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April 2013 Firing Order - Editorial

Jeep Wrangler Next To Huge Tire
John Cappa | Writer
Posted April 1, 2013

Tire Envy

Tire envy starts the day you own a 4x4, and even sooner for some of us. The number one thing most people want to change on their 4x4 is the tires and wheels, which leads to likely the most common question we get: “What size tire can I fit on my 4x4?” At first, most people typically are not ready for a lift kit of any kind, they just want to fit a tire that’s a size or two larger than stock. But it doesn’t stop there. Once the new-truck smell has worn off, or more specifically the warranty (sometimes sooner), a leveling kit is added that allows a tire several sizes larger than stock. And it’s not over yet, eventually a full-blown lift follows all this madness. No one ever seems to be content with the tire size on their 4x4. People with 31s want 33s. The 33-inch tire owners want 35s, the 35-inch shod 4x4s seem to need 37s, and the 37-inch tire owners seem to think they need 40s, and so on. A lot of time, money, and effort is wasted making these small steps in tire size. But, on the other hand there is at least one benefit to this process, you learn to drive your 4x4 more accurately when you don’t have huge tires to overcompensate for a lack of driving skill. I’m a huge proponent of building your rig as you go, rather than throwing everything but the kitchen sink at it before even shifting the transfer case into low range.

Me, well, I generally cut to the chase and go with the tire size that I want to run from the start. But I will get to know the vehicle in stock form first. Of course this build tactic has its own pitfalls. Namely the axles and gearing, among other things, need to be addressed at the same time. This obviously increases the cost of the build.

What size tire can I fit on my 4x4?

I thought my current project needed 40-inch tires. I took into consideration the wheelbase, weight, the kind of wheeling I had planned for it, the durability of the drivetrain components, and so on. It wasn’t simply an irrational need or dream to have 40s under my 4x4. It’s what made sense.

I have a buddy, Scott, at the other end of the spectrum from me. He recently purchased a Toyota Tacoma complete with a high-end, long-travel A-arm kit up front with coilovers along with custom long-travel Deaver rear leaf springs and bypass shocks. It’s a well-built truck that stomps the desert and mountain two-tracks (the kind of wheeling we have around here). He was unbelievably ecstatic when he first drove the truck off-road. It did everything he wanted and more. He couldn’t believe how well it rode and performed. The problem was that it only had 33x10.50 tires on it. These sort of oddball-sized tires made sense for this particular truck because of the long-travel kit and somewhat fragile steering components. I told Scott he should leave the truck alone and have fun with it, but that didn’t happen. He wanted 35s. I tried fruitlessly to talk him out of it. Even when he discovered his factory rack-and-pinion steering was marginal with the narrow 33s, he still insisted on adding bigger tires, and I’m not even sure why.

Today he is currently several months into ruining his desert prerunner with a V-8 engine swap and working on adding 37-inch tires, both of which will totally overwhelm the factory front and rear axles, which he also plans to swap out. Even the additional weight of the V-8 will alter the handling and ride of the truck, so much so that I think he will be disappointed with the finished results. And once he puts a solid axle up front, the high-speed handling and ride will unfortunately be quite a bit less impressive.

So what’s the point? Don’t let tire envy get the best of you. Think about how you use your 4x4 before randomly upgrading your tire size. Take everything into consideration or you could end up with a vehicle that is less capable and more unreliable than what you actually started with. In Scott’s case, he had a perfectly running truck that he tore apart months ago and it’s been sitting undrivable ever since. What fun is that?

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