Big wheels

Q&A with Sharon Peters


We’re looking at two vehicles. The Subaru Forester has 16-inch wheels that come standard, but you can get 17- inch wheels, and the Ford Escape’s range from 17 to 19 inches. The bigger ones cost more. What’s with the emphasis on wheel sizes, and why spend more for bigger?


Almost everyone agrees that bigger ones just plain look better, and that — pure aesthetics — is a key reason why they’re offered and why some people spend more.

There are other factors, though, about which there isn’t universal agreement. Many say bigger wheels, and by this I mean not those supersized, massive aftermarket things that clearly look “off,” but, rather, somewhat larger wheels offered by the car manufacturer, corner better, handle better and give a somewhat smoother ride. There can also be a small decrease in mpg, depending on the vehicle and type of driving one does.

I have twice driven identical cars with standard-sized and upsized wheels (one pair of vehicles with 16-inch then the 17-inch wheels; the second with 17-inch then 18-inch wheels). I detected somewhat better cornering with the bigger versions, but little else in driving/handling experience.

Test drive all the options and see what resonates for you and what doesn’t.


Is there any evidence that seatbelts save lives? My 19- year-old son refuses to wear his seatbelt because he says there are many cases — like when a car plummets into a river — when not wearing a seatbelt is safer.


I doubt anything will convince him; I’ve heard this argument often. But try these (which aren’t projected estimates, like the “5,500 lives could be saved annually if seatbelt use increased to 90 percent”) that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration bandies about, but are crash-based stats:

Ejection during a crash is often fatal: 75 percent of car occupants who were totally ejected from the vehicle are killed. Only one percent of occupants who used restraints were totally ejected; 22 percent of unrestrained occupants were totally ejected.

In 2009, of 3,349 teen vehicle occupants, ages 16 to 20, were killed in crashes, 56 percent were unrestrained. Naturally, he could focus on the fact that 44 percent of those killed were wearing seatbelts. But odds are odds, and most would argue that improving them is smart.

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What’s your question? Sharon Peters would like to hear about what’s on your mind when it comes to caring for, driving and repairing your vehicle. Email