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April 2012 Firing Order Editorial

Posted in Features on April 1, 2012
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You can ruin the look and performance of your 4x4 with a single modification-choosing the wrong tires and wheels. Having worked at a 4x4 shop I know that most people purchase tires and wheels based on looks, then price, although I’ve never done it this way myself. I’ve always believed that tires and wheels make the truck, or any 4x4 for that matter. It’s often painfully obvious to others if you skimp on your rolling stock or you don’t match them to the styling of the vehicle. Of course, everyone has an opinion as to what looks good and I’m probably more opinionated than most. Personally, I really like the skateboard look for my trail-specific 4x4s. I’m not talking about the overly lifted trucks with small squatty tires, those look ridiculous. But I do like properly fitted extra-wide wheels and aggressive tires with a squared-off tread. Imagine a 16/35-15 Super Swamper Bogger mounted on a 15x12 deep-dish wheel and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what I’m talking about. Now of course this tire and wheel combination isn’t a good idea on every 4x4, and it’s not for every application. In fact, it would only work well in very few situations. The truth is that the vehicle should be built around the tires and wheels you plan to use. You obviously wouldn’t put heavy and cumbersome 12-inch-wide wheels and Boggers on a daily-driver, tow rig, or a 4x4 built for high-speed desert use. And it would be just as silly to bolt them up to most light-duty factory 4x4 axles. Any of these scenarios would simply be a recipe for destruction, regardless of how cool I think it looks. But for the slow-speed, loose-soil desert wheeling I often encounter in my area, this wide, aggressive tire and wheel combo works well and I can easily design a vehicle around it.

Aside from my personal favorite in rolling stock, there are a couple of rules I try and follow when choosing wheels and tires for a 4x4. For example, black wheels are ugly. They typically don’t look good on dark colored vehicles unless they have some sort of bright colored detail paint, polished accent, or machined surface added to them. Dark-painted 4x4s usually look better with polished, machined, or light-painted wheels. In fact, I don’t think black wheels look all that great on light-colored 4x4s either—the tire and wheel combo just kind of bleeds into one boring dark lump. It makes for terrible photos. I guess I like some sort of contrast on my wheels and tires. Leave the black and dark-painted wheels for murdered-out lowriders.

Also, think moderation when selecting a machined aluminum wheel. All too often the wheel companies go nuts when they get their hands on a five-axis mill. Just because you can machine any pattern you can dream up doesn’t mean you should. Chances are that if the design of the wheel is extremely complicated, it will look terrible on a 4x4 anyway. Most 4x4s have industrial, traditional, or simple body lines. Adding gaudy wheels that clash with the overall look of the truck will simply make you the Liberace of your neighborhood, plus those bedazzled wheels will be a pain in the butt to keep clean. Some of my all-time favorite wheels would be considered boring by most people, but they include the old Alcoa Classic (and any of the copies), the Alcoa Challengers, and pretty much anything that looks like the vintage Halibrand Sprint wheels, including the Rocket Injector wheel pictured here. Interestingly enough, most of these older, more-traditional wheel designs look better on a modern 4x4 than a lot of the busy-looking, complicated wheels being produced today.

Always go with aluminum wheels when you can. Most aluminum wheels are significantly lighter than their steel counterparts. Also consider tire weight when choosing rolling stock. You don’t need a heavy load range E tire on a two-door Jeep. You’ll be much better off with the flexible carcass of a C load range tire on a lighter 4x4. Keeping wheel and tire weight to a minimum will increase fuel economy, make your 4x4 feel much quicker, and help prevent driveline failure and premature wear. As far as vehicle performance (braking and acceleration) is concerned, adding 10 pounds of wheel weight is the equivalent of adding 100 pounds of cargo inside the vehicle. It adds up quickly when comparing oversized tires to the stock rubber.

I like tires with an aggressive tread pattern. Because I generally use my 4x4s in a variety of different terrains, I ask a lot of my tires. If it’s a 4x4 that I frequently use on the street, then they have to be able to spin somewhat-round at 80 mph, handle single-digit pressures in the rocks, mud, sand, and snow, and be able to blast across a desert two-track that’s littered like a minefield with tire-puncturing obstacles. I’ll never be happy with the looks or performance of anything less aggressive than, say, a BFG All-Terrain. I already know that the milder treads just won’t do what I want them to.

Ultimately, opinions are like … well, you know. But there is a lot more to consider than just looks and price when picking the right wheels and tires for your 4x4.

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