Guest Post: Big Wheels Make You Cool but Poor

When people talk about car expenses, they focus on gas. But there’s another consumable item that is just as important to your car purchasing decision: tires.

Note: This is the first of a three part series on the insidious car expenses and how to reduce them. It was written by esteemed guest blogger The Prodigal Mennonite. Stay tuned for future posts on depreciation and insurance.

Tire costs vary by vehicle

The model of vehicle you drive has a big impact on your tire costs. Tire prices vary widely, with larger and higher performance tires being more expensive than their smaller, more modest counterparts.

Although most readers of this blog will already avoid SUVs (large tires) and BMWs (high performance tires), they may not realize how even modest vehicles can come with very different tire expenses.

For example, the 2020 Honda Civic can be had with either 16” (DX, LX, EX) or 18” (Sport, Touring, Si) wheels. The outer tire circumference is actually the same for both wheel sizes, but the 18″ wheels have tires with shorter sidewalls to account for the larger wheel diameter (see photos).

The larger 18” wheels look cool, but unless they’re on a high performance vehicle (read: not a Civic) and being driven on a track, that’s about all they do. But they come at a high cost!

Table 1: Cost to replace four tires for 2020 Honda Fit DX, Honda Civic LX, and Honda Civic Touring

 Honda Fit DX (185/60R15)Honda Civic LX (215/55R16)Honda Civic Touring (235/40R18)
Tire modelPriceMileagePer 20kPriceMileagePer 20kPriceMileagePer 20km
Pirelli PZero/Four All Season Plus$669.65145,000$69.27$777.86110,000$141.43$1,001.9380,000$250.48
Continental Contiprocontact$726.99105,000$138.47$823.2796,000$171.51$1,538.9264,000$480.91
Bridgestone Blizzak WS90$691.4760,000$230.49$940.0750,000$376.03$1,346.8740,000$673.44

This table compares the costs of replacing tires on both Civic models, as well as the 15” wheels on a 2020 Honda Fit DX. It uses tread life warranties to estimate real-world tire life and cost per 20,000 kms. (Note: The Blizzaks don’t come with a tread life warranty, so tire life was estimated…arbitrarily.)

Table 2: Estimated annual tire cost for 2020 Honda Fit DX, Honda Civic LX, and Honda Civic Touring

Vehicle modelAnnual tire costTire cost per km
Honda Fit DX$146.08$0.0073
Honda Civic LX$229.66$0.0115
Honda Civic Touring$468.28$0.0234

This table compares the average annual tire cost of each of the three vehicles in our comparison. It assumes 20,000 km of driving per year, with one third on Bridgestone Blizzaks winter tires, and the remaining two thirds on all season tires, using the midpoint cost of the Pirelli and Continental tires.

Tire costs are significant

We can see from these numbers that tire costs are worth paying attention to.

The estimated annual tire costs for 18” Civic wheels ring in at $238.62 more than their 16” counterparts. Over 10 years, those cool looking rims could cost an extra $2386 in shredded rubber!

Although tire costs are lower than fuel costs in absolute terms, they can actually be a more important factor in deciding which vehicle you should buy.

Table 3: Fuel cost per kilometer for Honda Fit, Honda Civic, and Honda CR-V

Vehicle modelFuel economyFuel cost per km
Honda Fit LX6.5$0.0650
Honda Civic LX7.1$0.0710
Honda CR-V LX8.1$0.0810

This table shows the fuel costs per kilometer for a Honda Fit, Civic, and CR-V, assuming gas prices at $1.00 per litre. Combining this with the tire costs in Table 2, we find that:

  • Upgrading from a Fit to a Civic costs 0.60 cents/km in fuel and 0.42 cents/km in tires
  • Upgrading from from a Civic to a CR-V costs 1.00 cents/km in fuel
  • Upgrading a Civic’s wheels from 16″ to 18″ costs 1.19 cents/km in tires

As you can see, tire costs may be just as important as fuel costs when choosing your next vehicle! So don’t try to look cool.

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