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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.