Staggered wheels is a setup where two of the wheels are wider than the others for a vehicle. It’s typically used where power goes, so a rear-wheel-drive would put the stagger at the back. If you have an FWD, it’d be in the front.
Some automakers have their vehicles come with staggered wheels straight from the factory floor. The Infinity G35, Ford Mustang, and Nissan 350Z are all examples of this setup.
You can also find staggered wheels on BMW, Audi, and Volkswagen vehicles.
Deciding whether to go for this setup or not depends on what a driver wants from the vehicle. This approach can change how a vehicle handles, altering your style or the terrain where you’d have the most fun driving.
What happens when you have an all-wheel-drive (AWD) vehicle?
Can You Run Staggered on AWD?
It is possible to run staggered wheels on AWD vehicles. This setup typically requires the same size of tire to be used, which means spacers are necessary to complete the look. It delivers the aesthetic value that comes with this approach, but the speed and control benefits an RWD car gets are often negated by the AWD design.
The nature of an AWD design creates unique challenges that the staggered approach doesn’t accommodate. When you put the fat tires in the back, you get different benefits of balance and control that an all-wheel design doesn’t always need.
Staggered wheels are placed where the power gets transferred to allow the energy to go to the tires that have the most grip on the road.
That’s why it is commonly seen on RWD vehicles. By giving a vehicle the torque that it needs where the most force gets applied, the result is typically more stability during operations.
With an all-wheel-drive vehicle, staggered wheels could negate some or all of the benefits that you get by sending power to all four tires simultaneously.
The AWD design naturally creates the benefits with a square setup that drivers would get running staggered with an RWD.
What Can Happen When Running Staggered Tires on AWD Vehicles?
Although you can run staggered wheels on AWD autos, it isn’t always the right choice. The vehicle is naturally designed to prevent the tires from spinning out or losing control when slick conditions exist. You’d need to consult with your powertrain requirements before using this setup to ensure you’re not inadvertently damaging it.
When you don’t have the staggered setup correct with an AWD, some unwanted issues can develop with the vehicle.
- Uneven Tire Wear. Most AWD vehicles stay on city streets or highways, ensuring traction is available for unexpected conditions. You’ll see higher levels of tire wear with this approach, whether you get a performance enhancement or not.
- Braking Performance. Some AWD vehicles may experience enhanced wear and tear on the brake pads and rotors with a staggered setup. You’d want to consider upgrading those items when expanding the tire width in the front or back.
- More Maintenance. Multiple components can break down faster than expected when an AWD runs a staggered look. That means more regular inspections are required to ensure everything operates as expected.
The best place to start if you’re considering a staggered look is to review the specs of your factory-installed axles. If the AWD has them, you’ll have an easier time managing this configuration.
If you don’t have a variance available to use, the most your AWD vehicle naturally allows is about a 1% difference between the two tire sets.
What If I Can Turn Off the AWD Feature?
If you can deactivate an all-wheel-drive feature, you have a 4WD vehicle. An AWD design operates by default in the four-wheel configuration, allowing you to drive safely and securely on any surface.
The 4WD system is designed to use a center differential or a clutch to let the driveshafts in the front and rear turn at variable speeds. That makes it possible for more traction to be available, even if the outdoor environment has rapid and variable changes to navigate.
When you have an AWD system, it works almost the same way. The primary difference is that you won’t have a low setting, which means fewer off-road settings are possible.
You don’t have the option to turn off the variability through the clutch or center differential.
If you have a part-time 4WD vehicle, it operates as a 2WD design by default, usually with the power sent to the rear wheels.
That means you can run the staggered look without much difficulty, but you’d want to be conscious of how the vehicle reacts when changing it to the four-wheel-drive approach.
Some vehicles come with an auto-engaging AWD design that defaults to a 2WD approach under typical driving conditions.
Since you don’t have control over when the feature activates, the staggered design isn’t as helpful for vehicles with it. Some examples include the Chrysler 300 and the Dodge Durango.
Pros and Cons of Running Staggered Wheels
If you’re thinking about changing your setup to run with staggered wheels on an AWD, there are some advantages and disadvantages to consider before proceeding with this option. Here’s a closer look at what you’ll want to review before moving forward.
|List of the Pros of Staggered Wheels
|List of the Cons of Staggered Wheels
|Staggered wheels provide better grip when driving in different conditions or across multiple terrain options.
The wider tire makes more contact with the road surface or ground materials, providing better handling and braking.
|If an AWD doesn’t come with a staggered setup from the factory, this modification could be considered a warranty violation.
Voiding this protection could be a costly experience, especially for a new car.
|If the vehicle has a wider diameter in the back, it will tilt forward slightly.
This approach shortens the vehicle’s turning radius, allowing for more control around curves and corners.
|Wider wheels in the back might put drivers at a greater risk of understeering during an emergency.
This outcome happens because the vehicle has a lower frontal grip with narrower contacts in the front.
|Placing the stagger in the back of an AWD can improve a vehicle’s weight distribution profile.
The subtle, yet positive impacts on aerodynamics and the center of gravity provide consistency behind the wheel.
|Some drivers don’t like the handling changes that happen when staggering the wheels in the front or the back.
The AWD approach provides extra traction without the need to change the wheelbase.
|A vehicle with a rear stagger has more balance, allowing the engine to maximize its available horsepower for acceleration.
|The staggered side (front or back) tends to wear out faster than the set that isn’t wider, potentially requiring replacement before the published mileage lifetime.
Are Staggered Wheels Better to Have?
Whether staggered wheels would be helpful or not depends on individual driving habits. Although there is an aesthetic benefit to consider, along with the advantages that come with this setup, it might be better to go square in some situations.
The primary idea behind staggered wheels is that having more grip on the road creates opportunities for improved acceleration. That’s helpful for an RWD, but it isn’t necessarily needed for AWD setups.
An AWD does receive better corning and braking support with a rear stagger, which could be helpful in snowy or off-road conditions. For regular driving, either city or highway, the disadvantages might shine brighter for some drivers.
When Should I Buy an AWD Vehicle?
An all-wheel-drive vehicle provides a tractional advantage in all weather and environmental conditions. It’s especially helpful when you’re behind the wheel because you can accelerate through turns while the engine power approaches (or exceeds) levels that would overwhelm an RWD or FWD design.
That benefit comes with issues of added cost, rotational inertia, and weight. These elements create more friction within the driving environment, reducing the vehicle’s overall efficiency.
What Is the Best Way to Use a Staggered Setup?
Since a staggered setup requires wider wheels in the front or the back, it’s better to use wheels that come from the same set and manufacturer to create the desired look. Although a mix-and-match approach is theoretically possible, there can be consistency issues to consider.
That’s why the Giovanna Black Wheels are my go-to choice when running a staggered look. They’re compatible with multiple makes and models to create a racing look for any situation.
You’ll get 20-inch wheels with this setup. The fronts are nine inches wide, while the backs are 10.5 inches wide.
Although you’ll need lugs to complete the order, you’ll find that dark color and unique styling dresses up your aesthetics to another level.
They’re easily some of the best rims I’ve ever tried. My AWD is stable and secure with the staggered setup, but I can quickly go back to a squared design for a more traditional driving experience.
Do I Need a 4WD or an AWD?
Staggered wheels work better with a 4WD compared to an AWD vehicle. Drivers see more of the traction and handling benefits while having fewer disadvantages to manage. An AWD can still run with wider tires in the back, but it helps to have axles built for the staggered look to maximize potential outcomes.
My stepfather loved to add different modifications to vehicles. One of my first memories of us working together was installing a stereo system with a multi-band EQ in our pickup.
When my family bought a Nissan Pathfinder, he started dreaming of the different ways he could modify the vehicle. One of those options was a staggered look.
It went okay. We had a fun experience together going off-roading at Arches National Park on one of the designated trails. It did make the vehicle a bit loose in the back.
Most AWD vehicles benefit from a square setup instead of rolling with staggered wheels. There are exceptions to every rule, so the best advice is to ensure that you’re not voiding the warranty by altering your setup.