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I've always heard that tread wear affects the speed of your vehicle; i.e. you technically are going faster with new tires than you are with old, worn tires, for a given indicated speed by the speedometer.

If this is true, are speedometers calibrated for new tires with full tread?

Additionally, if you change the wheels on your vehicle for the next size up or down, wouldn't that have a major effect on the speedometer accuracy?

Other sources on the internet indicate that this is true, but there is little information on the degree of effect.

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I compared with speed on sat nav. my tyres were worn and speedometer was showing 70 but actual sat nav was 66. so you are going slower then speedometer reading –  user4927 Apr 24 at 11:43

2 Answers 2

up vote 10 down vote accepted

You can calculate the size of the effect from simple geometry. Tire wear reduces the diameter of the tire, which reduces the circumference of the tire.

New passenger car tires typically come with 10/32" to 11/32" of tread depth (source). Tires are considered fully worn-out when only 2/32" of tread remains. So the tire has lost 8/32"--9/32" on the radius, or 1/2"--9/16" on the diameter over the life of the tire.

What does this mean in terms of a "percent error?" To find out, we need to know the starting circumference of the new tire.

First, a primer on tire size notation. An example tire size would be 205/45-R17.

  • First number: section width in mm. The tire is 205 mm wide
  • Second number: aspect ratio. The sidewall height of the tire is 0.45 times the section width
  • Third number: rim size in inches. The tire fits a 17" wheel.

Tire diameter is (roughly) given by the wheel rim size plus two times the sidewall height. In the case of our 205/45-R17 tire, the diameter is roughly 616mm.

(17 * 25.4) + 2 * (205 * 0.45) = 616.3

(must multiply the rim size by 25.4 to convert inches to millimeters)

The circumference of this new tire is therefore approximately 1936mm

616.3 * 3.14 = 1936

Now we said we could lose 1/2" in diameter over the life of the tire, so the worn diameter would be 604mm

616.3 - 1/2 * 25.4 = 603.6

Which means the worn circumference is 1896mm, or 2% less than the new tire circumference.

So for this example, over the life of your tire, you'd pick up a 2% speedometer error. Hardly worth worrying about.

Changing tire/wheel sizes can easily have a much larger effect, and care should be taken to try to keep the rolling diameter roughly the same as the recommended tire size.

For what it's worth, my experience is that vehicle manufacturers usually calibrate their speedometers to read fast anyway (they might have legal problems if their speedometers read slow, "I got this ticket for 60 with my cruise control set on 55"), so you're probably not starting from "the truth" anyway. Tire wear would make the speedo read faster still.

A final disclaimer: all the diameter and circumference calculations are ROUGH, as the tire deforms, stretches and slips as it rolls down the road, but I think this is nonetheless a good estimate for the effect of tire wear.

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Size: YES. Wear: Yes... but it's negligible.

If the bigger the tire the slower the speed on the speedometer. The easy fix is to just use a GPS in addition to the speedometer.

Since you are monkeying with ratios the speedometer will be off by some percentage. So the faster you go the more the meter is off.

I put a smaller wheel on my motorcycle. Now the speedometer is off by 5 MPH at 35 MPH. So when I'm going 35 MPH the meter reads 40 MPH. If I put a bigger wheel on the reverse would happen.

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If the odometer is using the same signal as the speedometer, it will be off, too. –  Mark Johnson Nov 7 '12 at 22:16

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