Can I improve my car's clearance by simply buying bigger tires?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 01, 1998

Dear Tom and Ray:

We live up a very steep and unforgiving road on the north side of St. Thomas,
U.S. Virgin Islands. There are several spots that require exceptional steering
dexterity. Top speed is about 2 mph! The bottom of our Honda Civic has no
barnacles, and increasingly less of everything else! I could really use a few
more inches of ground clearance. Can I get that by going to bigger tires? --

RAY: Geez, Dave. I doubt bigger tires will help. What you really need are bigger
wheels. But I doubt your wheel wells will accommodate wheels big enough to give
you several more INCHES of clearance (you only gain 1/2 inch of vehicle height
for every inch of wheel diameter).

TOM: It sounds like what you really need is a different car. There are
bazillions of people who are driving sport utility vehicles now who really don't
need them. But you're one of the few people who actually does need one. In
addition to four-wheel drive (which may not be that important to you), SUVs have
higher ground clearance than passenger cars.

RAY: I don't blame you for wanting a car instead of SUV, since SUVs are
inherently stupid vehicles (they're big, gas guzzling, uncomfortable, hard to
get into and out of, and handle like boats -- but we'll save that discussion for
another column). But because you share a driveway with Grizzly Adams, you may
have no choice but to step up to something a little higher.

TOM: There are quite a few "hybrid" sport utilities on the market now; cars that
have been raised up and given all-wheel drive to provide some of the advantages
of SUVs without so many disadvantages. You might look at the Toyota RAV4, the
Subaru Forester, or if you're partial to Hondas, the Honda CRV.

RAY: All three of those would give you full-time all-wheel drive, the extra
ground clearance you need, and a vehicle that's higher but not much longer or
wider than your Civic.

TOM: And, Dave, don't write to us and whine about your problems anymore. You
live in the Virgin Islands, for crying out loud!

* * *

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