Staggered fitment – pros and cons
By: Discount Tire
Looking for ways to improve performance and enhance the aesthetic of your vehicle? Maybe you want more performance out of your sports car or you’re investigating ways to muscle-up a vehicle that’s otherwise a bit plain. In forum after online forum, you come across enthusiasts of all knowledge levels giving their two cents on a staggered fitment. But what exactly is it, and can it improve your vehicle’s performance?
What is staggered fitment?
Staggered fitment (sometimes called a staggered application) means the tires – and in many cases also the wheels – are different sizes in the front of the car versus the rear. For many, thinking about different sized tires on the same car will conjure up a classic image of a hot rod, a Formula 1 car, or a drag racer. Even kids’ drawings of race cars have big, beefy tires on the rear wheels.
Of course, this practice almost always applies to rear-wheel drive (RWD) vehicles. Over the years, Porsches, Corvettes, Nissan Z-cars and many other sports cars have been designed this way. If you own a performance vehicle you’re probably aware – or learned quickly the first time you needed to replace its tires – what exactly a staggered fitment is.
Similarly, a staggered fitment is often a key ingredient for vehicles with optional performance packages that include larger wheels and wider tires; think the Chevy Camaro, Dodge Challenger, Ford Mustang and even the Chrysler 300.
Although there are some all-wheel drive and front-wheel drive vehicles designed with staggered fitments, these are pretty rare exceptions.
But even trying to change any non-RWD vehicle to a staggered fitment is a fool’s errand. It may look sweet, but your tires (as well as other functional aspects of your car’s overall performance) will suffer for it, costing you frustration, time and money.
We’ll focus our attention on the pros and cons of modifying an existing staggered set-up or changing from square fitment (that is, all four wheels and tires being the same size) to staggered fitment.
Pros: How does staggered fitment help performance and handling?
With a larger width and/or larger diameter, the rear tires will definitely give your vehicle an aggressive stance – but looks aren’t everything when it comes to a staggered fitment. In fact, like all well-engineered machines, the form follows the function. In this case, our functions are acceleration, braking, and handling.
By installing wider rear tires, you’ll have more rubber connecting to the road at the tire’s contact patch, aka the “tire footprint.” This improvement in grip can result in speedier acceleration and better overall handling and braking.
A larger diameter in the rear also tilts the vehicle towards the front. This shortens the vehicle’s turning radius and subtly affects aerodynamics, weight distribution, and center of gravity. It may take a little tweaking to account for these changes, but they can add to better handling and cornering, too. And of course, it looks pretty cool.
Cons: What are the drawbacks to changing to a staggered fitment?
The first consideration for most is cost. If your car is still fairly new, there’s a good chance a staggered application will be considered a modification that voids the warranty by the manufacturer.
Even if you find a smoking deal on some performance rims and tires today, you’ll likely end up spending more money in the long run with a staggered fitment. Having two different sizes of tires on your car can easily lead to replacing your front and rear tires in different intervals. Depending on the setup , you may also require additional or more frequent maintenance on your brakes.
In some cases, changing to a staggered fitment will have the reverse effect on performance or even require other mechanical modifications in order to see any real improvement in driving dynamics. At the extreme end, you could prematurely wear or damage other mechanical parts of the car, especially drivetrain components – or worse yet, create safety hazards.
At the end of the day, a wider tire will give better grip to the road, but you need to make sure the vehicle in question has enough power to begin with. Without sufficient torque, the increased surface contact of the tire could create more drag and end up actually slowing you down.
On the other hand, if you’re on the higher end of the power spectrum you may need to install a spoiler or other aero modifications in order to keep handling and steering in check.
Lastly, staggered fitment will definitely affect how you maintain your tires.
Tire rotations will need to be done per axle, since you can’t move the front tires to the rear (and vice versa). Also, staggered fitment doesn’t do much good in snow, and depending on your location it could be downright unsafe.
If you drive your sports car in winter weather conditions, you’ll want to make sure your winter tire changeover is a square application. (In fact, you’ll actually want your dedicated snow tires as narrow as possible.)
Finally, if you do choose to stagger your currently non-staggered vehicle, what’re you going to do with your full-size spare tire? It’ll be incredibly unsafe to drive on three unevenly wide tires, as funny as that image is!
To stagger or not to stagger?
When it comes to making modifications that will affect your vehicle’s mechanical design, make sure you do your research first. For instance, investigate if a factory performance package was available for your car, as well as what tire and wheel sizes came on each trim level.
If your vehicle is a decent candidate for changing to a staggered application, there’s a good chance someone else has already done it with the same make and model. (If it was successful, you can bet someone is out there bragging about it online.)
In any case, always be sure to consult an authority on wheels and tires. Whether your emphasis is on looks, performance, or the best balance of both, our experts can recommend staggered or square wheel and tire fitments all specific to your vehicle.
Call or stop by your local Discount Tire to see how we can get you and your car taken care of.