My wife has a 2001 Camry with a V6 and stick shift that is her baby. It’s also 21 years old and a daily driver so on one hand we want to keep it running but on the other we have to be mindful of costs. When it needed new tires and rims, we had to think about what we could do. A few years ago we got a great deal on a Solara that was garage stored in the winters and put new tires and rims on it but we also kept the old set…. could we use those? The answer was that they almost fit.
The Camry’s Tires
The Camry came from the factory using 205/65R15 tires. What do those numbers mean? The first one is the section width. To explain, 205 is the tire’s width in milimeters. For those of us who grew up with inches, we divide that by 25.4 and it is about 9.25 inches. This is the overall left-to-right width of the tire (not just the tread).
The two digit “65” is the aspect ratio. It is the percentage of the tire’s width. Why they couldn’t just give us a measurement there, I don’t know. So you take the 205mm x .65 = 133.25mm. Divide that by 25.4 and you get about 5.25″. This tells you the distance from the rim to the top of the tread.
Just to show you how screwed up the automotive industry is, the “R15″ means the tire mounts on a 15” wheel. Yeah, that last bit is in inches.
The Solara’s Old Tires
I have a point – the Solara’s tires were slightly different. They were 215/55R17. I was more concerned about the height but what bit me was the width. Again, the original was 205 and the Solara was 215. That is a 10mm difference. 10mm/25.4=0.39″. That was just a tad too much.
Well, the tires seemed to fit on the Camry and I took it for a test drive. Other than a bit of rubbing if I turned hard around a corner it was fine. I thought I was done but I wasn’t.
The rear tires were rubbing on the struts
Turns out that the tires were rubbing slightly on the struts. This is where that extra 0.39″ thickness bit me. I noticed it a few weeks later when I checked under the car to make sure everything was ok.
The solution – add 5mm spacers
I took a real careful look at the tire-strut gap with the car on the ground as well as in the air and I needed to make it wider. There are spacers made that can move a wheel out just a tad from the hub without causing a ton of problems. As you move the entire wheel assembly further away from the hub you are increasing the strain on the bearings and everything else for that matter.
I don’t have an absolute gospel answer about how far is too far but was told once to keep it as little as possible – certainly 10mm or less. I know there are thicker spacers out there for the people wanting the look of the tires pushed out past the fenders. I just wanted to add a bit of clearance without sacrificing reliability or handling so I ordered in a set of 5mm spacers. 5 mm is about 0.197 inches. Now that is less than the tire difference of 0.39″ but I felt I could get away with it given the extra space I needed so I decided to order a set off Amazon.
Before I put the tires back on, I did spray three coats of satin black Rustoleum to try and protect the exposed surfaces. In Michigan, rust is inevitable due to all of the salt put on the roads in the winter. The name of the game is to slow down the rust and that was all I was trying to do.
Mounting the wheels was a bit of a challenge because I needed to hold the wheel in position as I started the lug nuts. I like to start them by hand before I run the nuts down with my impact wrench. I set the final torque using a torque wrench.
By using 5mm spacers, I could mount the larger Solara tires on the Camry. We have not felt any handling differences or had any problems so far – it’s been about two months now and a few hundred miles. The car is really just for local use – it’s days of long trips are over so I feel like we made a good choice all things considered.
I hope this helps you out in those cases where you need just a hair more clearance.
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