Twenty years after the first Jeep Wrangler model debuted for 1987, third-generation Wranglers were introduced for the 2007 model year. Unlike any previous Wranglers or CJs, a 4-door Unlimited model (known internally as the "JKU" body) was offered alongside the standard 2-door ("JK" body). Because it took the off-road capability Wranglers are known for and broadened it with the practicality of 4 doors for those needing a family vehicle, third-generation Wranglers have proven very successful in the marketplace. Maintaining Jeep tradition, this Wrangler appeals by offering a higher-than-average number of advantages for the 4x4 enthusiast, whether it's used for rock crawling or as an everyday driver.
And with improvements in ride, off-road handling, and comfort on the new-for-2018 “JL” body Wrangler, its overall appeal will only increase – especially since the Rubicon model comes from the factory with enough clearance for 35-inch tall tires.
Coil springs, more advanced suspension design, and anti-roll bars that disconnect on demand to provide huge amounts of wheel articulation all add up to a stable, comfortable ride with a stellar level of driver confidence under any condition. Repeat ownership among JK body Wrangler owners is among the highest of any model from any manufacturer, and if you own one then you probably know why.
However, you may decide that the Wrangler's stance from the factory leaves room for improvement. For example, some feel that the factory wheels, tires, and low ride height simply do not complement the JK's design the way bigger tires and lift kits would. But before starting any modifications, an owner faces a decision - exactly how much lift do you want, and exactly how big do you want your tires to be? You may find a wide range of different opinions and owner testimonials on this subject.
As a result of our research, we've created this article to share some general guidelines that will help you figure out how much ride height lift you'll need in order to provide clearance for larger tires - without danger of those tires rubbing against metal body panels, fender flares, and even suspension bits.
Because lift height and tire size are dependent on each other, you may feel unsure of which to decide on first. It's a question similar to "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" If you install a lift kit first, you're limited to a certain maximum tire size you can use. Conversely, if you buy oversize tires first, you will be required to raise the Jeep a minimum amount to fit those tires. So to find a concrete answer to this question, we asked some experts in the business how they approach the issue.
Their answers were consistently the same. Unless you've already gone ahead and purchased larger wheels and tires you plan to mount, the first order of business is to pick a lift kit. Then, go by the maximum tire size recommendation for that specific lift kit. The reason? Manufacturers of lift kits will test them on different vehicle makes and models, and they swap tires with different overall diameters and widths to arrive at their recommendations. Tire manufacturers do not. So once a lift kit is installed, you can rely on the lift kit manufacturer's recommended maximum tire size.
We noticed people in chat rooms who exceeded these guidelines (bigger tires than their lift kit recommended) often proudly proclaimed everything worked great at first. Later, after experiencing dreaded tire rubbing and damage, many were forced to spend more money on additional lift components or a completely new set of tires.
What Exactly Is 'Tire Size'?
Whether or not you've already purchased a bigger set of tires first, "tire size" is extremely important to know. For the purposes of this article, "tire size" will refer strictly to overall outer diameter as measured from one side of the tire to the other - passing through a wheel's center point. The sidewall profile height of a tire and the size of the wheel itself do not matter - the only thing that counts is the overall diameter measurement of the tire from one side to the other.
Since tire manufacturers list tire sizes in a format of "245/75-16", representing width in millimeters, aspect ratio, and wheel diameter in inches, conversion of those standard measurements will be necessary. To guide you through this, we recommend reading our related article Understanding Off-Road Tire Size Measurements. It’s important to remember that if your off-road conversion number includes a fraction, it’s best to round up to the next highest whole number.
Most lift kits for 2007 and newer Wranglers offer added height ranging from 2.5" to 5.5". And the most popular tire upgrade sizes range from 33 to 37 inches. Because lift kits from different manufacturers will vary in construction, there are no universal equations to calculate exactly how large a tire can fit under a, for example, 3" lift. If spacers are used in the lift kit, then ones made from polyurethane will compress during hard bumps more than metal spacers will.
If your lift kit of 4 inches or more has replacement lower or upper control arms, it's a safe bet that the design of those control arms will be different than the ones from another lift kit manufacturer. Plus, control arms designed to emphasize greater wheel travel will be shaped and contoured differently from those designed for on-road comfort. This can also affect clearance when it comes to width of tires, not just height. And naturally, greater wheel travel means tires are more likely to come in contact with fenders and wheel well liners. Because of all these different variables, sticking with the tire size guidelines provided by the lift kit manufacturers is essential.
In the Performance Lift Kit section of our website, you'll see it's possible to enter the year and sub-model of your Wrangler in the beginning of your search so that our website automatically does the work of narrowing down which kits will fit. Each specific lift kit states the amount of ride height it's designed to provide. In many cases, detailed text within the listing will specify maximum tire size that's compatible with the lift kit you're considering. Let's look at a few examples.
The ReadyLIFT SST Front And Rear Off Road Lift Kit is available in different lift amounts. In the 3" x 2" Kit, a maximum tire size of 35" is listed. Note that even though this is a modest amount of lift, ReadyLIFT states that their suspension modifications will allow a tire of that size. For comparison, a 2.5"-3.5" Suspension Lift Kit from Rugged Ridge only allows for a maximum tire diameter of 34". So it’s important to check.
If you're interested in 3” to 4" of lift, the Rancho Suspension Lift Kit lineup offers several choices. For example, their 4” x 3.5” Sport System Front and Rear Suspension Lift Kit will provide room for tires up to 35" in diameter. Another option is the Tuff Country EZ-Ride Lift Kit. Click on the FEATURES icon, and you'll see that Jeep Wranglers with 4" lift can accept 33" tires. By comparison, the Skyjacker Value Flex Series Lift Kit also offers 4" of lift (look inside Product Options), but will allow tires up to 35".
One of the reasons for the Wrangler's perennial popularity is its ability to accept even taller lift kits. If you need to have the tallest ride on your block, look no further than Rubicon Express. Their Extreme Duty Long Arm Lift Kit is available in different sizes, maxing out at 5.5” front and rear. That amount of lift will allow you to fit 37" tires under your Wrangler.
Remember that we've got a wide selection of tires that you'll find easy to search through after inputting vehicle make/model/year, or desired tire size. New wheels, tires, and a lift kit will make your Wrangler what you always envisioned it would be in your mind, so there's no reason to wait any longer. Once you've correctly matched lift height and tire size, the only limit is your imagination.