Narrow or skinny tires are making a comeback. The first tires like those on Ford’s model T featured narrow tires. Then, skinny tires for winter driving became popular in cold weather climates as they delivered improved handling and better traction.
Today, many hybrid and electric cars use them. Being taller and skinnier, these tires reduce the surface area of the tire that touches the road. Less surface area means less friction. This translates to greater fuel efficiency, an essential component for hybrid and electric cars.
Narrow tires provide more than an opportunity to improve fuel efficiency. They can increase performance on slick and wet streets with the right tread. They also help drivers in winter weather, snow and ice.
When do people use narrow (skinny) tires?
It might seem like the increased surface area of wide, low tires would improve traction in the snow. But they don’t. Instead, these wider tires act like a plow. Rather than cutting through the snow, they face more resistance.
The wider tires are also more prone to losing traction. The weight of the car gets distributed across the greater surface area of the tire, limiting the ability of the wheel to press deeper into the snow and increase traction. This is why people who drive through deep snow typically switch to narrow tires for winter travel. The narrow tires cut through the snow better and increase downward force for greater traction which also helps on icy roads.
Skinny tires also often cost less and make a practical investment for winter.
What are the disadvantages of using a narrow tire?
A narrow/skinny tire does come with a few disadvantages:
Finding the right narrow tire for your car can be a challenge. It must be able to support the weight of the vehicle, a potential concern for vans and light trucks. A tire specialist can help identify the best narrow tires for your vehicle.
They are not made for high performance vehicles.
Lower, wide tires still offer the best traction on dry roads as the greater surface area accommodates shifts in balance at higher speeds.
They are not made for all vehicles. Most narrow tires are made for electric or hybrid vehicles to take strain off the engine.
What kinds of vehicles are typically paired with narrow or skinny tires?
Most often electric cars and hybrid electric vehicles use narrow tires. To maintain the efficiency of their engines, they need the lower resistance offered by the narrow tires. The greater friction created by wide, low tires strains the battery.
Lightweight vehicles also benefit from narrow tires. These include models like the Kia Versa, Honda Accent, Toyota Yaris, RAV4, and Ford Escape. Just as the narrow tire increases downward weight in snow, the narrower tire makes better use of the car’s lightweight frame and improves traction on dry, wet and snowy roads.
If you face extended winters with heavy snows, icy conditions and consistent temperatures below 44 degrees, narrow, skinny tires for winter can help improve traction and safety while driving. In climates where temperatures are warmer or more variable, standard all season tires are preferred.