking, and cornering at speeds important for you?
- Will you be driving almost exclusively on paved roads?
- Can you avoid driving in wintery weather?
- Can your suspension system cope with low-profile tires?
- Can you cope with a bumpier, nosier ride?
- Are you happy to spend more on your tires and possibly replace them more frequently?
- Do you want your car to look memorable and unique?
If you can answer yes to these questions, then low-profile tires might be just the thing for you!
Low-profile tires are all about performance and style, but they’re not without their drawbacks. Remember, the best tire for you is one that fits your driving style, your vehicle, and your budget.
Choosing the right size
When purchasing low-profile tires, here are a few points to consider:
- Tire diameter—Keep the tire diameter within about 3% of the original tire size.
- Load index—Make sure the load index is the same or higher than the one recommended by your vehicle manufacturer.
- Clearance—Make sure the tire isn’t so wide that it touches the car body or sticks out beyond the fender line.
You’ll notice your tire will have a shorter, wider contact patch area as you increase the profile of your tires.
The best low-profile tires: GoTire’s top picks
If you’ve decided that low-profile sport tires are for you, here are a couple of our top recommendations:
Michelin Pilot Sport 4S
Bridgestone Potenza Sport
Pirelli P Zero
Falken Azenis RT660
Hankook Ventus S1 Evo2
How much are low-profile tires?
As mentioned before, low-profile tires generally cost more than standard tires. This is because they require more specialist construction and design, and, as they are less in demand, they can command a higher price.
You might find some basic low-profile tires for around $100 per tire, but if you are looking for low-profile sports tires you’re likely to be paying at least $300 upwards, and often a lot more, if you want to go particularly low.
When working out the total cost, you also need to consider the fact that you’re likely to have to replace your tires more frequently. You may also need to upgrade your suspension system so you don’t feel every single tiny bump in the road surface.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What is a low-profile tire?
A low-profile tire is a tire that has a lower ratio between the width of the tire (the part that touches the road) and the height of the sidewall (the part between the rim and the tread). So in simple terms, they’re wider and have a shorter sidewall height compared to traditional tires. The “low profile” aspect comes from a lower aspect ratio, typically 55% or less, which means the height of the tire’s sidewall is less than or equal to 55% of the tire’s width. People like these tires for their improved handling, as well as their cool, sporty looks. But remember, they also give you a less smooth ride than regular tires and are more susceptible to damage.
What are low-profile tires good for?
Low-profile tires are good for enhancing your vehicle’s handling and stability, especially when driving at higher speeds and during cornering. They have a wider tread and shorter sidewalls, so they have a larger contact patch area, giving you more feedback and control. And don’t forget about looks. Low-profile tires give your car a sporty, sleek look. So, if performance and style are important to you, and you don’t mind a firmer ride, low-profile tires might be right for you!
What are the problems with low-profile tires?
Low-profile tires have a few problems, including the fact they often give a rougher ride, particularly on irregular surfaces. With less padding and sidewall to absorb shocks from bumps or potholes, you’ll feel the road’s imperfections more. They’re also more prone to damage both to the tire and the rim—and maybe even your suspension system. Finally, they usually wear out faster and are more expensive than your standard profile tires.
Do low-profile tires wear out faster and have a greater chance of getting a flat tire?
Yes, low-profile tires generally do wear out faster, primarily due to the grippier tire rubber blend they’re made of. While this grips the road surface exceedingly well, it also wears down quicker than the tougher compound of regular tires. As for flat tires, while the tire itself isn’t necessarily more likely to get a puncture, the shorter sidewall does mean they’re more susceptible to damage from things like potholes or curbs, which can lead to flat tires. So, while they offer great performance and style, it’s important to be aware of these factors when buying low-profile tires. Regular maintenance, including tire rotations and maintaining proper tire pressure, can help extend the lifespan of your tires and reduce the risk of flats.
Do low-profile tires have lower rolling resistance and better fuel efficiency?
Low-profile tires have lower rolling resistance and better fuel economy than higher-profile normal tires. The term “rolling resistance” refers to the force required to keep a tire rolling. Low-profile tires have shorter and stiffer sidewalls, reducing the rolling resistance. They also usually have tread patterns that are designed to give maximum contact with the road, further reducing rolling resistance. And the benefit of this reduced rolling resistance is more fuel efficiency! That’s because your engine doesn’t have to work so hard to keep the tire rolling, meaning it burns less fuel.