Snow Tire Size

Tire Rack suggests buying snow tires slightly smaller that my OE size for my VW Passat Wagon. 195/65-15 instead of 205/55-16 Any thoughts on whether this is a good idea? The smaller ones are cheaper.

So long as you get all four the same size (for AWD) or at least the same size on the left as on the right, front/back, it’s safe.

The difference in diameter between those tires is small, but it will mean your speedometer reads high. Not really a bad thing in winter, I guess.

I’m pretty sure the main benefit is that narrower tires cut through the snow more easily, getting you down closer to the hard surface, which grips better.

BTW, if they’re legal in your state, get studs.

The owner’s manual of a '98 Volvo V70XC wagon I owned said the same thing, go one size smaller for snow tires. Snow tires are generally made with deeper treads and more tread at the edges than standard tires. Going smaller on snows means there will be no clearance problems with the tires in the wheel wells of the car.

That is about 0.5% difference in the speedometer and if I remember the numbers correctly it means the snow tyres are also a little thinner, meaning they will get a little better traction in snow.

BTW, I hope you mean WINTER tyres not SNOW tyres. Snow tyres are old technology, in the last couple of years winter tyres have come along and have proven to be significantly better on both snow and especially ice than snow tyres.

Those of us in the tire industry tend to say a tire is smaller when it’s load carrying capacity is smaller - which generally follows tire diameter. However, there are some exceptions and this is one of them.

While the tire is slightly smaller in overall diameter, it has the same load carrying capacity. But the operative word is “slightly”. The difference is not enough to worry about.

Many folks use the word “smaller” when they mean a smaller diameter rim - as in this case. If properly sized, a smaller diameter rim will fit. You can be sure that Tire Rack already has looked at this carefully and knows that the rims they sell will fit.

Overall this seems a good fit to the vehicle and the conditions anticipated.

According to Powerdog tire size calculator:
Specification Sidewall Radius Diameter Circumference Revolutions Speedometer Odometer Difference
195/65-15 5.0" 12.5" 25.0" 78.5" 807/mi 60MPH 10000mi N/A
205/55-16 4.4" 12.4" 24.9" 78.2" 811/mi 60MPH 10041mi -0.4%

The tire size difference is .4%, hardly worth noting and will provide better winter traction at the expense of some handling loss. Being higher profile with the different rims you’ll be forced to buy as well, they will offer a little more protection from potholes. We do this with our 4Runner and drop from 17" to 16" rims but increase tire ratio from 65 to 70 for an almost exact overall diameter and circumference, a key measure. Your’s should work well for you likewise assuming there are no rim fitment issues. If not an option for your car, have them test fit before you buy.

As for studs, we have them on one vehicle and not another. We find modern winter/snows with the flake emblem cope with ice much better than they used to, and unless you live in the mountains and travel on ice every day in the winter as we do, they are not necessary IMO. I’d go w/o. Hope you are doing ALL FOURS !!!


The biggest issue with smaller rims is making sure it’ll clear your brake calipers

I’d first ask what your driving environment is and your driving style. While I’m sure the Tirerack tech guys have checked to see that the 15" rim will clear the brakes, and it’s generallly true that (everything else equal) a narrower tire will bite better in snow, the new tire & wheel combination (narrower with more sidewall) is likely to compromise handling, and unless you really do drive often in deep show I’d recommend against it. You’re only talking about a 1omm difference in sectional width, and it may not be worth the compromise.

I drive 215/45/17s in NH, and I drive all-season tires rather than winter tires, and I’m fine in the winter.