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Owning a Model Y: Tesla Tires, Rims, and Those Pesky Curb Rashes

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Since my post on having a flat tire with my Model Y, I’ve gotten a lot of messages asking about Tesla tires and, interestingly, those curb rashes on the rim. Apparently, the “attention to detail” notion we often see on resumes is a real thing.

So I’ll talk about Tesla tires and those pesky minor scratches and how to avoid them, kind of, in this post. You probably won’t learn anything new here, but it’ll be a fun read on a lazy Sunday.

Tesla Model Y Tire Rotation
Tesla tires: A Tesla mobile technician is rotating my Model Y’s tires in my driveway. This service call costs $50 and is a great learning experience.

Tesla tires: It’s (still) your driving habit that matters

The first thing to remember is that Tesla uses the same type of tires as any other car. There are different grades that cost differently, and there are even run-flat options — except you shouldn’t use them since, among other things, they are not suitable for range.

That said, you can go to any tire shop (like Costco), punch in your car’s make, model year, and trim, and you’ll get at least one option. Again, that’s just like any other car.

The point is there’s no such thing as “Tesla tires” but, still, generally, it’s a good idea to get your tires serviced by Tesla, especially if you have one of those expensive wheel options.

When it comes to how long the tires last, though, that’s a different story entirely. Hint: It depends and there is such a thing as “Tesla driving”.

Tesla EVs: The weight, the performance, and your wallet

While most EVs look light and misleadingly “flimsy” than general muscle cars, they tend to be heavier. That’s because they all have a massive battery. And batteries are all solid and hefty objects.

The weight

As I mentioned in this post on EV efficiency, the current battery technology has a much lower energy density than gasoline or diesel, pound per pound.

Owning an EV: Driving, charging, and that range anxiety

On any Tesla, the battery itself weighs north of 1000 lbs (450kg) and, on a full charge, can carry the amount of energy equivalent to just about 3 gallons of gas. In case it’s not obvious, a battery weighs the same whether or not it holds a charge.

An internal combustion engine (ICE) car’s full 20-ish-gallon gas tank generally weighs south of 250 pounds (120 kg). And it gets lighter as you drive.

To compensate, Tesla makes its cars out of light materials — the cars’ bodies are still super-strong supposedly. But in the end, all Tesla cars are almost always heavier than (ICE) vehicles of the same tier.

Weight is never good for tires.

The performance

If you have heard that Tesla cars are fast — as in they have high acceleration — you heard that correctly.

My Model Y Long Range can supposedly get from zero to 60 mph (100 km ph) in 4.8 seconds, relatively low among Tesla cars. It does have an option to shave that down to 4.2 seconds via a $2000 software upgrade. If you get the Performance trim, you’d only need 3.5 seconds.

Those numbers don’t mean much, but when you sit inside the cabin and hit the accelerator, you’d feel a ridiculous change in velocity. No matter what ICE vehicle you’ve used, you’ll notice the difference. It’s so obvious that nobody I know who’s been in a Tesla has ever questioned the 0-60 numbers above.

And remember, most of the time, we speed up when the car is already moving. The acceleration feels even more of a surprise with the existing momentum than what we’re generally familiar with when driving an ICE car.

Part of that is because the EV’s acceleration has zero delays — your foot touches the pedal, and it goes instantly. And remember, there’s no clutch or gear-shifting to worry about — all you have to do is press on the pedal to have a smooth and consistent increase in velocity.

To put things in perspective, upon receiving the Model Y, I hit the accelerator a bit hard on our first test ride — the way I had always done on my old gas SUV — and my toddlers in the backseats screamed. Since then, my boy has been telling me, “not too fast, daddy! OK?” each time he gets into the car.

I’m not huge on driving crazy — I’ve grown out of it into more of an efficient driver. So I often put the car in the reduced acceleration, or “Chill,” mode, which adds a tiny bit of delay. The Model Y is still fast even in this mode, and I have no issue passing or changing lanes in high-flowing traffic.

The point is Tesla cars, even the non-performance trims (and most EVs for that matter), all have crazy performances to those moving from an ICE vehicle, which is everyone.

And that extra performance, the thrill of it, plus the hefty weight can put a toll on the tires — it’s just physics. I’ve known some new Tesla drivers who needed new tires after less than 15k miles out of the factory set that’s slated to last 40k miles.

When it comes to tires, it’s not how fast you go but how often you abruptly change the speeds that affect their longevity.

(And that’s true for all cars. You can easily run through a set of new tires overnight doing sideshow, the hallmark of my home town Oakland.)

So here’s the deal: If you love that feeling of being pushed against your seat, perceived as a maniac on the road, or the screams of your passengers, you’ll have to pay. And a Tesla makes that extremely easy for you.

Tesla Model Y inch Gemini WheelTesla Model Y inch Induction Wheel
The 19-in Gemini (left) and 20-inch Induction wheel options on the Tesla Model Y. Note the tire walls.

Tesla tires: Those performance wheel options will cost you

But even if you don’t want to go fast, Tesla’s performance wheels have their other appeals: They look fantastic.

Indeed, when buying a new Tesla of any trim, you have the option of getting a larger rim. For the Model Y, that’d be the 19″ Gemini Wheels (standard) vs 20″ Induction Wheels (a $2000 upgrade).

(If you get the Performance trim, the latter rim size is the default.)

I have to admit that the 20″ Induction Wheels look great on my car, but I decided against them because they would reduce the range slightly, not to mention I have better things to do with a couple of thousand dollars. And that turned out to be a wise decision.

No matter which rim size you get, keep in mind that the wheels’ diameter remains the same. So to accommodate for the larger inner ring, you must use tires with thinner walls. In other words, the rims are now closer to the surface of the road.

And the combo of thinner tire wall, hefty weight, and high performance can mean trouble — your car now requires well-maintained paved roads.

And that’s something my buddy Luis would tell you.

Luis Model S Wheel Crack Mexico
Tesla cracked rim: Here’s Luis’ Model S getting stuck in Mulege due to a broken front wheel.

Extra: Tesla Model S Performance on an adventurous road-trip, a true story

Luis is a successful network engineer in the San Francisco Bay area. He drives a fully-loaded 2018 Model S Performance and is the person who inspired me to get my Model Y.

Both he and his wife are originally from La Paz in Baja California, Mexico.

La Paz is some 1500 miles (2400 km) from San Francisco. The Mexican part of the road that crosses a large and scenic desert was heavily damaged in 2014 by Hurricane Odile, with remaining rough patches. Most towns along the way still have non-paved roads by the way.

(It was Luis’ and his wife’s families we visited during our 2014-2015 epic road trip that taught me how to handle the donut, as mentioned in the earlier post. So I know that road well — if you can take on large deserts and are a bit adventurous, the area has lots of charm and beauty to offer.)

Road Trip Charing Plan to Laz Paz
Tesla cracked rim: Luis’ message from Mulege and his original driving plan for the trip.

For a couple of years, Luis had wanted to visit his hometown on the Model S. The most tricky part was the charging. There is at least one long desert stretch without a charging station — there’s nothing on either side of the Carretera Transpeninsular other than cacti.

As an engineer, Luis meticulously mapped out all the places he could plug in his car and the distances between them. He calculated that it’d take him four days and three overnight charging rests on the Mexico side.

And off they went the little energetic family. Road trip! I envied him a bit.

Long story short, his planning paid off. They managed to drive to La Paz and back to the San Francisco Bay Area without ever completely running out of juice — though it did get “quite close” a few times.

But the trip there did take longer than he had anticipated.

Luis Pumping Tire Model S
Here’s Luis stopping to top off the other tire. Despite the issue at hand, he managed to “smile for the camera.”

What Luis didn’t make plans for was the car’s wheels. On the trip there, trouble first started near Mulege, a small beach town some 300 miles from La Paz, where he found out via a slowly deflating tire, that the car’s right front rim had a crack that required an immediate repair.

His Model S was probably the very first Tesla most local folks ever saw. So finding a shop capable of repairing the wheel was near impossible. But with some effort and extra time, he managed to get the wheel patched up and continued to his hometown.

When they were well into this last leg, his other front tire also gradually ran out of air, and he had to stop to refill it with his handy portable, rechargeable inflater every hour or so.

(By the way, he was well-prepared and also carried along lifting pads.)

And when he arrived in La Paz, with merely 7 miles left on the battery, he found out that the other front rim had also been cracked.

As it turned out, those performance tires weren’t doing well with the rough terrain — their walls are just too thin.

After having both front rims repaired properly in La Paz, a much larger town than Mulege, Luis still ended up also having to get two new tires before he could drive the car again.

Fortunately, they had planned to remain in La Paz for an extended stay, more than enough to get a pair shipped to them.

Luis Model S Wheel Crack in La Paz Mexico
Tesla cracked rim: Here’s Luis’ Model S in La Paz, waiting for the 2nd front wheel to be fixed. Note the performance wheel with its thin tire wall.

With freshly learned experience, their return trip went without a hitch. But back in the Bay Area, Luis realized that he had to replace his car’s wheels to be safe.

(And naturally, he still got the performance option.)

The lesson here is, you won’t be able to find Tesla tires just anywhere in the world, especially the performance ones, which don’t work well just anywhere in the world, either. And getting into performance will likely cost you more than just the hardware itself, for the rest of the ownership.

On the other hand, getting charged might be less of an issue. If you intend to take the same trip — and I’d recommend it — Luis’s note above on where to get your car juiced up will come in handy. Again, make sure you use the correct wheels and tires.

Tesla tires: Those pesky curb rashes and how to avoid them

If you pay attention to the photos of Luis’ car above, you might note the curb rashes. They are especially conspicuous on those black wheels.

Tesla Model Y Curb Rash
Tesla tire: Here’s my Model Y’s first curb rash. I got it on day one of getting the vehicle.

But you’ll also see them on almost all Tesla cars, especially the front wheels. There’s a reason for that.

I put the first curb rash on my Model Y within 24 hours of getting the car when backing it out of my relatively narrow driveway. The worst part is not the rash itself but the fact I was cautious and had no idea how that could have happened.

I’m not one of those who care about the car — or things, for that matter — too much, but I do take pride in being a “good” driver — as in having an excellent awareness of the car I’m driving. My vehicles generally don’t touch or run over things I don’t intend to.

So the rash came as a total surprise. It bothered me. It was like I did something terrible without even being aware of it. The next few days, I got another rash, this time on the other front wheel, also when I was backing up on a parallel parking job.

Tesla Reverse Cameras
Tesla tire: A Tesla has multiple reverse cameras. Note the ones for the car’s sides.

And that’s when it became clear: It was primarily the design of the car’s rear-facing cameras mounted on its sides (and the fact I was not used to them).

On a Tesla, when you put the car in reverse, you’ll see not one but three rear-facing cameras — one on its back and two on its sides. They give the driver an excellent view of the surrounding.

However, the side cameras also create an illusion that the driver can see the entire sides of the car. Some might even mistake the visible back wheels for the front ones.

In reality, these two cameras are mounted below the side rearview mirrors and miss the front wheel entirely. That, plus the fact Tesla rims tend to be flushed with the tires’ walls and the car’s body, instead of a bit recessed like in most vehicles, make curb rashes almost unavoidable for new drivers.

And considering the car’s power and heft mentioned above, the rashes can be rather pronounced when they happen.

That said, give the front of the car more room than what you’d perceive from the side cameras when in reverse, and you’ll be able to avoid those minor scratches. It takes some getting used to.

Tesla Model Y Side Camera
Tesla tires: Here’s a side rear-facing camera on a Tesla. Note how it misses the front wheel entirely.

The takeway

Curb rashes aren’t that all bad. In a way, they are signs that the car is now yours. We’re all imperfect.

For me, figuring out the cause was a big relief. Generally, it’s not the mistake but why and how I make it — the lesson or the lack of which — that troubles me.

Now at least I know if I have more scratches on my wheels, and I likely will, that’d be because I’m worse of a driver than I thought I was, and not that the universe is playing a practical joke on me.

And I’m OK with the former.

On the other hand, having to get new tires, or rims, earlier than expected due to crazy driving is all on you. The thrill has its costs!

To those who think it’s worth it, I’m nobody to judge. We’re all entitled to have fun with our (expensive) toys however we’d like! It’s always about being aware of possible consequences and avoiding them.

Speaking of which, it seems with Tesla, the “performance” option is not synonymous with “tough.” While the car might handle and look better, its wheels do not seem strong enough for the extras in its power and weight combo.

Keep that in mind the next time you step on the accelerator.

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