If you’re lifting your Ranger, odds are you plan to put some bigger tires on it. There is really a lot of good general information out there, applicable to most trucks, so this won’t be a long chapter to prevent being repetitive. Nevertheless, I wanted to provide some basic information so you can consider this series as “one-stop-shopping” for getting your truck sorted out.This post is part of a full series on lifting your late model Ford Ranger or Mazda B-Series:
- Chapter 1: Lift Basics
- Chapter 2: The Superlift K358 Kit
- Chapter 3: Wheels & Tires
- Chapter 4: Coilover Conversion Overview & Planning
- Chapter 5: Leaf Spring Swap Overview & Prep
- Chapter 6: Replacing the Leaf Springs
- Chapter 7: Installing the Superlift & Coilovers
- Appendix: Full Shopping List & Budget
Why Bigger Tires?
Let’s get the obvious point out of the way first. If you don’t put bigger tires on after installing the Superlift, your truck will look something like this:
Not completely terrible, but a little awkward and gangly, like a kid who’s suddenly gotten tall but hasn’t put on any muscle yet.
But besides appearances, the Superlift instructions actually indicate a really valid safety reason. To quote:
As a general rule, the taller a vehicle is, the easier it will roll over. Offset, as much as possible, what is lost in roll over resistance by increasing tire track width. In other words, go “wide” as you go “tall”. Many sportsmen remove their mud tires after winter / hunting season and install ones more appropriate for street driving; always use as wide a tire and wheel combination as possible to enhance vehicle stability.
If you haven’t already done so, I’d suggest you familiarize yourself with how to read tire size specifications. Tire sizes are a much-discussed topic on the various Ranger forums but I went with Superlift’s own recommended size, i.e. a 33″ diameter tire. Lots of people run 33×12.5 or a slightly narrower 33×10.5. I run the roughly equivalent metric size of 305-70/16 in the summer time.
In the winter time, I run the largest snow/ice tire I could find that fit on the 16″x7″ stock rims, a 275-70/16.
The 4″ lift should give you most of the clearance you need, but I experienced some rubbing anyway. The front tires rubbed against the lower air dam when at full lock (particularly when backing out of my driveway) but this was an easy fix. I used some wire cutters to cleanly snip away the corner where the tires were rubbing. It’s actually not in a visible spot and after the snip it looks like it was meant to be that way in the first place.
In the back, I only ran into clearance issues under heavy suspension articulation off road. I don’t have as elegant solution for the rear fender flare clearance problem – I’m not really interested in limiting suspension travel so I’ll need to find a way to trim the inner fender flare somehow without having it fall off or be ugly. (I’d be interested in any suggestions!) I haven’t tackled this yet because it only comes up off road and regrettably, I don’t hit the trails as often as I’d like to.
Wide tires can extend beyond wheel well / fender coverage, which can be a problem in some jurisdictions. The stock “Sport” and “FX4” trim level fender flares provide enough coverage to keep me out of trouble but if you have an XLT or base level Ranger without fender flares, you may need to acquire some for legal compliance. Check your local laws.
You’re probably going to want to pick the baddest-looking, knobbiest tire you can, but I’d suggest you consider the way you use your truck in the real world before you decide. The tires in the sizes you want are going to mostly fall into the broad “on/off road all terrain” and “off-road maximum traction” categories, to use The Tire Rack’s rubrics. A few things to consider:
- The knobbier the tire, the better the off-road traction and “self-cleaning” (usually) but it will also hum loudly on pavement and get really loud on the highway. You’ll need to upgrade your stereo for more wattage, if you haven’t already.
- Maximum Traction Off-Road tires are crap in light snow and ice because they have no siping. All-terrain tires usually have some siping (the BFG All-Terrain K/O being a good example) so they’re decent in winter conditions.
- All-terrain tires tend to have better tread wear ratings because they use a harder rubber compound. The harder rubber isn’t as great when rock crawling but it lasts longer on pavement. These big tires aren’t cheap, so you don’t want to be replacing bald ones all the time.
- Unless you’re allowed to run studded tires in your snow-belt jurisdiction, you will probably want to keep your stock rims for a set of pure winter tires, even if you opt for all-terrain tires. This is what I do. If you can run studded tires, the Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac is an option with interesting sizes.
For my part, I was drawn to the Dick Cepek Fun Country all-terrain tire for its aggressive looks, decent tread wear rating and sort-of quiet ride (though my neighbours still hear me rolling home from several blocks away).
If you opt for a unidirectional tire, i.e. a tire that’s designed to rotate in a specific direction as indicated by arrows stamped on the sidewall, make sure the guys at the tire shop mount them the right way. (The sheer number of backwards-mounted tires I see out there is a pet peeve of mine.)
The short version of this is that if you’re buying the wheels new, wheel manufacturers have all the calculators and tables to help you find the right specification. If you’re not getting good info, or need to double-check to make sure there’s no mistake, this section gives you a sense of the right measurements and specs. This older article on wheel sizes from The Ranger Station site might be worth reading for general wheel size theory with some Ranger-specific info thrown in, but I’ll try to summarize what’s relevant to 4x4s of the 2001-2011 range.
Buy what looks good to you, but I learned a couple of things about my ATX Ledge Teflons that you should consider when shopping for your wheels:
- I needed to buy spline-type lug nuts: the ones that came with the truck don’t fit. You’ll need the impact socket, too, if you need the lug nuts.
- The little chrome “bolts” around the outside of my rims are just plastic cosmetic thingies to make the wheel look a bit like a beadlock. Anyway, they get in the way of most tire rim mounting equipment. These in particular need to be pulled straight out like plugs using plyers before mounting/unmounting a tire, or they’ll get sheared off.
Anyway, practical stuff like this is worth knowing about when you’re choosing the right look for your truck.
First of all, when you’re shopping for tires, make sure to look at the detailed technical specifications of the tires you’re considering. These can usually be found on the manufacturer’s website. These specs will tell you the minimum and maximum wheel rim width for the tires. The stock rim size is 16″x7″. As mentioned before, 275-70/16 was as big as I could go for tires on the stock 16″x7″ rims. Going to a 16″x8″ opens a lot more tire width possibilities. This is the size I purchased.
The Ranger has a 5×4.5″ (5×114.3mm) bolt pattern and are “lug centric” which means you don’t have to worry a whole lot about the wheel’s center bore size, as long as it’s about 70.3mm to 70.5mm, (or 2.75″) and fits around your center hub. This is likely to be a non-issue.
There’s not much to say here except make sure it matches your chosen tire’s inner diameter and fits over your brakes and control arms. Also, as the tire sidewalls like to remind you, 16″ does not equal 16.5″. I’ve read you can go with a 15″ rim on these model years, but no smaller (assuming your brakes aren’t larger than stock). Note that wheel diameter has nothing to do with backspacing or offset measurements, described in the next section.
Wheel Backspacing and Offset
People get confused about this, because the information out there is needlessly complicated. In a nutshell, the stock Ranger backspacing is 4.5″. If you maintain the backspacing measurement of 4.5″ as you increase the width of your rims, the extra width from the wheels and tires will mostly be added outside of the wheel well instead of inside.
That’s a good thing.
In other words, you want to grow the wheels and tires mostly outward, not inward. This is generally the best approach to ensure your tires clear your inner fenders as well as steering and suspension components. The following diagram illustrates what I mean.
If you were to protect the stock offset instead of the stock backspacing, the increase in tire and wheel width would happen equally inboard and outboard. You want it to go outboard, so forget about the stock offset. Consider the backspace as the dimension you want to “lock” when wheel width increases. As you can see, it’s pretty tight in there.
For what it’s worth, my 16″x8″ wheels have back-spacing of 4.45″, 0mm offset and everything works just fine. This was the manufacturer’s recommendation for my truck.
Note that the wider you go while maintaining the backspacing, the more the wheel offset changes from the stock geometry. Big changes in offset can cause changes to steering and handling, as well as tire and wheel bearing life because you’re playing with the vehicle’s engineered angles (“scrub radius“, to be exact). On my setup, the steering feels the same to me with the big tires/wheels as with the stock ones.
Newer Rangers have a tire pressure monitoring system that is supposed to light up an indicator on your instrument panel when any one of your tires’ pressure drops below a safe level. When you change the wheels on a TPMS truck, you need to sort out some sensors for the new wheels, or learn to live with a flashing orange light every time you start the truck. It lights steadily after a few seconds, for your whole drive. It is really difficult to disable; I’ve read you can’t just pull a fuse – you’d have to crack your gauge cluster to remove the light.
Some people learn to live with the light, or place tape over it, but I can’t stand that kind of thing, so I dealt with it properly.
The sensors are attached to the stock rims using bands that can’t be reused.
Depending on your choice of rim, the stock sensors with new bands may not fit anyway. If you’re keeping your stock rims for winter tires, like I did, or if you’ve got doubts about the fit of the sensors, you can get a second set for the new wheels.
Stock-style band-mounted sensors can be installed for $350-375 by a place like Tire Rack (which may be worthwhile if you’re getting them to mount/balance a whole set for you. Or you can get a set of stem-mounted sensors for about $200. I got the Schrader EZ Sensor 33000.
These universal sensors are stem-mounted, so bands and wheel fit are a non-issue. They need to be programmed once to behave like the stock sensors, and then your truck needs to re-learn the sensor codes every time you switch your winter tires over. The tools for this programming / resetting process run from $300-1500, so you may just want to deal with a tire shop when you switch to/from your winter wheels and tires.
Spare Tires and Limited Slip Differentials
You know that round thing hanging out under the back of your truck that rarely, if ever, have to think about?
It’s a 235-70/16 tire with a diameter of about 29 inches. With significantly larger tires on your truck, you’ll need to consider the spare’s diameter if you’ve got a limited slip differential. These diffs apply friction to discourage one wheel from spinning freely while the other one has traction, which is great for traction. But since they’re dumb and can’t tell the difference, they also apply friction if you have one small spare tire spinning fast to keep up with the big tire at the other end of the same axle as you roll down the highway.
If you don’t want to needlessly wear out or ruin your LSD in the event of a flat tire on an LSD-equipped axle your choices are:
- Buy a 5th wheel/tire of the same size as your others to keep as a spare. You’ll have to find a new place for because it won’t fit under the truck.
- If you get a flat on the rear axle, jack up the front of your truck and put the spare in one of the front positions. Then, put the good tire you took off the front onto the back position that had the flat.
- Buy a can of Fix-A-Flat and hope for the best (note that this gums up your TPMS so there’s a cleanup job to be done when your tire is fixed/repaired.)
Note that from the factory, only the rear axles have LSDs. But if you have an LSD installed in both axles, only options 1 and 3 are available to you. Not sure if you have a limited slip differential? Your door sticker or axle tag can tell you.
Gearing and Speedometer Calibration
When your tire diameter changes from stock, your speedometer calibration changes, as does the ratio of your engine RPM to vehicle speed in any given gear. In a nutshell:
- All other things being equal, larger tire diameter usually improves highway fuel economy because the engine RPM is lower for any given speed. But fuel economy gains will probably be offset by the extra weight, tire rolling resistance and worsened aerodynamics after your lift is in place.
- A larger tire diameter theoretically results in worsened acceleration. It’s a bit like starting in second gear instead of first.
- Your vehicle will actually be traveling faster than your speedometer says. (“Sorry officer, I just put bigger tires on my truck.”)
This awesome page at TheRangerStation.com does a good job of explaining how tire diameters relate to final drive gearing and can tell you if your new tire size will land you in the acceptably drivable coloured ranges with your current axle ratios. Don’t know what your axle ratio is? This other awesome page at TheRangerStation.com will tell you how to figure it out from the sticker on your driver’s side door, or from the tag on the axle itself.
In my case, an R6 axle code on my door confirms I’ve got a 3.73 ratio, which the chart says is OK gearing for 33s, if a bit tall. I haven’t looked seriously at re-gearing my truck, but a quick search seems to indicate that new rings and pinions would run between $150 and $200 per axle, plus labour if you don’t do it yourself. (you obviously need to do both front and rear at the same time.) I’d welcome any comments from those who’ve done it and could shed additional light on the cost of re-gearing.
If you update your gearing to compensate for the new tire size, the speedometer calibration will simply sort itself out on its own. If you are retaining your stock gearing, as I did, you can re-calibrate your speedometer using a programmer.
On newer model years like mine, you can use a programmer to very easily calibrate the speedometer for the bigger tires. These are available from Superchips, DiabloSport and Edge for anywhere from $350-$600. These let you change the engine and transmission computers’ tuning, remove the speed limiter and all kinds of other fun stuff besides getting your speedometer sorted out. Here’s what mine looks like (it’s a Superchips Cortex 1950, which I got discounted for a bit over $300.)
If you’ve got a Ranger between 2000 and 2008 and have done this, I’d appreciate if you could leave a comment to let me know if the programmer approach worked for your model year. I know that on older Rangers, there are different methods for speedometer calibration, but I haven’t been able to find out definitively at what model year the programmer method became available.
Wheel and Tire Shopping List
|Item||Part #||Why||Where To Buy||Quantity||Cost (USD)||Amount (USD)|
|Total||Note: Mounting and balancing of tires is included if you order from TireRack.com. Otherwise, add $10-$20 per tire for this.||Not including tax or shipping||$2,230.75|
|ATX Ledge 16x8 Teflon-Coated Wheel||TK16AX188||I needed a wider rim than stock to run the size of tire I wanted and these wheels looked good to me. Plus, the easy-clean Teflon coating is really handy.||The Tire Rack||4||$192.00 each||$768.00|
|Dick Cepek Fun Country All-Terrain Tires||LT305/70R16||Big. Fat. Tires.|
Good compromise of traction, wear rating and noise level.
|The Tire Rack||4||$237.00 each||$948.00|
|Spline Drive Lug Nuts||C7004|
1/2" - 20 SAE
|The factory lug nuts don't work with my aftermarket wheel. The store I bought from didn't tell me this and charged me $55.13 extra for 20 of these plus the tool.||If you buy your wheels at the Tire Rack, they throw these in for free.|
You can also get them as a package of 20 from Summit Racing
|Spline Drive Impact Socket||C7301||It's necessary to install and remove your new wheels with the spline lug nuts.||Summit Racing||1||$4.95||$4.95|
|Schrader TPMS Sensors||KE33000||I kept my stock rims (and TPMS sensors) for my winter tires. Having an extra set of these sensors saves me the trouble of having my tires re-mounted every season.||If you're not getting your mounting and balancing done by a place that carries these, you can order these cheaply at Amazon.com||4||$46.20||$184.80|
|Superchips Cortex Programmer||1950||To recalibrate my speedometer, but also to tune the engine for small horsepower gains, reprogram transmission, etc.||1||$300.00||$300.00|
Please note that you can do a lot better (or a lot worse) on budget depending on your specific wheel and tire choices. This table just lists current online prices for the stuff you’d need to replicate my setup.
And that concludes Chapter 3, pending reader feedback! In the next instalment, we’ll look at preparing for the coilover conversion.