Going a size down for winter tires?

We live in upstate New York and I am looking to buy a set of winter tires+wheels for my wife’s 2018 Subaru Forester. Tirerack.com recommends going one size down and getting 16" wheels instead of the OEM 17" (215/70-16 vs 226/60-17 to be precise). I understand their logic about advantage of narrow tires in the snow and taller sidewalls. I’m just wondering if there are any major downsides to going smaller than OEM, especially since 90% of the time the car will be driven on clear roads without snow.

No, no downsides.


As long as the smaller tires have the same load-carrying capacity as the OEM tires, then you can downsize with confidence for your winter tires. Tirerack is a very reputable company and they wouldn’t be suggesting it if it wasn’t based on valid engineering principles.

All of that being said, when I have used winter tires in the past, they were always slightly-narrower than the OEM tires, and I never experienced any problems.


For my Honda Civic my winter tires are slightly narrower and slightly higher profile than the OEM size, with a bit lower load carrying rating. That has worked out well.

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I suspect the lower profile tires with the larger rims give slightly better handling in corners, at speed. Most of us don’t drive anywhere near those limits, but we’ve been conditioned to like the look. I always had a set of smaller diameter rims with higher aspect ratio winter tires for my car in snow country.

I am also in upstate NY. I have purchased winter tires with wheels for two vehicles from Tire Rack, both sets with smaller wheels and narrower tires. They worked great.

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Yes, there is a potential downside. First see if your vehicle had a base model with 16" steel wheels. I know the 2014 did but I don’t know if the 2017 did.

If it did not, then you will need to go to the Subaru dealer’s parts department and see if the front rotors are interchangeable. If they are, you can do this, if not, then you may not be able to because if the newer model has a larger rotor, there may not be enough clearance for the 16" wheels.

Edit: according to the Rockauto parts catalog, the rotors used in the 2017 are about 15mm larger (5/8"). You may check your tire rack to see if they list a 16" tire for the base model 17 Outback.

Edit #2: According to Tirerack.com, the only tire listed for your vehicle is the 225/65-17. You should stick with that.

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tirerack can probably be trusted to sell you steel wheels that fit. They might want to know the VIN, and can take it from there.

My first winter tires came from tirerack, already mounted on steel rims, shipped to my workplace. I still use those rims, 20 years later, but with newer winter tires.

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I remember seeing model t going through mud anything but a 4wd would have trouble with. I don’t know how hey did in show but the skinnier tire could be good.

We’ve had this discussion before but I just don’t buy the idea of narrower tires getting down through snow easier to the bare pavement. Narrow or wide you simply compact the snow below the tire not displace it like a boat in water. Like I said before when I switched my 59 Pontiac from bald wide oval tires to standard size snow tires, I could no longer get up the hill by my apartment. I had more traction with the wide bald tires on ice at least. When someone wants to sell me something different, I just start to wonder why and if maybe that’s what they stock, but suit yourself.

I had snow tires on my 65 impala. Better traction then non snow tires. Posi and glide trans. Awesome traction. Never got stuck. Had a 67 fury with new tires and snow use was terrible

For the younger kids, wide oval tires were popular back in the mid 60’s I guess for people that thought they had performance cars. They were standard tires (maybe softer, I dunno) but wide like slicks. They were on the car when I bought it but by Christmas vacation they were bald so put Firestone recap snow tires on the back for 2 for $50 or 4 for $100, mounted and balanced. The good ole days.

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You have all-wheel drive, you don’t have to worry about the exact width of your snow tires.

I had an experience where I was able to climb a snowy hill on the highway shoulder because the rough surface gave better traction. This doesn’t exactly prove the narrow tire theory, but it does support that getting down to the road surface is better.

TireRack is very good at being accurate for fit. Guy I buy tires from swears by them. He uses their website for fit on rims he sells. If TireRack says it fits then it does…If it doesn’t then it doesn’t.

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Narrower tires for snow is not a theory…it’s a FACT. Anyone who’s lived in the snow belt knows this. Narrower tires mean more weight per sq/in which helps the tires dig down to pavement or harder packed snow below. Even a 1" narrower tire can make a huge difference in snow traction. The problem with going TOO NARROW is vehicle stability.

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It’s pretty simple. Think about a toboggan and an old style sled. A toboggan went fast and slid over all sorts of surfaces as long as they were downhill. A sled would sink in and stop on mud or slush. And it took a packed surface to get a sled to slide fast, but you could steer a sled. The shape of the contact surface matters, and a tall skinny sled runner cuts through snow while a broad flat surface slides over snow. Which would you prefer on your vehicle?


I sold a set of 225/17 winter tires to a subi owner. His tires were bald, in January. Wonder if he used the winter tires year round? I got the feeling he was cheap.

Thanks everyone! I was mostly concerned with rim size (16" vs original 17"), less so with tire width. Talked to the dealer today and they didn’t think there’d be any issue like fitting over the rotor, etc. So I’ll go ahead with the 16"

Of course your bald tires had the same or better traction on ice…it’s ice! it’s basically an incompressible/immovable material, where contact patch is what matters most

I’m not sure how you can say that no snow is displaced with snow tires…do you also think that tires don’t displace rainwater on wet pavement? It’s the same principle with snow, except the friction force between snowflakes holds it together better; you need a higher stress applied to the snow than you do water, to displace it from underneath the tire. stress equals force/area, and your force isn’t changing, so you’ve got to decrease your surface area. i.e., narrower tire.

tirerack also has some good articles on the topic: Why are Narrower Tires Better for Winter Driving? - Hunter’s Ramblings about Performance wheels & tire | Tire Rack