Looking to make your ride distinctive and a better performer? Have you thought about staggered wheels? That’s where the wheels on the front of a car are a different size from the rear wheels. The difference is usually in width but sometimes in diameter.
Your performance has a lot to do with your wheel and tire selection, so this could be a good way of getting more out of your vehicle without touching the internals. A wider wheel means a wider tire, and that means a larger patch of contact between the tire and the pavement. This generates more traction at launch and during acceleration, as well as increased stability and grip during cornering.
Because of these track and backroad benefits, staggered wheels are most often found on rear-wheel-drive performance cars. If you have a rear-engine or mid-engine car, wider rear wheels can also provide better weight support.
And the Looks?
Not to be too superficial, but let’s face it: looks matter too, and staggered wheels on the right car look awesome. That wider tread on the rears makes your machine look fast standing still, and certain body styles are well-suited to slightly larger diameter wheels at the back than in the front. This is a much more subtle approach than simply jacking up the rear suspension, as so many kids in the 60s did on the cheap, and it’s an infinitely better route to achieving that mean ready-to-race stance.
Any Cautions to Keep in Mind?
There are a couple of things to consider before you commit to staggered wheels.
First, it’s likely going to be more expensive from the outset. You’ll be buying wheels and tires in two pairs of different sizes instead of sets of four, which often gets you a discount. Tire-wise their upkeep will be a bit more expensive because you can’t rotate staggered tires to achieve even tread wear. Fronts will be fronts and rears will be rears, so you can expect to have to check tread depth more frequently and replace the tires sooner.
Second, not all tires come in all sizes. It’s possible that the tire you really want only comes in one of the two sizes you’re running in a staggered set-up. You can solve that by switching to a different brand for the fronts or rears, but it’s not always an issue of the brand name on the sidewall. Different tread depths, speeds and temperature ratings can all be factors.
One final point to note is that some all-wheel-drive cars may not work with a staggered setup. Certain AWD systems send power based on the speed of each wheel relative to the others, so they could interpret different rolling speeds as slippage when there is none, leading to faster tire wear and added stress to differentials. Be sure to do your research before experimenting with staggered wheels on your AWD.
Is This the Right Move for Me?
In short, you’ll need to do your homework to find out. Determine whether there’s a big enough payoff in going with staggered wheels, and then, before you completely fall in love with the idea, check to make sure what you want is readily available and that the setup will play nicely with your drivetrain to ensure a long, healthy life for your vehicle.
Check out all the wheels, tires and accessories available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on staggered wheels, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Mike Hagerty is an automotive journalist whose work has been featured on radio, TV, in print and online since 1997. He's the Publisher and Editor of MikeHagertyCars.com, and contributes car reviews to the Los Altos Town Crier and losaltosonline.com. Previous outlets have included KFBK and KFBK.com in Sacramento, California, the ABC television affiliates and Hearst-Argyle and Emmis radio stations in Phoenix, Arizona; AAA magazines for Arizona, Oklahoma, Northwest Ohio, South Dakota and the Mountain West and BBCCars.com.