Downgrading to 19″ Wheels

After driving my Model S for four years on 21” wheels, I decided to downgrade the car to 19” wheels.  The decision process took a while, and the saga is a long one.


New 19″ Slipstream Wheels

Slow Leak

A few months ago I noticed my tire had yet another leak.  The leak was very small and only required pumping up the air about every other week at the most.  Having so much experience with tires, I was not worried about this leak and had either used my electric pump, that I always have in the trunk, or the manual floor mounted bike pump in the garage to add more air.

I had intended to go to my very local service station / auto repair place and have them look at my tire at some point.  I suspected I had a nail in the tire and that the tire could be repaired.  The tires were not very new, so I was hoping I could delay replacing the tire, as that likely meant I needed to replace not just one tire but two.  When the tread is quite low on the tires, they do not want you to drive around with a set (either the front or the rear), where one tire has all its tread and the other is almost worn out.  I suspect this discrepancy could cause excess or unaligned tire wear.

Only an encounter with a Tesla service person on another matter changed the story.

Home or Office Service

I earlier reported that my 12 Volt battery had died and needed service.  The local service center now has one mechanic that goes to your location to repair batteries and tires.  As the ever curious Tesla owner, I watched him change the battery, and talked to him about various Tesla topics.

Somewhere during the conversation, I mentioned that I had a leak in one of my tires.  The service guy offered to look at my tire for no cost.  I had not planned on having Tesla address this leak, but I since it was free and he was already in my garage, I happily agreed.

Tire Inspection

The mobile service guy brought out his jack, and in very little time had the wheel off the car.  No nail was visible, but to my surprise I had a problem I have never seen on any car I have ever owned, my rim was cracked!


Cracked Rim with Water Test to Show Leak

The rim was visibly cracked with a hairline fracture, and to confirm he added water and you could see the air bubbles.  He explained that if you hit a pothole “just so”, you can crack your rim.  He said I was safe to continue to drive the car with the wheels as long as I slowed down for any pot holes.

Pot Holes

Since I have been plagued by tire issues, I watch for potholes constantly.  I know where the road is worn out locally and steer out of my way to protect my tires.  I have been driving in this manner for 50,000 miles.  Luckily the town I live in has a fair amount of revenue stream and our roads are pristine.

I do remember however driving in the East Bay awhile ago and remembering a badly beat up stretch of payment on 580.  One fun grammatical note:  In Northern California, freeways are referred to by numbers not their names and are never preceded by the word “the”; in Southern California the naming convention is the reverse, which sounds so strange to our ears.  On 580, I distinctly remembered that I had avoided as much as I can any issues in the road pavement, but I know I did hit one pothole with the wheel in question.

Decision Time

I now really did not know what to do.  I knew not only I couldn’t just repair one tire, I had to buy a new rim also, and they cost $500!  I really didn’t want to do either, and this let me open up my thoughts to do something completely different.

Why I bought 21” Wheels in 2013


Original 19″ Wheels

Before my Model S, I was a very early 1xx Roadster owner.  I got used to zipping around
fast and hugging every curve.  I had initially configured the Model S to have the 19” wheels, but at the last minute a friend convinced me to go with the 21” primarily because they looked so much better.  I was just not particularly fond of look of the original 19” wheels, and Tesla no longer sells them to new buyers.

21” vs. 19” Reliability

Over the years I have talked to many different people associated with Tesla about my wheels.  I am not a particularly talkative person, but I can strike up a conversation with strangers with no qualms, and ask many detailed questions on an interesting subject.

The most interesting conversation about my tires was with a former Tesla Service Manager, whom I met in a very off chance circumstance.  I have heard the following different statements from 3 different Tesla employees that stuck in my brain, and I recalled them when thinking about what to do with my broken rim:

“Those 21s have had a lot of problems.”

“The vast majority of problems are with the 21s, no problems with the 19s.”

“Tesla should have never put such low profile tires on such a heavy car.”

My 21” experience vs. my fellow blogger

My fellow blogger from the East Coast has been very happy with his car and wheels.  He got 50,000 miles on a set of tires! That amount of mileage was and still is only something I can dream about.

Here is a short timeline of my tire experience:

  • March 2014 – four new tires  (mileage 12,500)
  • March 2014 – pothole damage, one new tire (mileage  12,600)
  • Spring 2014 – cross country road trip in Model S
  • June 2014 – four new tires (mileage 26,000)
  • July 2014 – new camber arms
  • October 2014  – nail and tire repair
  • October 2015 – four new tires (mileage 49,000)
  • October 2015 – leaky tire repaired
  • October 2016 – new tire (sidewall damage)
  • April 2017      – cracked rim (65,000 miles)

Tesla has treated me very well during this experience and have done a lot of monitoring of my alignment.  I managed to drive almost 23,000 miles on my third set of tires. My latest set of tires gave me at least 16,000 miles, which is respectable.  All four wheels had a fair to a considerable amount of curb rash.  I haven’t hit a curb in a couple of years, but it took a while to get used to the very wide car.

I was happy with what Tesla and I achieved in terms of tire mileage, but I was tired of how susceptible the tires were to other objects such as small potholes.  I was in a way tired of “living in fear” and having to watch the road excessively.  After the deluge of rain we received in California this winter, we have a lot of potholes in the state in general.

My current mileage was about 65,000.  I definitely had to replace one rim, and my front two tires were due to be replaced very soon, and the rears in short order.  Tesla provided the exact tread depth measurements, which are reported below.

Toe Wear!

I have extensively worked with Tesla over the last few years on my toe wear issues.  Tesla service has done really all they can to fix and monitor my extensive toe wear.  I am very glad my toe wear has improved enough that I can replace my tires closer to 20,000 miles instead of 12,500 miles.

But when looking at the wear report, the Tesla report still shows toe wear.

LF:6/32 6/32 3/32

RF:6/32 6/32 3/32

LR:6/32 6/32 4/32

RR6/32 6/32 4/32

When speaking to the first service person who was not my regular contact, I was told “you must have hit a pothole”.  No, I did not hit four potholes on all four wheels!   The car  still wears out the toe more than it should.

While the car sat in the shop waiting for a battery fix, I contemplated the numbers.  I had a choice.  Instead of sinking more money into a set of wheels that would never be very durable or long lasting for the Model S, I could fork out the cash to get the new 19” rims ($300 each) and tires ($180 each) for $480 each before tax and installation, or I could buy two 21” tires ($375 each), a new rim ($500) and in a few months buy two more new 21” tires.

  • 19” cost : (300 + 180) x4  = $1920
  • 21” cost: 500 + 2x 375  + 2 x 375 = $2000

Although I didn’t need to replace the back tires immediately, I would within 6 months.  So for the same price, I could get longer lasting lower maintenance tires.  The numbers are using Tesla default pricing and there are other options like buying tires through 3rd party places, but these calculations are listed here for simplicity.  So even in the short term, there was no real financial reason to stick with the 21s, and in the long run a very large savings.


I decided to go with the 19” rims.  I am tired of the hassle of these performance tires.

I had to wait a while because the service center only had two rims in stock, and needed to get the parts shipped in from the warehouse in Lathrop, California.

Selling 21” Wheels on CraigList

I also had another way to make a little money.  I could sell the wheels!  Tesla disposed of the wheel with the cracked rim, but I brought home the other three. I am not much of a seller and generally just donate things, but this was more than a few dollars worth of value.  I first tried the Tesla Motors Forum and got some interest, but I soon got tired of looking at the wheels, even if the garage has a lot of space.


3 Wheels For Sale!

Using Craigslist, I got interest in the wheels immediately.  I am not much of a negotiator, and just pretty much took the first reasonable offer.

When selling on Craigslist you need to include photos of both the front of the wheels and the tire tread patterns.  Within a couple of hours, I got several questions and responses, and quickly sold the wheels.


Tread Wear Photo of Wheels for Sale

The buyer was a Model X driver who was planning to take the wheels and powder coat them to a new color. He also said that there was a 22” tire that worked with these rims.  I sold all three of them for $450, so in the end I saved money buy buying new rims even in the short term.

Tesla App

The Tesla app for some reason still did not think I had any wheels on it.  The car recognizes the wheels as 19” as the picture had changed on the dashboard.  I knew the tire sensors were still talking to the car, so I knew I would get any low pressure warnings.  But the app picture was still a little ghostly.



The Ghost Car

I ended up pointing this issue out to the service manager, and he fixed it by reprogramming the computer on the car.  He had never seen this issue before.


Right when the process was done my car started to squeak.  The Model S is currently in service to fix this strange noise that occurred right after the wheels were installed and did not go away.  I’ll report on that when I get the car back.


I am very glad I made this decision.  With the new style or rims, I don’t miss the look of the 21s at all, and I will save so much money and hassle in the long run.  I have only noticed a very minor difference when driving, but I have not really gone anywhere recently that is particularly fun to drive.



16 thoughts on “Downgrading to 19″ Wheels

  1. While the 21’s do look nice, people have had nothing but pain and expense from them. The slight improvement in looks or feel just don’t make sense for the trouble and cost. With our frost heaves here in New England, we have a TON of potholes. I try to miss them but things happen. Never had an issue. My last set of tires on my S I got 50K miles on and that was after plugging the tire after getting a nail in it within the first 5K miles.

    I probably would have looked at aftermarket wheels (TSportsline is where I got my winter set) to save some money and perhaps upgrade the looks but you definitely made the right choice getting to a more reasonable wheel.

    • I wanted to stick with the Tesla ones. They have been monitoring my tire wear very closely, and didn’t want to add any new variables into the equation like some unusual rim. Not that a rim should make a difference, but no reason to complicate things.

      I hope to get 50,000 miles!!!

      And so far the ride feels the same for just regular old driving here and there.

  2. I had much the same experience, on two sedans, replacing multiple tires. And nail holes, even away from the sidewall, can’t be repaired. Switched to the 19’s and besides better reliability, the car drove so much smoother! Ordered our X with 19’s and never looked back.

    • I did manage to have one nail hole repaired by my local garage, but they did have to do it from the inside.

  3. This is a great article and provides a lot of insights. I also find that we have some things in common, including being inclined to donate unwanted items rather than sell them.

    The Model S driven by me has 21’s and has for the most part been acceptable except for a recent “fun” experience taking an adjoining road instead of the freeway. I didn’t even need to preserve my range. Anyway, wood sign placed right AT, not well before a giant pothole stating BIG ASS HOLE with an arrow made sense while at the same tire feeling and hearing a loud BOOM! Tire inspection conducted immediately afterwards resulted in me finding a bubble in the sidewall, also known as sidewall separation. That tire was replaced ASAP and the rim was okay.

    My friend will be getting 19’s on her conservatively driven P85. Old Tesla style. Always liked them and Franz von Holhausen and another designer have a patent on them too, which is pretty cool. Anyway, once we figure out which 19″ tires to get I’m sure our experiences with longevity on thoose tires will be significantly different.

    Thanks again foor the great post. I would love to read your updates, including about the vehicle being squeaky mentioned towards the end of the post.

  4. About to move to 19 inch no real problems but harsh ride. 19 seems more economical with recharge, and last longer with tyre mileage.
    Had a Porsche 994 and changed from 19 to 16 and it was so much nicer to drive that with me I thought it as quicker on track days. Confidence gives more than grip for amateurs.
    Any one 4 21 inch wheels.

  5. I just put down a deposit on a Model S a couple weeks ago. I went with the P100D and downgraded to the 19 inch wheels, in part because I had read this post (and others from other bloggers) on the subject. Thanks for the info! Also, I love the grammatical note. I grew up in southern California and what you say is very true!

    • Great! I’m so glad that was helpful. I’m still thrilled I have the 19″. Don’t miss the 21″s at all. Just back from driving on 280….

  6. Before purchase, test drove, overnighted a MS with 19” & then 21”. Handling much better with 21”, but ride much harsher. On the interstate at 80 mph, 21” had a loud roar. 19” were extremely quiet same conditions, handling less crisp.

    Ordered a 2015 P85D with factory 19” wheels. 3.6 yrs later, 24K miles. I’m on track to get 60K miles out of the Michelin Primacys according to service center. 95% of my driving is highway so opted for quietest ride and tire longevity over handling.

    Negatives for 21” are tire wear (12K if your lucky) wheel damage from pot holes, loud at high speeds. Positive: tighter, krisper handling, the way a MS should drive.

    Getting the 21” referral program wheels soon. Looking forward to switching them out in garage for a change in driving feel.

    • I really don’t notice any difference in ride noise. Handling yes better with the 21″s but after my over a year with the 19″ I don’t miss them a bit.

  7. Hello, new 2018 Tesla Model S owner with 19″ carbon slipstream wheels here. Prior to buying the Tesla, I owned a Maserati that had 21″ wheels. I had to replace the wheels every 8,500 to 10K miles. When I first drove the Tesla, I noticed the difference between both tires immediately. The driving experience on the 21″ is better, especially when handling turns. However, I live in the North East which is the fairyland of potholes. It was very easy to get sidewall damage on the 21″‘s by going over a pothole. I chose the 19″ wheels for practical reasons. Although the drive is better with 21″ wheels, I don’t regret “downgrading” to 19″ wheels. I too, am hopeful that I will get more mileage for the tread on the tires and overall, I think I am sacrificing small performance driving details over $$$.

  8. 21″ wheels are a colossal ripoff; they’re incredibly expensive if you get them as a factory option. While my MS was in for service, I got a big-wheel MX as a loaner. I was so happy to get my 19″ wheeled MS back! The noise and harshness in the MX was really annoying. I think the giant wheel craze has gotten a bit out of hand. A 19″ wheel is really pretty big.

  9. I’ve done personal research on wheel size. Smaller wheels get better gas mileage, ride quieter and are less subject to road hazards. Larger wheels grip the road better and look better. I’ve downgraded 2″ in wheel size on five different vehicles. On the Interstate, all 5 improved mileage by ~ 2% and reduced cabin noise by > 1 db.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s