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Size and Safety: How Ultra-Large Wheels Impact Stopping Power, Load Capacity

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When we talk about a life-or-death situation, many times, the old adage, “Every second counts” comes to mind. If we apply that same principle to our vehicles, especially when braking, we might say, “Every inch counts.”

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How many times have you had to brake hard to avoid – or attempt to avoid – hitting something? Did you stop in time? Could a few extra feet of stopping distance have helped to avoid a collision? What if you were the one who was hit from behind because the other driver couldn’t stop?

Our industry has been infatuated with the concept of ultra-large wheels for several years now. But we seem to have overlooked the ramifications of installing 20- to 28-inch diameter wheels and tires – in particular, how they affect braking distance and overall wear on an average OE brake system.

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In last month’s article, we saw how unsprung weight, especially on the wheel and tire, can affect performance. It takes more energy to move a heavier tire and wheel assembly. Conversely, it takes more energy to stop it.

Thankfully, some wheel companies are addressing this issue by providing contemporary designs using cutting-edge technology that results in remarkably lightweight wheels that are still able to maintain load capacity.

Centerline Wheel, using proprietary rotary forging technology that we have discussed in earlier issues, offers several different series (mostly for trucks and SUVs) that are as much as seven inches more in diameter but still no heavier than an OE cast aluminum wheel.

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The Tomahawk Series offers wheels up to 22 inches in diameter drilled to fit most truck/SUV applications. The most popular right now, according to Louis Sanchez, national sales manager for Centerline, is the 211/212 Escape pictured above. This one-piece forged wheel is built from 16×8 up to 22×9 and available in polished or chrome versions. It has a 2,200-pound load capacity, which is pretty good, considering the 22×9 weighs only 26 pounds.

Another wheel, the 519 Encino in the California series, offers new styles for this year and has a relatively low weight compared to cast aluminum wheels.

It is offered in 20-, 22- and 24-inch diameters. The 24-inch style weighs in at a scant 38 pounds. Sanchez says: “Compare that to a cast wheel that can weigh between 50 to 100 pounds, depending on the design and construction of the wheel.” Last month, we showed how a mere 4.5 pounds reduced measurable rear wheel torque. Imagine what 45 pounds will do.

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To round out the line, Centerline offers the Wilderness Series, targeted at a different market. The 20×10 8-Ball shown below weighs 38 pounds but has a load capacity of 3,200 pounds and is capable of handling 40-inch-tall tires. If you are considering offering this setup, it should be part of a complete package, including beefier brakes.

If customers continue to demand the installation of heavier wheels, here are some offerings that you can sell as upgrades. Baer Brake Systems offers its EradiSpeed-Plus line of rotors. These are 14-inch, direct replacement rotors for the 12.5-inch OE rotor on GM 1/2-ton trucks. The cost is lower because the OE caliper is used by installing a bracket that moves the caliper further out to fit the larger rotor. The increase in diameter, along with advanced technology, provides more stopping power, absorbs more heat and recovers more quickly than the original rotor. For an all-out assault on braking, Baer offers its AlumaSport series.

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“An engineering collaboration between Baer and PBR has resulted in the first calipers produced by an OE supplier (PBR) specifically for performance aftermarket use,” according to Baer. “Employing very-large, low-inertia, aluminum two-piston calipers, coupled with Baer 14-inch-diameter rotors and anchors, this package allows direct bolt-on installation to many GM 1/2-ton truck and SUV chassis.” Ford 5-135-mm bolt circle and the newer 6-135-mm bolt circle replacement packages will be available in the near future, as well. Take a look at how nicely the brakes complement the 20-inch combo on the Suburban pictured above.

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You can see how this would be an easy upsell, especially if your customer complains of not being able to stop or has burned a set of brake pads within 8,000 miles.

It’s time that we took this issue seriously. We can voluntarily choose to install safe products, or we can be placed under a microscope so that someone unfamiliar with our industry dictates what we can and can’t do.

For those of you in California who face the possibility of legislation regarding rolling resistance for replacement tires, how long do you think it will take for someone to place the weight of the wheel under scrutiny?

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