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 > Technical Articles: / BMW E36 3-Series (1992-1999) >
Tire and Wheel Sizing on Your BMW

Pelican Technical Article:

Tire and Wheel Sizing on Your BMW


6 hours6 hrs






Lug wrench, wheel lock key, fender roller rental ($50 a week)

Applicable Models:

BMW E30 3-Series (1984-93)
BMW E36 3-Series (1992-99)
BMW E46 3-Series (1999-06)

Parts Required:

Wheels, tires, wheel locks, wheel spacers

Performance Gain:

Great handling and great looks

Complementary Modification:

Roll the fenders for oversize wheel and tire fitment
101 Performance Projects for Your BMW 3 Series

This article is one in a series that have been released in conjunction with Wayne's new book, 101 Performance Projects for Your BMW 3 Series. The book contains 272 pages of full color projects detailing everything from performance mods to timing the camshafts. With more than 650+ full-color glossy photos accompanying extensive step-by-step procedures, this book is required reading in any 3 Series owner's collection. The book was released in August 2006, and is available for ordering now. See The Official Book Website for more details.

For this project, I polled a number of people on Internet chat boards to figure out the best and most popular combinations of tire and wheel sizes for the various models of the BMW 3-Series. I confirmed what I believed to be inherently true about almost all hardcore BMW owners: They love to modify and tweak their cars. Out of all the responses, no two were exactly alike. I've compiled and summarized the feedback here so that you can make an educated decision when equipping your BMW.

Let's talk for a few moments about tires in general. Although you can write volumes on tire sizing and design, we'll try to cover only the basics here. Tires are sized using a system that takes into effect the tire's aspect ratio. This aspect ratio is a function of the tire's width with respect to its height. An example of a common European tire size is 195/65R15. The first number, 195, refers to the width of the tire in millimeters. The second number, 65, refers to the height of the tire as a percentage of the width. Therefore 65 percent of 195 would give a tire height of about 127 mm. The "R" following the width and length denotes radial construction. The next number is the tire's inner diameter, in this case 15 inches. Finally, the number followed by a letter is the load rating, and the letter is the tire's maximum speed safety ratings. Speed ratings are as follows:

Q=99 mph, 160km/h

V=149 mph, 240km/h

S=112 mph, 180km/h

W=168 mph, 270km/h

T=118 mph, 190km/h

Y=186 mph, 300km/h

U=124 mph, 200km/h

Z=149+ mph, 240km/h and over

H=130 mph, 210km/h

There is an exception to all this: If a tire is Z-rated, the "Z" is noted immediately after the height and before the "radial" denotation. If our example above were Z-rated, it would be 195/65ZR15. A good Z-rated tire should be more than adequate for non-suicidal driving! Tread is another important consideration in selecting a tire. You should select your tire based on what type of driving you plan to do. With the BMW 3-Series, it can be a bit more complicated, because some people don't drive them in all types of weather. For example, an all-weather tire seems like a natural choice for a family sedan located in a snowy environment. However, many BMW owners do not drive their cars in the snow or the rain.

In an ideal setting, such as on the racetrack, flat-surfaced tires called "racing slicks" are best because a maximum amount of tire rubber is laid down on the road surface. However, slicks have almost no traction in wet weather. The water has a tendency to get underneath the tire and cause the car to hydroplane by elevating the wheel onto a wedge of water.

The full array of choices for tire tread is way beyond the scope of this project. One rule of thumb, though, is to make sure you purchase a tire appropriate for your climate. Using a snow tire or an all-weather tire on a BMW that is rarely driven in the snow will significantly reduce the tire's contact patch area and also reduce cornering performance on dry roads. However, failing to equip your car for bad weather can result in disastrous effects if an unforeseen storm catches you unprepared. Of course, if you drive your car only during the dry summer months, look for a conventional performance tire with a maximum contact patch area.

Another important consideration is tread wear versus traction. Tread wear refers to the average number of miles that the tires can handle before they need to be replaced. A tread wear indicator of 100 means that the tires should last about 30,000 miles. An indicator mark of 80 means that the tires will last 20 percent less, or 24,000 miles. Wear will be different for each car and vary according to each driver's personal driving habits, but the various ratings are good for comparisons among different brands and types of tires. Traction relates to the type of materials used in the tire. The harder the rubber used in the tire, the longer the tires will last. However, hard rubber provides much less traction. An "A" rating for traction is best. These tires will grip the road well, but will generally wear out faster than the "B" or "C" tires.

It is also important to consider longevity when selecting a tire. Most tires have a limited shelf life based on the rubber's natural process of breaking down and becoming brittle. It doesn't pay to purchase a 30,000-mile tire if you are only going to be putting 3,000 miles a year on your car. After ten years, the rubber may be cracked and deteriorated beyond safe use, even if there is plenty of tread left. This is also an important consideration if you are purchasing a BMW that has been in storage or sparsely driven for many years. Although the tires may have plenty of tread on them, they actually may be dried out and ready to fail. If tires develop cracks in their sidewalls from aging, they can blow out when heated up from driving. A blowout is a very bad situation and can cause you to lose control of your car very quickly.

So, which tires and wheels can you fit on your BMW 3-Series?It all depends upon the wheel design, offset, and type of tires you prefer to run on your car. With so many different combinations out there, it's impossible to document them fully in a mere few pages. I did create a wheel collage (opposite page) you can use for generating ideas about which wheels to mount on your car. This array contains photos of BMWs I took at various meets and club events over a period of three years. Expanding the pool of options, you can also use spacers to accommodate different wheels that weren't originally designed for your car. When going this route, I recommend the use of BMW-specific hub-centric spacers, which are located on the hub by a machined center hole, as opposed to lug-centric spacers located by the position of the lug nuts alone.

Rolling the fender involves using a special tool to fold in the inside of your fenders so you can fit wider tires (see Photo 2). Many people perform this modification in order to get larger wheels or tires to fit. However, there are those who don't like the look of rolled fenders, so this could adversely affect the resale value of the car. If you give the suspension a bit of negative camber (angling the top of the wheel inwards), you can also make the larger rims fit on your car.

With many of the older cars, tire sizes that fit often depend upon the condition of the car. Sometimes the chassis is perfectly balanced from left to right, and sometimes it is slightly off from being in an accident or simply from body sag. It's best to find a tire shop that will allow you to try out several tires to find the best fit. Go in during the afternoon on a slow day and talk with your tire salesman to see if he will let you size the tires on your car. If he won't, go to a different shop--there are plenty of them out there willing to cater to you, especially if you are going to shell out some money for high-performance tires.

If you want to go with larger wheels on the E36, the best combination for 18-inch wheels would probably be 225/40R18 in the front and 245/35/R18 in the rear. For more tire patch on the rear, you can probably fit a 255/35R18, but the best handling comes from having the same sized tires and wheels on all four corners. If you are willing to roll the fenders on your car and run spacers, the number of wheel options increases for you. With wider wheels, tire options grow exponentially. Again, rolling the fender can help accommodate a wider wheel and tire. The type of offset used on the wheel and the tire size will affect whether it will fit or not. The offset of a wheel is the distance of the center of the wheel from the edge of the mounting flange on the hub. Different wheels with varying offsets will affect tire sizing considerably, so make sure you know which types of wheel and offset you have before you attempt to mount tires.

So after reading this project, are you still a little bit confused? You should be, and rightly so. It would appear that there is a never-ending set of options for tire sizing on the various BMW models. The best way to figure out what type of tires to place on your car is to ask around. Check on the Internet--and check into the chat room of one or more technical bulletin boards--like the one at I'm also fond of the website; it has useful tools for determining the right wheel/tire combinations to fit your car. Regardless of what the "pros" think, you will find that the majority of BMW owners have an opinion to share and a wheel/tire option they have tried on their car.

If you would like to see more technical articles like this one, please continue to support Pelican Parts with all your parts needs. If you like what you see here, then please visit our online BMW catalog and help support the collection and creating of new and informative technical articles like this one. Your continued support directly affects the expansion and existence of this site and technical articles like this one. As always, if you have any questions or comments about this helpful article, please drop us a line.

Figure 1

The typical fender-rolling tool allows you to tuck the inside edge of the fender inward and also lets you push the entire fender outward if you so desire. When using a rented fender-rolling tool, be sure to warm the paint with a heat gun. Doing this will prevent cracking. Roll slowly back and forth a bit, tighten, and then repeat. You may have to readjust the roller head periodically in order to keep it flush. Also, if the fender is not very concentric with the wheel well, you may not be able to roll the entire fender in one complete stroke--but do one side at a time, and reposition the tool.

Figure 2

No matter which wheels you buy, you're going to want to protect your investment with a set of wheel locks. The factory wheel locks available from BMW look very nice and match the appearance of the factory lugs.

Figure 3

Many factory wheels have a center hubcap secured by plastic snaps. To remove this hubcap, you can use the removal tool located in the factory tool kit found in your trunk. If this tool is missing, however, you may use a pair of larger channel locks instead. You should verify that your factory tool is still located in your tool kit, as otherwise it's very difficult to remove the hubcaps from wheels when you're stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire. When reinstalling the hubcap, line up the small arrow with the line cast into the wheel (green arrow).

Comments and Suggestions:
Luci Comments: Hi All
My BMW 3 series M Sport fuel injection system is reporting the following error codes: 2A26, 2C7E and 2C31. I know it has something to do with the lambda sensors both and the catalytic converter. But my mechanic doesn't know exactly the reasons for those errors.
Any suggestions of what it might be?
We suspect we would have to have the catalytic converter replaced.
Has anyone come across this event before?
Thanks very much
March 8, 2017
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: The fault codes are for possible faulty oxygen sensors. I would have your mechanic check the P-codes, they will give you the sensor locations that are giving you trouble. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
prariepilot Comments: I'm a purist when it comes to my 1999 BMW 318ti, bought used. It needs tires and I want to replace them with the exact OEM brand and size. Can you direct me to where I can find this info? Thanks
February 13, 2017
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: The vehicle owners manual should have that information. You might also look in to past issues of car magazine reviews as they sometimes will contain this information if the owners manual does not. - Casey at Pelican Parts  
headz Comments: good day, I've got a 1999 e36 318ti station wagon... I'm wondering if 19"inch rims would fit and if so what would be the offset also the same for 18'inch rims
February 1, 2017
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I have heard a 17x9 can fit, but the fenders will have to be rolled. 19 will not. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
stretch4655 Comments: i have 18s on my 92 e36 318i bmw and besides having to fit a camber kit they fit perfectly
July 19, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the additional info. We appreciate it.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
sucishifter69 Comments: I have a 1995 521i sedan.I put 2 new 205/55 tires on front to get more rake. I have 205/60 on rear. After a month or so the yellow warning light in between speedo and tach came on and stays on. What to do? can I remove main ignition fuse fore a minute and reconnect
July 8, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Which light? Check engine or ABS? The tires may have hit some wiring if ABS.

I would start by checking the vehicle for fault codes. If multiple systems are not working properly, fault codes will be set. This will be your best bet when diagnosing.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
DrKen Comments: I have a 1987 BMW 528e, manual trans. It still has the original 14" wheels and tires. I would 15s or 16s. What wheels and tires do you recommend? Thank you for your help.
August 3, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: You can fit a 15x7 with a 205/60-15. Or a 16x7 with a 205/55-16.- Nick at Pelican Parts  
Josh Comments: My E30's wheels are 15 in. If i want to change them to 17 in. can i just put thinner tires on? Do i still have to roll the fender?
June 3, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: You will have to maintain the same height and width of the factory wheels to avoid need other modifications. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
May 28, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I would think you'll have to roll the fenders. I opened a post in our forums. A Pelican community member may be able to answer your question.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
angiemin Comments: I have a 1974 2002 that came with 13's on them, but i want to put 15's on them. I am having trouble finding lug nuts that are slim enough to fit with the 15's on. Could you please point me in the right direction to find the lug nuts that i need to fit. And by the way, I love you guys.
October 13, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. They can help you find the right part.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
Sam Comments: I've got a 1991 M40 E36 318i and was considering pirating some wheels from a E39 5 series to put on it, 255/50/15 spoke wheels. Am I going to need to perform any minor surgeries upon my car to get them to fit nicely?
December 19, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I'm not sure - I've seen this done before, but I think you may need some spacers. The best bet is to borrow one wheel, fit it, and see what happens. Sorry I don't have any more info than that. - Wayne at Pelican Parts  

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Page last updated: Sun 1/21/2018 02:03:44 AM