The Low Down on Wheels
Many motorists underestimate the aesthetic and performance impacts of their wheels. Here are all the details.
Wheels and tires are incredibly important. It doesn’t matter if your rig has a million horsepower if you can’t put any of that power down on the road. Not only from a performance perspective do wheels matter, but we think the aesthetics created by a nice set of rims is under appreciated.
Before diving into all the different variety of wheels on the market, did you know that you can refresh an existing set of rims with Island Color’s Rim repair service? If your rims are functional, but looking a little worse for wear, don’t despair. Check out our Rim Repair service – it just might be what you need.
Choosing a new set of wheels is exciting, but you’ll want to make sure that you do your research before making a decision. Here is a brief breakdown of different types of wheels, and why you might be interested in each type.
Steel wheels (“steelies”) are the standard choice. If you want something that is reliable, does the job, and doesn’t break the bank, go get yourself a set of steelies. While cheap and functional, there are notable drawbacks to steel wheels that you’ll want to take into consideration before deciding to go with this budget-friendly option.
The biggest problem with steel wheels is their weight. Although strong, steel has a bad strength-to-weight ratio, meaning that a set of steel wheels will take a toll on your vehicle’s handling, fuel economy, acceleration, and top speed. Most people won’t notice these performance differences (except fuel economy), but anyone who has a passion for driving should think about investing in a nicer option.
These are for drivers who simply want the best. An “alloy” is just a mixture of metals, so you can imagine that there are many different blends, each with their own properties and price tags. You can go down the rabbit hole of different types of alloys, but this article will paint with a broader brush.
The vast majority of alloy wheels are based in aluminum, which is much lighter than steel. Different types of metal – titanium, nickel, magnesium, etc – are used to increase the strength of the aluminum used in your alloys. Being lighter than steel, alloy wheels will perform better and dissipate heat better, meaning they can handle a heavier braking load without warping or causing brake damage (a possible, but unlikely, concern with heavier steel wheels).
The main performance-related drawback of steel wheels is due to their stiffness. Steel is more malleable than an aluminum alloy, so when confronted with a huge force, it is more likely to bend. When alloy wheels experience forces strong enough to damage the wheel (think hitting a curb at significant speed) the stiffness may cause the wheel to crack or fracture, rather than bend. A bent wheel can often be repaired, but a cracked one needs to be replaced.
Forged or Cast?
Although alloys and steelies can both be forged or cast, most people will be thinking about the merits of forged vs cast in reference to alloy wheels. Wheels that are cast involve liquid metal being poured or forced into a mold. Forged wheels are milled from hot pieces of metal into their final shape. Forging typically produces a stronger material and gives manufacturers more control over where metal is, and isn’t, making forged wheels lighter and stronger than cast wheels. As you could imagine, forged wheels are also the more expensive option.
Both types have their merits, just make sure you take manufacturing processes into consideration while you’re shopping, because that can explain the price tag.
Many people get confused by this category. Chrome wheels are not made of 100% chrome – that would be a terrible idea, because chrome is a soft metal. Chrome is used as a coating on wheels to provide a layer of protection and because of its ability to be polished into a mirror-like shine. As chrome is a soft metal, it is easy to polish and creates an incredible finish.
Chrome is a great way to bling-out inexpensive wheels and give an eye-catching finish to your ride. Keep in mind that chrome is heavy, so a chromed finish can quickly negate the performance advantages provided by lightweight wheels.
You can’t talk about wheels without mentioning spinners. We’ve all seen them in old music videos, maybe you’ve even been lucky enough to see a set of spinners drive by on an old Cadillac. Spinners are a wheel ad-on that is used purely for aesthetic purposes – there is no performance boost associated with them at all. It seems that spinners have fallen out of popularity due to improving taste, and that they are illegal in many places. Either way, although we think they are cool, we can’t seriously recommend them to anyone.
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, an experienced shop like Island Color can perform amazing restoration work. If your rims are suffering from curb rash or other aesthetic issues, don’t hesitate to get in touch.