Several weeks ago I posted about purchasing a set of OE 17-inch TRD wheels which included the original BF Goodrich All-Terrain 285/70R17 tires (17″ Tundra Wheels & BFG A/T Tires). However those were not the first, nor the best, set of TRD Rock Warrior wheels I have purchased. The Cooper S/T MAXX trial started last summer and has drug on for a while.
The reasons for buying the 18-inch Tundra SR5 wheels was because I wasn’t enthralled with the fake beadlock rings on the Rock Warrior wheels (Goodbye Bling Rings), and because finding a set of 17-inch TRD second generation Tundra wheels for a reasonable price seemed nearly impossible. Most of the sets on Craig’s List were almost new, with almost new tires, and guys wanted almost new prices, upwards of $1,500 for the tires and wheels. No thanks. In addition to being far more than I was willing to spend, because I’m not a BFG A/T fan (not a hater, just not a fan) I really didn’t want to pay anything for BFG A/T take-off tires.
There were two issues with the 18-inch Cooper S/T MAXXs: the drifting to the right, and the stiff ride from the rugged, short sidewalls. I could seek alignment solutions for the pulling—which I doubted would work—but how could I soften the ride of the stiff, short sidewall tires without letting too much air out? The stout construction of the S/T MAXX appeals to me, there is a time and application for these tires and I wanted a set, but the 18-inch 275s were rougher that I cared to drive on.
After deciding I wasn’t going to keep the 275/70R18s, and to take advantage of Discount Tire’s excellent exchange policy, the question was exchange them for what? Another set of F-C II? That seemed a bit silly, since my existing set was almost new, and I’d rather have one set of mild treads and another more aggressive. Though I knew a second set of F-C II wasn’t going to pull to the right and wouldn’t be a waste of money. Since I’d been down this road several times with the 4Runner, I was confident I knew the unhappy ending.
The First Set of TRD 17-Inch Rock Warrior Wheels
Knowing my dissatisfaction with the 18-inch sidewalls, early one morning my friend Frank inquired about finding a second set of 17-inch TRD wheels. I quickly dismissed his idea, telling him via email I had looked and they were all too expensive… But I decided to look again, and hidden among all the ridiculously expensive was one reasonably priced set at an independent tire dealer in Sacramento, just a couple hours away (thank you Frank). I was the first person to contact the seller, told him I’d be there in a couple hours if he would hold them for me.
Though there was summer road construction in the Sierras, and the several thousand vertical feet lost and gained during the 228 miles of travel, careful use of my right foot allowed the Tundra to squeeze 17.88 miles from each gallon.
The wheels were not perfect, but in hindsight they are the best set I’ve purchased thus far. There were a few scuffs on the fake beak lock rings from careless handling (which helped me to negotiate a lower price), and three of four spring clips that secure the center caps were missing, which I didn’t notice until I was home. But overall they were a very nice set the will likely stay with the Tundra as long as it lives in my barn.
With another set of 17s in the shop I didn’t know what I was going to exchange the S/T MAXX for, but I knew they were not going to be 18-inch tires.
Long before my route was paved there were much hardier travelers who passed this way. I stopped for a brief photo and took a moment to reflect. Lately I’ve been reflecting on how thoroughly spoiled we are with easy, efficient, convenient long distance travel. Several decades ago vehicles were not as low-maintenance and relatively trouble-free as they are now. Before the transcontinental railroad, traveling across The States was a serious, life-threatening endeavor. As modern motorized backcountry travelers there is always the possibility that our machines and computers will fail and we will be reunited with primal overland travel; walking.
Below is a poor grab shot through windshield glare and at a substantial distance as I drove through the small town of Quincy, California. It’s not everyday that one sees an nicely restored original Bronco with uncut rear fenders, and nice, narrow original size tires.
Onward further into the country where I met Brian and his family—very kind people. Brian and I visited for over an hour, talking mostly about trucks and tires, before I started reversing my path.
After several miles I drove down a dirt road where I enjoyed lunch. I really like having a tailgate for picnics, one of the advantages of a pickup over most utility vehicles.
Excellent Highway Fuel Economy
After lunch and enjoying the sights and smells of the forest, my fuel economy mission resumed. Theoretically, there are many ways in which to improve fuel economy. Though if your vehicle is outfitted the way you like it and your maintenance is up-to-date, the best way to increase fuel economy is to drive slower and pay attention to your driving technique—there is more to it than simply lowering your top speed.
My not-so-speedy-delivery was a 183.7-mile all highway roundtrip, on which the 3UR-FE 5.7L aluminum Toyota V8 consumed 9.761 gallons of gasoline. The math says that’s 18.81 miles-per-gallon. Excellent.
I’d love to attain this type of economy all the time, but mixed driving, living at altitude, and driving up and down mountains makes it nearly impossible. Though for a lifted truck with a big gasoline-powered V8 engine, and reasonably large & wide 33-inch LT285/70R17D tires (Dick Cepek F-C II), being able to top 18 miles-per-gallon is an accomplishment. Some of the credit has to go to the very tall sixth gear overdrive, which lets the engine lope at very low revolutions-per-minute when lightly loaded, and use little fuel.
I’m not a big custom wheel fan, partly because I’ve never run very wide tires so narrower OE wheels work well, and partly because wheel bling is not my thing. I’ve purchased exactly two sets of custom wheels in all my years of tinkering with four-wheel-drives, one set for my old F350, and one set for my 4Runner—both were later sold after very little use. There may be another set in the F350’s future if I stay with 285s, but that’s down the road.
However, I have purchased many sets of original equipment wheels—either take-offs or new—including an extra set of steelies for the F350, several 16-inch Toyota FJ Cruiser TRD wheels for the Mall Crawler, and now a couple sets of forged 17-inch TRD take-offs for the 2nd Gen. Tundra. Extra wheels are needed for tire testing, not because I have a wheel fetish, tires on the other hand…
It’s much easier to find take-off wheels for new or current platforms, when enthusiasts are removing OE tires and wheels and replacing them for appearance or something bigger. For example, it’s very difficult to find a nice set of 16×7-inch factory forged aluminum wheels for the 1996 F350. Few are modifying these trucks that ceased production in 1997, and the supply of OE wheels dried-up long ago. Ford changed the bolt pattern on the heavy-duty 1999 F-series, so newer OE wheels don’t fit.
Six Spoke 17-inch 4Runner Sport Wheels
In the case of the 4th Generation Toyota 4Runner which ceased production just a few years ago, OE take-off wheels are not terribly difficult to find, but finding the exact style I wanted for a reasonable price was a bit of a challenge. The 4th Gen. 120 platform 4Runners were sold with 16, 17, and 18-inch wheels, and in a few different styles.
It should be clear from my Wheels, Tires and Sidewalls post last month that I prefer more tire and less wheel. But I wanted to procure a set of seventeens so I could eventually mount some of the 285/70R17 tires I’m amassing for the Tundra, onto the 4Runner. I was specifically looking for the earlier 6-spoke, 17-inch Sport wheels, not the later, 5-spoke design which is more common and the same or very similar to the 17-inch Tacoma wheels. These seventeens are 7.5-inches wide, just wide enough for 285 tires.
The 6-spoke seventeens are just old and uncommon enough that there are fewer offerings, and the prices are higher than other 4th Gen. take-offs. When it comes to shopping for used wheels Craigslist is a blessing (or is it a curse). I missed a local set for $250 a few months ago, and while I continued to search nationwide, I didn’t want to pay for shipping. After months of intermittent shopping, I found a set in Oregon that did not sell for the original asking price of $400.00. A potential buyer looked at the wheels but passed due to scuffs. The listing expired, but I stayed in contact with the seller, as a planned trip to Eugene, Oregon, was going to put us within 100-miles of the rims. Without seeing a good picture of the damaged wheels I made a tentative offer of $300, which was accepted, and weeks passed.
It was a two hour drive to meet the seller, but even at $4.00 per gallon for diesel, the cost to pickup the wheels was small. Driving the little VW TDI hatchback about 70 miles-per-hour the round trip fuel economy was 48.66 MPG.
We met the seller and inspected the wheels, which did have a few typical gouges near the rims from normal use. The one with the most damage appears as if it was mounted on the wrong tire machine, with a circular gouge near the center of the wheel. I would prefer no such marks, but I use my four-wheel-drives in the rocks and dirt, so there’s a good chance I’ll further damage these wheels during off-highway travel. I do not need, nor am I will to pay for new or perfect wheels. I offered him $250, he countered with $275 and I agreed.
For 2007 and newer Tundras the only OE 17-inch wheel is the forged aluminum TRDs with fake beadlock rings, part of the Rock Warrior package. In my previous post I said I prefer my OE aluminum rims, and I do, but I do have a few gripes with these Toyota wheels.
With my original set I immediately noticed that adjusting the tire pressure is a pain. There’s a cutout in the aluminum ring to access the valve stem, but clearance is still poor. There is little room for fingers, a tire chuck, or a gauge when checking and adjusting the pressure. They also hold water, ice, and mud, helping unbalance the tire. Strike 1.
The bling ring is secured with twelve screws, and they must be removed to mount or dismount a tire. I don’t trust tire shops to do this carefully, not strip any threads, nor scratch anything. Even when doing this myself recently, I cross-threaded one stainless screw upon reinsertion. These things are a pain, particularly for The Tire Meister who plays with tires more than your average gearhead. I looked into removing the rings and filling the holes with shorter screws…the screws would be so short I’d have to have them custom made. Strike 2.
Though the beadlock rings are fake, I thought they might protect the lower edge of the rims from trail damage. After one recent remove & replace session I noticed damage to the powder coating under the ring. Seems that even on a newer truck with only a few thousand miles logged, which is washed and kept clean, debris between the ring and the wheel causes damage. Strike 3. Fired!
The 21,000-mile take-offs I just purchased had never been rebalanced, the original wheel weights were still attached, and I’m pretty sure the rings had never been removed. Look at the rim damage near the bead after 21k. My solution…no ring, no bling, bada-bing.
Part of being The Tire Meister means that I need to have wheels on which to mount the treads I’m evaluating. Unless I want to constantly remove my proven, primary tires, extra wheels are desirable. Extra wheels make for better, more consistent tire testing, and back-to-back swaps of mounted tires is an easy process. Mounting & balancing tires and wheels is not easy, nor inexpensive. I’m not an aftermarket wheel aficionado—quite the contrary—I like perfectly fitting, relatively inexpensive, OEM aluminum wheels for my 4x4s, and using the same wheels eliminates a testing variable.
With the assistance of Craig’s List, finding take-offs from dudes who want “Lighter, Stronger, Faster” wheels, is relatively easy—as long as you have a current model truck that guys are actively modifying. (Are there actually lighter and stronger rims for the second generation Tundra than the 17-inch forged aluminum OE wheels?) This said, 17-inch 5-lug Tundra wheels are not that common, but the big wheel craze is a live-and-well, so with some patience take-offs can be found. Finding a set with worn tires, or no tires, seems to be the key to reasonable prices. Many want $1500 for their almost new take-off TRD 17-inch Rock Warrior wheels and BFG AT tires. I’m not a big fan of the BFG All-Terrain so there’s no way I’ll pay that kind of money.
The set pictured here was not located on Craig’s List, but on a Tundra forum. A guy posted a feeler several weeks before he planned to install 20-inch wheels and 35-inch tires on his Tundra after a 6-inch lift. He was in the same state so I sent him a PM. Turned out he was also in the same metro area, what are the odds? I made him an offer, he accepted, and we waited for his truck to be lifted. A couple weeks ago I purchased his TRD Rock Warrior 17-inch wheels, lug nuts, and locks, along with well used original BFG All-Terrain tires.
A thread on the expeditionportal.com prompted this post. A gentleman asked how much sidewall is enough as he’s planning to use 37-inch tires on 20-inch wheels on a full-size diesel pickup. He asked if it would be worth it to spend money on 17-inch wheels and tires for occasional, recreational use, while using his twenties for daily driving. My answer to his question was no, it’s probably not worth it just for vacations. Though for me, it would be very desirable to run 17-inch tires & wheels everyday. His questions spurred me to expound on this important subject as it relates to overland travel for the first time here on RoadTraveler.net.
A Sidewall Baseline For 4WDs
I’m not an advocate of tall wheels if they are not necessary, of course many trucks these days have a minimum wheel diameter of 17-inches because the brakes are so large, and wheels between 18–20 inches have become fashionable. A tall wheel simply means less tire sidewall with which to perform off-highway duties for a given tire diameter. Taller sidewalls help a truck ride above the rocks and obstacles, all of the truck, including the wheels. Low-profile tires are needlessly vulnerable to trail damage, offer less flex, and are generally less versatile. It’s often forgotten, misunderstood, or unappreciated that tires are part of a vehicle’s suspension.
Using a 16-inch wheel with a 33-inch tire offers a sidewall height of 8.5-inches, (33 –16)/2 = 8.5″, a good baseline. We could get more technical and use the static radius, but it’s easier to simply use the manufacturers’ stated diameter, and it’s close enough for this topic. The lower half is what we drive on, what matters, and it provides more or less flex depending on its height and design. Sidewall flex can be a positive or a negative depending on your truck, the terrain, and your needs and preferences. In theory, a 35-inch tire on an 18-inch wheel, a 37-inch tire on a 20-inch wheel, as well as my thirty-three on a sixteen example, all have a lower sidewall height of approx. 8.5-inches.
If we are interested in the clearance we get from a particular tire size, specific tires need to be researched using the manufacturer’s data to determine the true diameter. Some tires will be very close to their stated height, 35-inches for example, while some are a half-inch short. One half-inch less diameter means 1/4-inch less sidewall on the bottom, a difference that can easily be measured and felt depending on the sensitivity of your butt dyno.
Load Range and Tire Construction
A taller, higher aspect ratio, more flexible sidewall is helpful for off-highway travel for both ride quality and traction. One exception being that a stiffer (and tall) sidewall may be more resistant to puncture. A shorter and/or stiffer sidewall is generally less desirable off-highway. For heavy hauling and towing, a shorter, stiffer sidewall can be helpful, as less movement and flex generates less heat. However, on several occasions I’ve successfully and safely used relatively flexible, load-range D light-truck tires with 2-ply sidewalls to haul a couple tons (didn’t exceed tire capacity or GAWR), and have also towed several tons. I’ve also traveled many hundreds of miles (if not thousands) off-highway over the last two decades, mostly on load-range D tires. Have I had sidewall cuts? Of course, but only two that immediately come to mind, and one was last year. If you are concerned about sidewall punctures, there are some excellent, flexible load-range D tires with 3-ply sidewalls in some popular sizes. Your application and performance bias will help you choose your tires. There are many excellent, heavy-duty tires to choose from these days, some in load-range C, D, and E.
I acknowledge that load-range D tires are probably a dying breed, the writing has been on the sidewall for a while. The proliferation of heavy-duty pickups, particularly diesels, over the last several years has greatly influenced the tire aftermarket. Unfortunately even half-ton trucks and lightweight Jeeps are sometimes needlessly sold with load-range E tires, my 2005 Jeep Rubicon and 2011 Tundra are perfect examples. My coil-sprung, 103-inch wheelbase, 2005 Unlimited was a nice riding Jeep, with the exception of the needlessly stiff Goodyear Wrangler MT/R in a 245/75R16E (a relatively short sidewall). I liked the way the Jeep rode with only 25-PSI in the tires. After changing to taller load-range D tires, the combination of a taller sidewall and load-range D made the Jeep ride and perform better at all pressures, on- and off-highway.
My point is that as with many things these days, it’s easy to needlessly go to extremes and forget balance. All-steel, load-range F or G, Michelin military tires are not the best choice for your 3,000-pound soft-top YJ Wrangler, or for your heavy-duty pickup.
Not all load-range E tires are created equal, some are designed to flex better than others when pressures are reduced. My experience with both the BF Goodrich KM2 and All-Terrain T/A in load-range E indicates these tires are not overly stiff and flex well.
I recently tested two sets of 33-inch tires, both the same size with reasonable 70% aspect ratios, on the same OE wheels, but with different load ratings and sidewall construction. This latest trial simply reinforced the potential differences in ride quality and overall performance between some tires with different load ranges, sidewall designs, or heights. The difference was enough that I was comfortable running considerably more PSI in the lighter, more flexible tire, but wanted to run minimal PSI in the much firmer tire to improve daily-driving ride quality, just like with the Jeep example above. Increasing PSI on a flexible tire will reduce flex and help it run cooler on-highway if desired.
One advantage to more flexible tires is there’s often less need to reduce pressures as much off-highway as with a stiffer tire. Tires that flex, conform, and ride better at a given pressure, and are sometimes so pleasant that for short drives on easy dirt roads with few rocks, there may be no need or desire to immediately lower pressures. Conversely, tires with very stiff construction can scream dump the pressure, at the first sign of anything bigger than a pebble, particularly on a firmly sprung heavy-duty pickup with no load.
Reinforcing Sidewall Lessons
Another, older example are tests I conducted a few years ago, using two different sizes of the same tire, on two sets of Jeep Rubicon Moab wheels, on the same vehicle, with the same air pressure in both: Toyo Open Country MT LT265/75R16E vs. LT285/75R16E. Both tires have a 7-ply tread and 3-ply sidewall, are load-range E, have similar load capacities, and are very stiff designs. With 0.6″ additional lower sidewall, the taller 285s rode better on/off-road and flexed a little better when aired-down. This was experienced several times as both sets were in my fleet for a while and used on more than one 4WD. The stiff Toyo MT needs substantial deflation to obtain adequate deformation and ride quality off-highway, one of the tradeoffs for the Toyo’s very rugged design. The noticeable lack of flexibility from this otherwise excellent tire is a big negative for my all-around use. If you want a mud tire with less flex for very heavy hauling, or you don’t mind a firmer ride, the Toyo MT can be a great choice.