Winter Wheels and Tires – Model 3 Performance

One of the great things about the Model 3 Performance version is that it comes with some good sticky high performance Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires on 20″ wheels if you originally opted for the Performance Plus package (now included with all Performance models).  However, these tires are not the best for winter driving, in fact Michelin doesn’t recommend you use them below 40 degrees as the rubber used in the tires gets hard and grip is further reduced.  If you couple that with a tread design that has no siping or grooves for getting traction on snow or ice you are further reducing your ability to stop, start and change directions during winter driving.   I decided that I wanted better tires for winter driving and began to look around at various options.   One of the first things you need to decide is whether or not you simply want to swap out the tires on your existing wheels or get a new set of wheels and tires for the winter.  I opted for the latter for a couple of reasons:

  • Winter tires in 20″ size have a reduced selection and you pay a premium for them
  • Getting new wheels would take my nice 20″ wheels off the road during harsh winter conditions and keep them looking nicer
  • I could use the wheels in the summer time for dedicated track wheels by installing track tires
  • I wanted to see what black wheels on a black Model 3 would look like
  • I wanted to go with 18″ wheels for wider selection of both winter and track tires

There were probably a few other minor reasons but those were the primary reasons why I decided on a new set of wheels and tires as opposed to just tires only.   Once I had decided to get a complete set, I began to look around at the available options.   For those with a Performance Model 3 the hubs on the car are unique to the Model 3 lineup and require a wheel made for the hub or a centering ring of the proper size to be used.   Initially when I began looking at tire and wheel packages Tesla didn’t have one for the Model 3 Performance but later added one using 20″ wheels and Pirelli Sottozero tires for the sum of $4,000.   Since I didn’t really need another set of 20″ Tesla wheels and because $4k was pricey for a winter set I looked elsewhere.   I next landed and Tesla specialty stops like Unplugged performance and TSportline.  Sadly, although I liked the look of some of the Tsportline wheels their options for the Model 3 Performance in either wheels or tires were backordered for at least another month.   With 3 snows already having fallen and more on the way I didn’t want to wait another month to get winter tires on the car.  While not as expensive as the set from Tesla the set I liked from Tsportline was still going to set me back over $3k, which again I thought was a bit much for a winter only set.   I then turned to Tire Rack which provides a referral bonus to the Tesla Owners Club if you use the proper code when ordering from Tire Rack (currently use  and I will update that when we get our new code)

I spent some time looking through Tire Rack’s selection of wheels and tires that would fit on the Model 3 Performance and landed on a set of Flow One Race Spec F2 wheels along with the Pirelli Sottozero tires both in 18″ size.   I wanted to verify that Tire Rack was properly accounting for the unique hub of the Model 3 Performance so I called Jim Holloman at Tire Rack to discuss.   Jim has been the Porsche club representative from Tire Rack for over the last decade and really knows his wheel and tire lineup.   Jim can be reached at 888-428-8355 Ext 4364 or and can assist you the same way he assisted me.    We discussed the unique hub issue, the tires compared to other winter tires, load ratings, TPMS sensors and other subjects that all pertained to this purchase.  In the end I ordered the set of wheels and tires from him and the total was right at about $2k or half of what Tesla wanted and a grand less than the Tesla specialty places.   The other nice perk about ordering from Tire Rack is that they took care of everything for me, they mounted the TPMS sensors, put in the black valve stems, included the black lug nuts and socket and of course mounted and balanced the tires.   Literally all I had to do was stick them on the car.   I could have had them drop shipped to a local tire shop and let the local tire shop install them, but I have the means necessary to do it myself.

EDIT: I forgot to add the information about weight when I first published this article.  I weighed the stock wheels and tires on a digital scale and they weighed 52.8 lbs for the 20″ wheel with the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tire.  The new wheels and tires together weighed a total of 45.4 lbs, for a saving of a whopping 7.4 pounds per corner or almost 30 lbs of unsprung weight overall!  Woot!  Technically the car “should” be faster as others as have demonstrated going to lighter wheels, but obviously that would depend on how well the Pirellis grip in the dry.   When I later put track tires on these the performance gain should be noticeable.  Hurry up summer!

So let’s get started with the install.   I ordered the tires and wheels on a Wednesday, they shipped on Thursday and by Saturday they were at my house.   They were shipped in typical style with cardboard on each end and strapping around the tires to hold it down.   One of the wheels was marked with including hardware and the invoice so I opened that package first.

I opened up the hardware box and found the lug nuts (black to match wheels), the socket for the nuts, warranty information and invoice

I expected to find the centering rings for the wheels in the box after some comments from another owner online but they were not in the box, they were, in fact already inserted into the backside of the wheel and Tire Rack placed stickers over the backs of the wheel hub so that you would know this is the case.   Here’s what that looked like:

The label came in handy in one instance as the wire retainer clip had come out of the groove and the ring inserted into the hub was loose because of it, but both kept in the hub because of the label that Tire Rack stuck on.   Here is a picture of the ring itself and if you click on the picture to see the full size version you may be able to spot the retaining wire that helps hold the ring into position in the hub.

I did speak to Jim about the wheel fitting the unique hub on the Model 3 Performance and how some shops were milling material off of the back sides of the hub to make the wheel fit.  Jim was of the opinion that while that might work from a fitment issue that the warranty for the wheel would go out the window because the load testing done didn’t account for the removal of that material and a manufacturer isn’t going to warranty such an action.   We also discussed how Tesla uses a bolt in the hub to hold the rotor hat to the hub (whereas Porsche uses a recessed screw) and that unless the backside of the wheel has a cut-out for it that the bolt either has to be removed or would interfere with the wheel.   You can see from the picture above that the only place the wheel touches the hub is right by the lug studs and there is a gap in between each one.  It is in that gap that the screw resides so these wheels won’t pose a fitment problem.  (I recently saw a set of aftermarket wheels that were flush on the back side with no cut-out for the screw so the screw had to be removed in order to install the wheels.  Here is a picture I took after installing a wheel to show that it didn’t interfere with the screw:

Before I installed the wheels, however, I wanted to make sure they were protected and easier to clean so I applied a couple of coats of ceramic coating.   Here is the brand I used, Gloss-It which I have had good luck with in the past:

Once I had the wheels coated and wiped down and ready for install then it was time to jack up the car.  It is important on Teslas to make sure you jack up the car only at the jacking points so as not to harm the battery pack.   The Model 3 has jacking points with holes cut in them (can insert specialized jacking pad if you have one) where you should position your jack.

I was always taught that you loosen the lug nuts while the wheel is on the ground (so you aren’t torqueing hard on the wheel with it up in the air) then raise the car up and remove the lug nuts and the wheel.   To get that process started with a factory Tesla Model 3 Performance wheel you need a special center cap removal tool.  This tool, shown below, inserts into the center cap cover and allows you to pull it outward without damaging it.

With the center cover cap off you can then access the Tesla factory lug bolts.  These require a 21mm socket to remove.

Once you remove the 5 lug nuts the wheel comes right off (be careful not to hit your calipers).   I then turned the wheel around to take a picture of the back side of the factory wheel that accommodates the unique hub.

You can also see the recessed cavities between the lug bolt mounting holes that provide space for that rotor hat retaining bolt.   Here is what the rotor hat, retaining bolt (has green paint on it) and lug studs look like.

Mounting the new wheels was easy, I simply picked up the wheel, carefully placed it over the studs and then used the new black lug nuts supplied with the wheels.   The socket provided by Tire Rack fit these lug nuts and my 21mm socket fit over the end of the socket so it was a breeze to use with my torque wrench to tighten down the new lug nuts.   These need to be tightened to 129 ft/lbs, which I know seems high but is accurate as I confirmed with Tesla and these are beefy studs used on the Model 3.   Always tighten in a star pattern.  I usually tighten just snug while on the rolling jack and in the air, then let the car down on the ground to do the final hard torque.

One of the questions I have been asked is whether or not you can use 18″ wheels on a Model 3 Performance because of the bigger red Brembo calipers.  The answer is YES with the proper offset.   These wheels are 18 x 8.5 and have a 30mm offset.  I was going to do with a wider 10″ wheel in back but they didn’t make one in this style, at least not yet, plus it would have just further raised the wheel and tire costs.  The factory 20″ setup is square so using a square setup on the 18″ wheels and tires should be just fine.  Here is a picture of the rotor clearance:

Finally, here are some pictures of the car with the wheels in process of going on and with the wheels finally on.  Apologies for the dirty car but it is winter time and I am driving it.  First picture show original wheel in back, new wheel in front.

Driving Impressions: So after all that time and effort in research and installation, what is the end result?   So far, I’m very pleased.  The first noticeable difference is that the ride quality is not as harsh as it is with the 20″ wheels and tires.  I’m not saying the regular ride quality is bad, I’m only saying that the 18″ wheels have more rubber between them and the road and that cushions the ride a bit more so pot holes and various bumps are not as pronounced.  Handling is a little less precise, it is still very good, especially for a winter tire, it just isn’t quite as sharp as Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, nor would I expect it to be.   Road noise seems to be about the same, maybe slightly quieter even though the tires have more grooves in them.  I have not yet driven in the snow with them, but in the rain they did just fine, no issues gripping on wet roads.   After we get a good snow and I can go out and drive in it I will report back how this setup performed.  Overall I am very pleased with them and want to thank Jim again at Tire Rack for making this such a painless exercise!



One Comment

  • Edward T Barron

    Thanks for the detailed analysis and process that will provide Model 3 owners in snowy climates to get safely through the Winter. I took my new Model 3 with dual motors out into seven inches of some fresh unplowed snow in one of our large empty parking lots and drove it all around trying to spin out. Also tried some panic stops at about 35 MPH. Results were amazing and convinced me that here in Ithaca, NY I won’t need snow tires. Panic stops were shorter in stopping than with my VW AllTrack with All Motion drive.

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