19″ vs. 21″ Wheels

I have been waffling for the last few days about the wheel selection.  I was trying so hard to be environmentally and fiscally correct, but in the end I gave in after running some numbers and getting some more information.  Here are my reasons:

1.  The 21″ wheels are aesthetically pleasing.  Both the wheels themselves and the way they work with the entire car.

Aesthetically Pleasing Wheels

Aesthetically Pleasing Wheels

2.  Tires are actually repurposed when you recycle them!  80% of the recycled tires are used for other purposes.  Many recycled items such as plastic do not have a large market and 80% actually end up in the landfill.  The reverse case exists for tires.  Many are used for fuel and construction products or retreaded.  The EPA has a detailed breakdown for 2003 here.

3.  I live in the San Francisco Bay Area where we might get some frost less than 10 days a year, so tires that can seriously handle the cold are not important.  I also have a 4WD highlander for visiting the mountains.

4.  According to my Tesla representative, the Model S tire wear should mimic the Roadster for the 21″ wheel.  So in the worst case, my maintenance costs will not go up.

5.  Also, the 19″ tire will only last 50% longer than the 21″ tire.  I was expecting a very durable tire.  With regenerative braking, tires just wear out faster because of the backwards pressure on the tire.

6.  The Model S also has a low mode of regenerative braking.  This low mode slows down the feature and is very useful while driving uphill on curvy roads.  Saves the momentum for the next hill but also saves wear and tear on the tires.  The Roadster did not have this option.

7.  I do live close to some lovely mountain roads with some very fun driving and hiking trails.  Unfortunately they are a bit too busy to justify a performance Model S, but they help justify 21″ wheels.

8. One Roadster owner on the Tesla Motors Club forum reported his Model S tires are wearing much better than his Roadster.

9.  Some people are worried about 21″ tires with potholes.  If I drove often where there was a lot of potholes, I would consider the replacement costs for the rims.  Fortunately, I don’t encounter potholes very frequently.

10.  This decision has been haunting me for days.  I know I would be happy with the 19″ but I really like the 21″ wheels.  I’ve never really taken a fondness to a set of wheels before.

11. I also did a spreadsheet based upon my Roadster tire wear and tear.  I replaced my rear tires at 12K and 23K, and the front tires at 21.5K.  I think these numbers are higher than average, but I can access a freeway without going through any stop lights.  For this same condition, here is the overall breakdown of costs over a 15 year ownership period.  I found the exact same tires on some third party sites.  The following spreadsheet is just an estimate based upon my driving habits, and predicting the wear on the different sized tires.  Your mileage will inevitably differ than this estimate.

Long Term Tire Costs

Long Term Tire Costs


17 thoughts on “19″ vs. 21″ Wheels

  1. Why you think 21″ tire will wear faster than 19″ if they have the same thread design and compound? If I’m not wrong both 21″ and 19″ tires are Continental ExtremeContact DW with UTQG tread wear rating of 340, which is not bad at all.

    • I can’t seem to find the reference for the tire brand for the 19″ tires at the moment. I do not think they are Continental.

  2. I found it. It’s Goodyear Eagle RS-A2 with thread wear rating of 440. The difference between the two don’t seem to be that big. I have no problem with having 21″ if the tire can last around 20~25K miles. The Michelin PS2 on my Cayman S with 220 rating can last 15~20K. BTW I saw your delivery blog that you ordered the 21″?

    • That’s kind of where I finally landed. I was trying to be “good” and not spend money frivolously. But I love the 21″ wheels, they are beautiful to me. I did end up with the 21″ — changing after finalizing!

      I did control myself and did not get the performance version. Since I own a Roadster, I had a few pangs the first week, but they have since subsided, and I’m glad I didn’t spend the money, so I can use it hopefully in other ways – maybe a bit of charity.

  3. 21″ rims = unnecessary unsprung weight
    Are noisier than 20″ or 19″
    Are susceptible to curb rash more than 19 or 20 rims
    Are susceptible to damage from pot holes
    Hurts range and performance
    Hurts ride quality
    Tires for 21″ are 3-4 times more money than 19 or 20″

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  6. I also have the standard 19s and drive in the MidAtlantic Area. We have some severe weather here, and lots of snow so the 21s don’t make sense. However, I love the look of the Turbine wheels in grey, and I found these Rial Lugano’s that fit perfectly on a Model S for 1/4 of the cost of the Tesla 21″ wheels. http://www.tirerack.com/wheels/WheelCloseUpServlet?target=runWheelSearch&initialPartNumber=LU85932T725TG&wheelMake=Rial&wheelModel=Lugano&wheelFinish=Titanium+Gunmetal&showRear=no&autoMake=Tesla&autoModel=Model+S&autoYear=2013&autoModClar=&filterFinish=All&filterSize=All&filterBrand=Rial&filterSpecial=false&filterNew=All&filterWeight=All&sort=Brand

    Have you looked at them?

    • No, I haven’t looked yet at replacing the 21’s for the 19’s. I am somewhat contemplating it however.

      I just got two blowouts in the last two weeks. A very long critical blog post is coming soon. The jury is still out.

      I do like the 19″ turbine wheels too but have yet to see them live on a car.

    • I have been reading new and olf forums trying to make sense of this 19 vs 21. this comment that 21″ are not suitable for winter keeps coming up. It is not at all clear to me why that should be so. Are there no winter rated tires for those rims? Or is it a physics thing? Can you plee explain? thank you.

      • The 21″ are wider than the 19″ and the amount of tire in contact with the ground is larger and more rectangular. Great for asphalt.

        but this larger and less square shape has more unpredictability in the snow, causing it to have to “plow” a wide path through deep snow, where narrower tires have an easier time.

  7. Hi Teslaowner,

    What is your experience with the 21″? Did you have your alignment set? Have you noted unusual wear, and any of the issues lolachampcar described on TMC?

    Best, Christof

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  10. Hi there.. Model S 70D owner here who bought a car preowned that had the 21″ wheels.

    I replaced them with the TSSport 19″ blade rims for the following reasons:

    The 21″ tires only last 15k miles. The 19″ tires generally range from 40k – 60k. That is a huge increase in longevity.

    There is also a noticeable difference in ride quality with the 21″. It is much bumpier.

    Now where the 21″ wheels do shine is on traction. I have the staggered, and even with bald tires I could go around a cloverleaf at 70mph with no tire squeal.

    I was going to sell them, but the more I drive the 19″ ( which I mainly bought for daily drivers and to go up to the mountains from the Bay Area), they more I am thinking about just having the best of both worlds and keeping them for the summer. I do miss the traction they give you, it is unlike anything else I have ever experienced.

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