Should I choose bigger wheels on my car?

How to get the right wheels for your car - including a spare

BuyaCar team
May 18, 2018

Wheels (and tyres) are the only points of contact your car has with the road beneath you. The biggest impact big wheels have however, is on your street cred.

Manufacturers are increasing wheel sizes with every generation in a bid to make their cars look better and more attractive - and generally - bigger wheels look good.

However, comfort and fuel economy can also be heavily affected by your choice of wheel size.

Here's all the information you need to make the right decision for you.

Alloy wheels

Because of their looks, alloy wheels (often simply called ‘alloys’) are more popular than steel ones, which usually have plastic wheel covers intended to make them look like alloy wheels.

Steel wheels are so unpopular that it can be hard to find cars that offer them, apart from some cheaper versions of superminis and city cars.

Because alloy wheels are now so popular, car makers offer optional ones for customers who don’t like the standard design. In many case, the only difference are the number and arrangement of spokes. For example, the VW Golf Match has so-called Dover alloys as standard but can be ordered with optional Madrid (£650) or Singapore (£690) wheels instead. In this case, your choice is purely down to personal preference, becasue these wheels are the same size and use the same tyres.

Your choice has a bigger impact when it comes down to the size of wheels that you're looking for. You'll almost certainly have the option to upgrade at least one size - if not two or three - when choosing a brand new car, and it's important to know what you're letting yourself in for. 

Larger wheels fill more of the space that they are in - known as the wheelarch - which gives your car a stronger and sportier look. But, for example, the 17in alloy wheels that are available as an option on Citroen C4 BlueHDi 100 and 120 models in Flair trim, can increase fuel consumption by 4mpg over the 16in wheels that come as standard.

Larger wheels can affect a car’s ride comfort, too, as they tend to require shallower tyres that offer less cushioning when the car crashes over potholes. That's not always the case, though: the Renault Scenic has big wheelarch-filling 20-inch wheels that are fitted with deep tyres that can absorb impacts.

Alloy wheels vs steel wheels

Alloy wheels are lighter

Alloy wheels are made of aluminium strengthened with traces of other metals including nickel. They are lighter than pure steel wheels so reduce the car’s unsprung weight (the weight of the car not supported by the suspension), leading to better roadholding. They also enable better brake and tyre cooling.

Alloy wheels are more attractive

Because of the material they are made from, alloy wheels can be moulded into many more designs than steel wheels. In contrast, steel wheels rely on wheel covers for their looks, which deteriorate with age.

Steel wheels are better in snow

Being heavier, steel wheels bite into snow more easily than alloy wheels and provide better grip.

Steel wheels cause less worry

The plastic covers fitted to steel wheels are cheap and easy to replace, so it’s not such a problem when they get scraped. Alloy wheels, on the other hand, require
expensive repair after, for example, scraping a kerb and owners can be very precious about them.

Alloy wheels can chip, crack and corrode

Steel wheels are robust and straightforward things but alloys damage easily. Problems including chipping, cracking after an impact, corrosion when in contact with road salt leading to white spots and occasionally structural damage, and kerb damage.


Does my car have a spare wheel?

The need to reduce weight, improve boot space and cut costs (typically around £100) means more new cars now come with no conventional spare wheel. Instead, they either have a narrow, temporary spacesaver spare, the wheels may be fitted with run-flat tyres that spoil the ride but which can be driven at low speeds to a tyre depot for repair or changing or, increasingly likely, the car will contain a repair kit.

This comprises a can of tyre sealant and a pump. You inject the sealant into the tyre through the valve and then pump it full of air. However, it won’t work on tyres with deep cuts. The residue left by the sealant often means the tyre often cannot be repaired (about £15), too, so you have to buy a new one.


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