Simply put, staggered wheels are when the wheels on a vehicle are two different sizes.
In more technical terms, staggered wheels include either wider wheels at one end of a vehicle than the other or larger diameter wheels at one end of a vehicle than the other.
This tire size difference is usually referred to as a staggered setup or staggered fitment, and it usually means that the two rear wheels of the vehicle are wider or larger than the two front wheels.
Even though this is the most common way a staggered wheel setup is used, the two front wheels of a vehicle can be larger than the rear wheels in certain instances.
Why People Stagger their Wheels
Most average vehicles do not require a staggered wheel setup and therefore have the same size wheels on all four corners. There are two main benefits to having this setup, though.
The most common reason both manufacturers and consumers choose to fit a staggered wheel setup is because of an increase in performance potential.
One of the biggest keys to handling and acceleration is the contact patch between a vehicle’s tire and the road. The larger the patch, the more grip a vehicle can have. Of course, this can be affected by the kind and quality of tire fitted to the vehicle, but fitting a wider wheel, and consequently, a wider tire, has the potential to put more power to the pavement and keep the vehicle more planted when cornering.
For staggered setups, the emphasis is more on acceleration as the larger set of wheels is usually found on the driven wheels, most often the two rear ones in performance cars. This allows the vehicle’s power to more be more easily translated to the road, thus increasing acceleration. Cars like the Ford Mustang, Nissan 370Z, and Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG all have standard staggered wheel setups from the factory.
Even though this is mainly seen in performance cars like sports cars, supercars, and grand touring cars, some SUVs use a staggered setup. BMW is especially known for doing this.
Another common type of vehicle that might use staggered wheels are those used for drag racing. In the highest-horsepower drag cars, this is obvious, but this is also where an unconventional staggered setup is most likely as well. Many hobbyists and professional drag racers also use front-wheel-drive cars for drag racing.
Though front-wheel-drive cars are still not the best for straight-line performance for many reasons, those who race cars like Honda Civics and Volkswagen Golfs will often fit very wide wheels in the front of their cars to get as much rubber-to-road contact as possible.
Weight distribution is a less commonly known reason for staggered wheel setups, but it often goes hand-in-hand with performance. Many supercars are known for having a mid-engine setup. This means the engine is placed between the front and rear axles of the car, most often directly behind the driver and passenger seats.
This allows for more weight to be placed on the larger set of tires, not only helping with load-bearing but also forcing more weight onto the set of wheels that has the larger contact patch, again aiding in acceleration.
One more common factor in choosing using staggered wheels is appearance. Whenever wider tires are fitted to a vehicle – whether stock or aftermarket – there usually needs to be some type of accommodation within the body or fenders of the car to fit the wider or larger setup.
A vehicle that utilizes a wider tire setup often has a wider back end or fender flares to make sure the wheel and tire are protected and do not stick out. A low sports car usually has a much more serious and sleek appearance if its “hips” are wider than its front, giving it the typical performance car profile than many people love.
A vehicle that uses a larger diameter wheel often also use wider diameter wheels. Again, used mostly on rear wheels, larger-diameter staggered setups give vehicles a sense of movement, even when they aren't moving.
Good examples of both of these appearance factors can be seen in many Ferraris and Lamborghinis where the rear of the car is wider than the front and where some also have larger diameter wheels in the rear than in the front.
What are the Drawbacks of a Staggered Fitment?
There is a reason that not all vehicles have staggered wheels. The biggest overall reason as already seen above is that they just aren’t needed. The majority of vehicles are not designed with huge amounts of horsepower, nor are they designed to handle with precision
Stock staggered wheel setups are great because the manufacturer understands the purpose of the car and can accommodate the necessary setup from the factory.
Fitment becomes more of an issue with aftermarket setups. Fitment issues are fairly self-explanatory – Incorrect fitment results when too large or too wide of a wheel is fitted to a vehicle, causing one or more parts of the wheel and tire to rub against one or more parts of the vehicle.
The slightest miscalculation can result in severe damage to brakes, tires, and fenders as a tire or wheel contacts any one of these vehicle parts. Even if a larger wheel is equipped and does not contact any part of the vehicle, fitment issues include a wider wheel that sticks out from the fender or one that hits the top of the wheel well as the suspension is compressed. Both of these may not be immediately obvious at first glance.
Though it is possible to add slightly larger tires onto wheels which call for a specific size, any kind of aftermarket staggered wheel setup is highly discouraged because of these issues.
If you wish to upgrade to staggered wheels, you should consult a professional and take thorough measurements to ensure that your desired setup will not cause any damage to your car or your new wheels and tires.
Staggered wheels do have performance advantages over non-staggered setups, but they also carry one large drawback to performance: added weight.
It may not seem like that much extra, but wider wheels and tires can add a surprising amount of extra weight to a vehicle, depending on what kind you buy. As much as forty extra pounds of weight – sometimes more – could be added by increasing wheel width by just an inch or two, and any additional weight, not to mention rolling resistance, can have a profound effect on performance.
Larger often means more expensive. Because of why staggered wheels are used in the first place, you will most likely pay more initially for the car in the first place, but having to buy two tires with extra width can cost up to $150 more than the other two.
Moving from a non-staggered setup to a staggered setup will cost even more, especially since you will also likely have to buy different wheels as well. This is another reason why most average cars do not come with a staggered setup.
The added cost of larger tires aids in the inconvenience of buying new ones when necessary, but finding the same tires for both front and rear sets in two different sizes can also be challenging.
This is not always the case, but just buying four of the same tire and wheel will always be easier than buying two different sets.
Staggered wheels are those which are larger in diameter, width, or both than the other wheels fitted to a vehicle. Most often, this means the two rear wheels are larger or wider than the front two.
This is most often seen in performance and sports cars where horsepower is higher, and it is more important to get as much of a contact patch between the tire and road as possible. Despite these advantages, disadvantages like fitment issues, added cost, and added weight can all detract from potential advantages.