Are you hearing the tires rubbing against the fenders when turning or even when you hit a larger pothole? You might think it's not a big issue, especially if it happens because of some changes you made; however, the issue can worsen over time and can also be very dangerous.
There are quite a few reasons that can lead to tires rubbing when turning. Most of them come from upgrades made to the car, but there can also be issues with some car parts. Regardless, you should immediately take steps to alleviate the issue, and this article will help you with that.
Common Culprits of Tires Rubbing When Turning
Here are all potential causes of tires rubbing when turning, from the most to the least likely – at least in my experience working as a mechanic. So, without further ado, let's dig in!
1. The wheels are too large
When a customer comes into my shop and complains of tires rubbing against the fenders, most of the time, it's because of a new set of larger wheels.
The wheel wells on cars aren't designed to accept very large wheels from the factory. For example, a compact car, like a Corolla or Civic, can only accommodate 18-inch wheels, and that's only for the newer models. If you put 19-inch wheels on these cars, tires rubbing when turning is to be expected.
Hence, I strongly recommend checking the manufacturer's recommendations for the largest wheel diameter you can put on your car. Make sure you calculate the whole diameter of the wheel, together with the tire, as that can also lead to rubbing.
Or, see what is the biggest wheel the manufacturer puts on that car from the factory and use that as the upper limit.
2. The tires are too wide
Tires that are too wide can also lead to tires rubbing when turning or even when you hit a pothole. As with wheels, the same rule applies here – you should never use tires that are wider than the maximum recommended by the manufacturer.
3. Change in offset due to new wheel design
Even if you follow the manufacturer's recommendations for wheel and tire size, rubbing can still occur due to a change in offset. This is another issue that I encounter too often, and it's because customers don't educate themselves enough before purchasing new rims, especially on the used market.
The wheel offset can significantly change the suspension geometry of your car and either:
- Push the wheel toward the outside of the car (negative offset)
- Push the wheel toward the inside of the car (positive offset)
Almost every manufacturer of alloy wheels offers various offsets for its models, each corresponding to various vehicle models. For instance, BMW uses wheels with negative offset on some of its models, as it looks better, but most manufacturers use positive offset.
Hence, it's paramount to always check how much offset (negative or positive) your new wheels have. You can use a slightly more negative offset if you want to give your car a more aggressive stance, but going overboard will almost certainly result in the tires rubbing when turning, either on the inside (fender liner) or outside (fender).
4. Lowered suspension
Most modern vehicles come with enough space between the fender and tire so as to accommodate larger wheels. However, that space will become much smaller after installing a lowering spring kit and could lead to the tires rubbing.
Again, automakers design their models to allow for some lowering, but only up to 0.8 inches (20 mm) on most models. The reason is that most also offer sporty suspensions from the factory, which lower the car.
However, the aftermarket offers much more aggressive kits that can significantly reduce the clearance and lead to the tires rubbing against the fenders.
5. Wheel spacers
Wheel spacers are a common upgrade car owners make to push the existing wheels outward. They do it mostly for aesthetic purposes, but it can also improve the handling characteristic.
Still, much like with negative offset wheels, spacers can lead to rubbing. If you go too wide, they can also significantly change the suspension geometry and lead to issues down the road.
6. Misaligned wheels
Tires rubbing when turning can also occur even if you didn't make any upgrades to your car. And the most common issue I faced was misaligned wheels.
Now, misalignment is common on many vehicles, but for it to lead to rubbing, the issue must be very serious. This mostly happens if the caster angle is too big (positive or negative). However, in some cases, extreme camber and toe can also lead to tire rubbing when turning.
7. Suspension issues
Various suspension issues can also lead to rubbing. For example, worn shocks or struts can't control the wheel movement well, which results in rubbing when turning, especially on bumpy roads.
Do note that you can't notice worn shocks/struts just by looking at your car, as its clearance will remain the same. This is because the springs carry the weight of the car – not the shocks. However, under extreme load or when driving on very bumpy roads, the shocks won't be able to dampen the wheel and exacerbate movement.
If you have an issue with faulty suspension components, you should immediately repair or replace them, and not only because of the rubbing. Bad suspension can lead to worsened stability, longer stopping distances, and, generally, a less safe ride.
8. Variations in tire sizes
This is an issue that I honestly never encountered in my career. Still, I'll mention it because it's theoretically possible, especially on vehicles with very tight tolerances in the wheel well from the factory, i.e., supercars.
See, even if you buy tires with the same dimensions as before, there could be slight variations in the overall wheel diameter. Most of the time, this is due to different sidewall strengths – some tires are softer than others.
Thus, if you own a car with tight tolerances from the factory, make sure you only install tires that the manufacturer recommends – supercar makers will always provide you with a list of suitable models.
Should You Continue Driving?
I often argue with my automotive enthusiast friends when I ride as a passenger in their car and hear the tires rubbing the fenders. Most of them accept that like it's nothing, aware that it happens because of the new wheels/tires or lowered suspension. And they won't even hear when I tell them it's a safety hazard to drive a car with its tires rubbing when turning.
The rubbing can significantly weaken the tire's tread or sidewall or even slice whole parts from the tire. This can be problematic at higher speeds or at higher loads, as it can lead to blowouts. And blowouts are very dangerous, as they can significantly destabilize your vehicle and lead to dangerous crashes. Not to mention, tires are expensive and it can be quite an expense if you have to replace them too soon.
But even if that doesn't happen, the rubbing will certainly damage the inside of the fenders or liners. It might not be noticeable from the outside, especially with those large wheels masking the inside, but it could lead to corrosion, which can be very expensive to fix.
How to Continue Using Larger/Wider Wheels and Stop the Rubbing?
Despite the rubbing issues, many automotive enthusiasts still want larger wheels, wider tires, and lowered suspensions. Fortunately, there is a way to limit rubbing, and it is called a fender roll.
Basically, you bring your vehicle to a specialist body shop that does extreme modifications, and the workers there will cut or pull the fender so that the wheel well accepts the new wheel without any rubbing.
Some body shops also offer widebody kits, which include new fenders that go better with the rest of the car, including new wings and spoilers. A widebody kit can significantly improve the looks of any car, though it's a very extreme modification.
Still, tuning shops are full of options and will gladly help you with the issue. Hence, I strongly recommend trusting professionals when doing such modifications to ensure safety. They will probably have a kit ready for your car, which was designed to eliminate any issue with rubbing.
I hope that I have exhausted every reason why tires rub against the fender. I was talking about my experience of working over a decade in the shop, which means I probably encountered every possible scenario.
But regardless of that, tires rubbing when turning is a serious safety issue that you need to put in priority. One of my friends didn't trust me and had a blowout on the highway – he was lucky nothing serious happened, and nobody was hurt!
So, whenever you plan on putting larger wheels and tires, rims with a different offset, wheel spacers, or lowered springs, make sure you measure everything and ensure the tires never rub against the fender or fender liners. A simple test drive around the block can also help you find if the tires rub and whether you should do something about it.
I’m Ivo Gievski, the content writer for Tireer. We built our website with over 15 years of experience and extensive research in the automotive and technology sectors. My dedication to delivering high-quality content is unwavering, and I strive to continuously hone my skills to stay ahead of industry trends and provide readers with informative, engaging, and valuable insights.