Low Profile Tyres: The Complete Guide

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Many drivers love sports cars with huge wheels and low profile tyres, which are often fitted to the top range of high-performance cars. The low profile tyres are usually fitted to big shiny alloys which enhances the look of the car, but there is more to these tyres than just the pleasing look.

What are Low Profile Tyres?

Low profile tyres date back to the late sixties when BMW first used a Pirelli low profile tyre. By this time roads were more comfortable, so drivers were less worried about comfort and more interested in the look and performance of their cars.

Many prestigious car brands now have models with larger wheels and low profiles, including Audi, BMW, Honda, Lexus, Mercedes, Porsche and many more.

It is very easy to see the difference between a low profile tyre and a regular car tyre. The most obvious difference is the smaller sidewall on a low profile tyre, the overall size of the tyre and the wider treads. All tyres have a size marked on the sidewall, for example, 205/55 R16, the number 55 is the aspect ratio and indicates the height is 55 percent of the width of the tyre. Tyres that have an aspect ratio of 50 or less would be classed as low profile tyres.

The lower the profile the bigger the wheel size, which is why lots of drivers change to low profile tyres to enhance the look of their cars.

Please remember changing wheel size is a modification and you should inform your car insurance company of these changes.

Related: Understanding Tyre Sizes, Markings and Profiles

Characteristics of Low Profile Tyres

Tyre manufacturers are continuously developing regular and low profile tyres. New innovative designs, enhanced compounds and tread patterns improve performance and safety.

In the 1970s tyres that had an aspect ratio of 80 or less were classed as low profile, which is not a very common size today. The lower the aspect ratio means the tyre has a wider tread which improves the grip on the road and steering responsiveness. Low profile tyres have thicker shoulders and steel belts to give them more stiffness and stability. The majority of low profile tyres have rim protectors to protect the edges of the alloy wheels.

Low Profile Tyres Wear and Tear

Low profile tyres have more contact with the road and stability due to larger tread widths, which make these very popular, however, more contact with the road will make low profile tyres wear out faster. Low profile tyres have softer compounds to enhance performance, so can damage more easily and it is very important to maintain correct tyres pressures to help prolong the tyres’ lifespan.

Driving styles also wear tyres out more quickly especially if you corner at high speeds and brake hard. Be very careful when driving over speed bumps with low profile tyres as cars with these tyres often have lower suspensions too. Hitting a pothole with low profile tyres can cause serious damage. Regular maintenance is key to getting the best out of low profile tyres.

As well as the tyre size on the sidewall there will also be a number and letter at the end of the tyre size to indicate the load index and speed rating. For example, 205/55 R16 96W – 96 is the load index and indicates the maximum tyre load capacity and W is the speed rating and indicates the maximum approved tyre speed. Vehicle manufacturers set the load index and speed rating when the vehicle is manufactured and you shouldn’t fit a new tyre that has a lower load index or speed rating.

Low Profile Tyres and Suspension

Many performance cars come with low profile tyres and a suspension system to compliment them which helps to improve the tyres durability and longevity. Lower suspensions help to absorb the shock when driving over speed bumps and potholes, however, the speed you navigate over these won’t necessarily protect the car’s tyres.

If you are thinking about changing to low profile tyres, you will also need to change your wheel size and modify your suspension to complement them. If you don’t fit the correct wheel size and adjust the suspension this will affect the speedometer readings and can cause wear to suspension components, it could also cause the wheels to become misaligned and can result in rapid tyre wear.  

Related: Steering and Suspension

Tyre Pressure of Low Profile Tyres

Whether you have low profile tyres or regular tyres tyre maintenance is very important, so you need to check general condition, tread depths and tyres pressures regularly.

Tyre pressures are set by the car manufacturer and can found in the car’s handbook and are often stamped in the driver’s door sill or inside the fuel cap. The pressures are different for fully loaded vehicles, so should be adjusted accordingly.

Incorrect tyre pressures affect road handling, increases fuel consumption and can cause rapid tyre wear.

Under inflated tyres cause premature tyre wear on the outside edges of your tyres and affect road handling, making it harder to steer around corners, which can cause your tyres to overheat and this will increase the risk of a tyre blowout and being involved in a tyre-related accident. Under inflated tyres can also increase fuel consumption and affect braking performance.

Over inflated tyres cause the tread and sidewalls to become harder, which reduces traction and makes the ride uncomfortable. Reduced traction puts more pressure on the centre of the tyre and causes premature tyre wear across the centre. The reduction in traction can cause the engine to work harder, which increases fuel consumption and will also affect braking performance. Over inflated tyres can also increase your risk of a tyre blowout and being involved in a tyre-related accident.

Related: Tyre Pressures

Low Profile Tyres: Pros and Cons

Before deciding to change to low profile tyres or purchasing a vehicle with low profile tyres here are some pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Low profile tyres look great, as they are usually complemented with large shiny alloys and will enhance the overall look of your car.
  • Low profile tyres have reduced heights but have stiffer sidewalls to compensate for this, which improves stability and overall handling of your car.
  • Low profile tyres have wider tread widths that make more contact with the road, which gives them better grip and improves braking performance.
  • Many drivers feel safer driving on low profile tyres, so these tyres are becoming more popular.

Cons:

  • Low profile tyres make more contact with the road which can make these nosier. The stiffness of the sidewall can also create additional noise. The main road noise is caused by air passing through the tread pattern and low profile tyres have more grooves, which creates more noise.
  • Tyre manufacturers have introduced new asymmetric patterns and developed softer compounds to help reduce road noise, however, they can still sound noisier due to your car being closer to the road.
  • Incorrect tyre pressures and unbalanced wheels can also create additional tyre noise, so it’s very important to set these correctly as per the tyre manufacturers recommendations.
  • Drivers often complain of an uncomfortable ride in cars with low profile tyres this is because the car is closer to the road surface.
  • Changing from higher profile tyres to lower profile tyres and making no adjustment to your suspension will make your ride more uncomfortable and can cause issues with suspension components.
  • Low profile tyres are more prone to damage from potholes and speed bumps, especially if you drive over these at speed.
  • Low profile tyres wear faster than regular tyres as the wide treads make more contact with the road. Cornering at speeds will also cause the tyres to wear faster, because of the lower sidewalls.
  • Low profile tyres can make steering harder, due to the lower sidewall and shoulder stiffness.
  • Low profile tyres do not perform as well on snow and ice due to the lower sidewalls and the wider treads and can increase the risk of aquaplaning.
  • Low profile tyres and large wheels may look attractive, but they can put an extra burden on your car’s axle and suspension.
  • Low profile tyres have lower rolling resistance and can save you money on fuel, however, this can be counteracted by the extra weight from heavy wheels, which makes the engine work harder and can increase fuel consumption. The heavy wheels can also slow acceleration.

Conclusion:

The best tyres for your vehicle are the ones recommended or fitted by the vehicle manufacturers, however, if you decide to change tyre size there are usually changes you need to make on your car to accommodate these and you should notify your car insurance of these changes. Hopefully, the pros and cons above will help you decide on whether to change to low profile tyres.

If you need more advice on changing your tyre size speak to one of our experienced tyre technicians in your local National Tyres and Autocare branch.

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