More than a place for a tire to ride, the rims of your car contribute to its handling, its ride, and of course, its looks. A good-looking set of wheels can set your plain Chevy apart from its neighbor.
And if it is a wheel that adds to your car’s performance too, so much the better. From the spoked rims of the first cars produced to today’s split wheels for high-performance vehicles, the innovation of rims has come a long way, but not that far.
Their primary duty is still to offer your tires a place to call home and roll your vehicle on the road, but they are more when chosen for a specific purpose.
The advent of the alloy wheel and low-profile tires allowed me to take a Toyota Tacoma extra cab and get it so close to the road it drove as if it were on rails.
I started a trend in my little town with that truck, and you, too, can add wheels and tires to your car or truck that sets it apart from your neighbors.
1. Steel Wheels
The standard on many cars is that the steel wheels are heavy and do the job they are designed to do quite well. They are the least expensive of every type of wheel and the most durable.
For city driving where curbs, potholes, and other road obstructions must be navigated, steel wheels are the best wheel for your car. Steel wheels are plain, and the only way to dress them up is to paint them, chrome them, or accessorize them.
A basic steel wheel with a chrome center and a trim ring will set your car apart without breaking the bank. Although this little spruce up of your wheels won’t improve your car’s handling, it will make it look different from other cars like it.
The cheapest yet the heaviest rim, most new cars come with steel wheels, which you will get unless you upgrade. However, if you buy a car with steel wheels, you can do a few things to make it more attractive, like those mentioned above, hubcaps or spinners.
Steel wheels still have a place in the automobile market on lower-priced cars, SUVs, and trucks. In addition, their reliability will make them a low-cost wheel option for years to come.
One significant advantage steel rims have is that they are easy to match in color to your car because you can paint steel. However, alloy wheels cannot be.
2. Chrome Wheels
Popular in the sixties and seventies, chrome wheels are still popular on hot rods, rat-rods, and classics of that era, and if you want to shine, there is what you need. They are made from steel with a chrome finish applied that seals the steel and keeps it from rusting.
Unfortunately, they are not as prevalent as they once were. The process uses some nasty chemicals and has been outlawed in many states.
Chrome wheels look good and are the shiniest of any rim you can put on your car, even those that are gold-plated. However, they have a pitfall. Keeping their high-level shine can be a constant battle.
Chrome wheels require special cleaners and a gentle touch because chrome will scratch, and having them repaired is almost impossible.
Most spoked wheels, the real variety, and spoked hubcaps are chromed, as are wheel trim rings and centerpieces. It would help if you were careful when cleaning these because they will scratch too, and buffing may not remove the offending mark from your chrome.
3. Alloy Wheels
Alloy wheels are made in several different ways. By mixing other alloys, such as aluminum, with nickel or magnesium, they are light, strong rims formed into many different styles and given different finishes.
Steel wheels never offered us the ability to customize them, except with paint and accessories. Modern alloys, however, and the methods used to form wheels give you and other car owners many options for the style and color of your car rims.
a. Cast Aluminum Wheels
Cast aluminum wheels are molded by pouring melted aluminum into a mold shaped like a wheel it is to become. After it cools, it is polished, balanced, and prepared to be mounted to a vehicle.
Most alloy wheels on modern cars are made using this method. Making a cast wheel has a lower cost than forging one because it doesn’t require as much labor to get a finished product.
Most commonly made with a blend of aluminum and nickel that is melted then poured into a mold, cast alloy wheels have become very common. Cast alloy wheels need a minimal touch-up before being mounted to a car.
The casting method for making wheels also assures a very consistent product, which is necessary when making auto parts in bulk.
b. Forged Aluminum Wheels
On the other hand, forged aluminum wheels are made from a solid aluminum billet. It is pressed and milled into a form that is milled into the final design of the wheel. As a result, forged wheels are the lightest, strongest, and most expensive wheels you can buy.
Many forged wheels are made from one piece of billet aluminum, while others become two and three-piece, split wheels. More expensive than cast wheel rims, forged wheels are designed and manufactured for high-end sports vehicles.
However, if you want to spend the money, they will look good on whatever you’re driving.
c. Split Wheels
Classic steel rims are formed into one piece with a centerpiece welded to the rim. Likewise, whether cast or forged, most alloy wheels are made into a one-piece rim. However, alloy wheels can also be made from one, two, or three pieces.
Wheels are made from two pieces of aluminum, or billet, and have a forged centerpiece that bolts to your car’s hub. The centerpiece of a two-piece wheel is married to the rim with bolts or a weld.
They are rare; however, there is also a three-piece wheel with a two-piece rim and separate centerpiece. Three-piece rims are custom-made wheels for sports cars and special applications where wheel offset is necessary.
They are bolted together, not welded, and are used on vehicles where custom sizes are required for fitment.
If you buy new wheels for your Civic, you likely won’t need a two or three-piece alloy wheel. However, it would look good with 18-inch wheels and low-profile tires.
4. Carbon Fiber wheels
Almost as uncommon as two or three-piece wheels, carbon fiber wheels are the lightest of any wheel and can be formed into intricate shapes with vibrant colors.
However, they are only found on high-end sports cars and custom cars. They are not what the average person would put on their daily driver. Only a handful of cars come with carbon fiber wheels as standard equipment.
This list of these iconic automobiles includes the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, Koenigsegg Agera RS, and Regara, the BMW M4 GTS, Porsche 911 Turbo S Exclusive Series, the Ferrari 488 Pista, and the Ferrari SF90 Stradale Assetto Fiorano, the McLaren Senna MSO Carbon Theme, and last but not least, the Renault Megane RS Trophy-R.
With an aftermarket price of roughly $12,000 for four wheels, you can see why they are so rare on production cars.
However, limited production cars, which this list includes, are costly enough that anything less than a set of carbon-fiber wheels would be sacrilege in automotive circles.
Spinners are hubcaps that spin as your car is in motion. Or they can be specially made alloy wheels with a grove cut into the rim that provides a seat for ball bearings that allows the centerpiece of a wheel to spin.
Plastic hubcap spinners came of age in the 1980s. However, you can still find many styles that fit your car. Spinners are flashy if that’s what you want, and your friends will see you coming.
The makers of metal magic saw a niche and filled it with forged alloy wheels with specially designed center hubs that spin in a grove on the rim. Pretty cool, although they are much more expensive than a set of hubcaps.
6. Hubcaps and trim rings
Steel rim wheels are plain, and except for the few crafted into mag wheels, they typically come in three colors.
Steel, chromed, or black, but unless they are chromed, you can have your steel wheels painted the color of your car or a contrasting color that will set them and your ride apart.
Along with paint, chrome trim rims cover the tire bead lock and give the wheel a cleaner look. They are not expensive and snap onto a wheel the same way a hubcap does.
My current farm car is a 2007 Chevy HHR with black painted steel wheels, chrome babymoons, and chrome trim rings. It gives my little car a throwback look in keeping with its 50’s model Chevrolet Suburban heritage.
My pickup also has steel wheels and hubcaps, which it needs because they’re durable, and it seems I like curbs. The problem I have found with every car I have ever had with hubcaps is that they can be noisy and often look cheap, even the more expensive ones.
Hubcaps are generally made from plastic and light metal, and low speeds and high speeds can cause them to whistle and rattle.
Choosing rims for your car
Wheels are one way to customize your car to improve its handling and fuel mileage. Low-profile tires mounted on lightweight rims will take pounds from the weight of your vehicle while making it look better than it did before you found a great-looking set of wheels for your Lexus.
The average price of a new car is about $29,000. But, if you are careful, you can give your vehicle a new look for less than $1000 and keep the car you have a few years longer.
New tires and wheels will provide you with a better ride, better mileage and make your five or ten-year-old car almost look new again.
How do you keep your wheels clean?
Like your car, its wheels need to be clean to look their best. Basic steel rims are easy to clean, but you still need to ensure that you don’t scratch the paint. On the other hand, Alloy wheels may require special cleaners that won’t ruin their finish.
Chrome wheels are high maintenance and need to be cleaned and polished frequently to keep their appearance. So be sure you make yourself aware of the type of care your car wheels will need before buying them.
Because even though you want your car to look good, you certainly don’t want to spend all of your time keeping it clean.