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Skinny vs Wide Tires

 photo by molchanovdmitry via iStock

Since the dawn of off-roading, the question of skinny vs wide tires has been haunting the heads of tire buyers. 

Should I sacrifice power, fuel economy, and possibly reliability for a fat tire? Or should I be a bit more sensible and go for a thinner but taller one? 

Obviously, there are benefits to both types, and depending on the terrain one will be better than the other. 

Therefore, to provide you with a better idea of what to buy, we will be covering everything you need to know when it comes to skinny vs wide tires.

How is a Skinny Tire Defined?

Skinny tires in snow

 photo by LeManna via iStock

Different parts of the world have different perceptions as to what skinny tires look like. For the purposes of this article, we will be comparing a normal 33-inch tire (285/75/R16) to a skinny 33-inch tire (255/85/R16)

Both of these tires have the same height (33 inches), but the skinny tire is narrower than the normal 33 inch one.

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Skinny vs Wide Tires: Benefits of Wider Tires

Wide Tires in the grass

 photo by deepblue4you via iStock

As I said above, both types of tires have their benefits. Wide tires will provide the benefit of flotation; therefore, preventing the truck from digging itself in soft ground such as deep snow, sand, or mud. 

The wider tire also has a larger tread and therefore a wider contact patch which many believe provides more grip on hard terrain such as rocks. 

Finally, the wider tire may also provide more grip on the road during dry conditions due to the larger contact patch.

Cons of Wide Tires

truck with big tires

 photo by schlol via iStock

Large tires have more rubber and therefore are heavier. The larger contact patch also means they are more difficult to turn; therefore, your engine and axles need to work a lot harder. 

The additional stress placed on components leads to an increased likelihood of breakages, decreased fuel economy, increased wear, and a slight increase in road noise. 

Finally, in many cases, wide tires will require a lot more trimming of the wheel arches to make them fit on a vehicle. Depending on your truck and how attached you are to it, trimming the wheel arches may not be something you want to do.

Skinny vs Wide Tires: Benefits of Skinny Tires

4x4 with skinny tires

 photo by molchanovdmitry via iStock

The skinnier tire has less rubber and therefore is lightweight. The lower weight and rolling resistance lead to less stress on the engine and all the other parts that wider tires tend to put stress on.

This is especially beneficial for older trucks as they can cruise at highway speeds more easily while also avoiding part failures out on the trail.

Believe it or not, skinny tires also provide more grip in certain situations. Because the tire is thinner all the weight of the vehicle is concentrated on a smaller surface area; therefore, applying more force to the ground. 

This can be great on terrain where digging down to find traction is the best possible option. 

The best examples of this are trails that are slightly snowy or icy, mud that is not axle-deep, and hard-packed dirt in which the skinny tire will tear through.

Skinny tires are also better in flooded roads as the thin tire cuts through the water and prevents aquaplaning.

Cons of Skinny Tires

Skinny tires in the dirt

 photo by PeopleImages via iStock

There are not many drawbacks to skinny tires other than the fact that they will not perform as well in deep snow or sand as they will dig in. 

So, the skinnies look like they have a lot of things going for them; however, what should you buy for your vehicle?

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Skinny vs Wide Tires: What is Best for You?

Rock Crawling

 photo by molchanovdmitry via iStock

The best way to decide is by assessing your situation. What terrain will you be driving on and what vehicle do you drive?

If it is an older truck that is underpowered with weaker axles, going for wide and heavy tires will require a lot more modifications if you are planning on keeping the truck drivable and reliable. Therefore, for the older machines, stick to skinnies regardless of the terrain.

If you have an older truck that is powerful with a strong drivetrain or a newer car that again can handle the larger tires you may get away with the added weight. 

However, if the terrain you are driving on isn’t deep sand, snow, or rocks you will probably not see much benefit from the wider tire. 

The above statements are based on common sense; however, if a wider tire helps you achieve the look you are going for then do what is needed to ensure you fit the wider tires. 

After all, a 4WD needs to inspire us to drive it and if it doesn’t look like we want it to look, a crucial ingredient is lost. 

What do you think? Which side of the skinny vs wide tires debate are you on? 

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