Count on Advance Auto Parts for reliable info about your ride, whether you’re looking to improve performance or street appeal – or both. Today, we take a look at one of its most basic features, the wheel.
Most iconic wheels in history
According to CarThrottle.com’s top 10 list, the Ferrari F40 from the late 1980s and early 1990s is the winner. According to the site, these wheels are as special as the car itself and “despite being only 17 inches at each corner (small by today’s supercar standards), they displayed all the confidence in design that became synonymous with the era.”
Second place went to the BMW E30’s cross spoke alloy wheels that cost extra when the car was first released in 1982. Check out the article for photos of these two beauties, as well as the wheel choices in places three through ten.
Whether you’re looking to pimp your ride (wouldn’t it be great to have a fresh new look after a long winter?) or whether you’re looking for tough dependable choices from reliable brands, here is guidance.
First, a video. In it, Alan Peltier, president of HRE Wheels, shares the latest in his company’s custom high street performance wheels with Jay Leno – including one that Leno says looks like so much trouble that it should get a ticket even when not in motion. Warning: if you fall in love with these babies, be prepared to spend $6,000-$12,000 – or even $15,000 to $20,000 – for a set of four:
Now, let’s get more practical.
CarThrottle.com names the ten most incredible aftermarket wheels for when you’re ready to make your ride look amazing. Topping the list:
- Rota Grid: called the “Swiss Army Knife of rims” for their ability to look “awesome on pretty much any car,” they come with uncluttered wide spokes.
- OZ Ultraleggera: if you love a dark grey finish, CarThrottle.com recommends this “gorgeous multi-spoke design.”
- ATS Classic: these come with contrasting black centers with chrome rims.
Take a look at the images as well as the rest of the winners.
Here’s what Tires.About.com chose as the ten most beautiful aftermarket wheels (after confessing a dislike of chrome because it’s harder to maintain, and because of a personal distaste of the look). The list is topped by:
- KMC Ink’d: called a “canvas for wheel artists. Just breathtaking.”
- TSW Silverstone: “dead black inner looks great in the daylight, but tends to disappear at night, leaving the bright-silver, diamond cut outer ring looking like it floats in midair as the car is moving.”
- Enkei GW8: “I’ve never seen anything even remotely like this wheel. Minimalist red plastic inserts and a jagged, asymmetrical spoke design make the GW8 one of Enkei’s unique works of wheel art.”
Toughness matters to you? Find out which five aftermarket wheels Tires.About.com names as the five brands to consider – and three to avoid.
Finally, get another opinion – from Sub5Zero.com – about the ten coolest wheel manufacturers on earth. They assure readers that, “Yes, even the most mundane transportation appliances under the sun can be endowed with new found sex appeal simply by slapping on some new hoops.”
Point of clarification
Today, many people call wheels by the name of “rims,” especially when crafted from aluminum alloy. Technically speaking, though, “rims” are the outer portion of the wheel where the tire is actually mounted.
But, no matter what you call them, how did we get to this point?
Going back in time
The name of the creative genius(es) who first thought of using wheels for transportation reasons is lost in the mist of time, but it probably happened around 3,200 BC (yes, more than 5,000 years ago!).The goal? To have the fastest Mesopotamian chariot in town.
Fifteen hundred years later, Egyptians invented a way to use less material and to move more quickly with their lighter-in-weight wheels: they invented the spoke. Greeks then brainstormed the cross-bar wheel.
About 3,000 years ago (1,000 BC), the Celts added iron rims to their chariots – and that’s about as far as wheels evolved until 1802, when G.F. Bauer registered a patent for a wire tension spoke, where wire was threaded through the rim of the wheel – and this evolved into what we see on modern-day bicycles.
If you were a true trendsetter, buying wheels for the first automobile that used them, you’d only need to buy three – since the 1885 Benz Patent Motorwagen only had three wire wheels covered with hard rubber. Another set of trendsetters, Andre and Edouard Michelin, first came up with the idea of using rubber for this purpose. They then went on to found the now-famous tire company. In 1910, the B.F. Goodrich Company improved upon the invention by adding carbon to the rubber.
In the United States, the Ford Model T sported wooden artillery wheels until the 1926 and 1927 vehicles, which used steel welded-spoke wheels. The tires, unfortunately, had a short lifespan, needing repairs after only 30 to 40 miles and lasting only about 2,000 miles before needing to be trashed. Plus, tires often separated from the wheel.
Next were the steel disc wheels stamped out of a roll of sheet metal, which were more solid that Ford’s version. These became more lightweight over time, leading to today’s steel and aluminum/nickel alloy wheels (more about those soon).
From looking cool to keeping raw power under control
Complex.com provides a great overview of car wheels from 1945-1960, the period they call the postwar drag racing era. During this time, drag racers cut holes into the wheels to avoid meltdowns, turned them backwards into deep dish wheels to make them stand out, and more.
Then, in the late 1950s, American Racing invented what is now called the mag wheel with “big fat spokes. It met the three considerations – weight, strength, and brake cooling – but it also looked cool. It was the first real cool hot rod rim.”
Plus, heavy-duty steel and then aluminum rims made “gas-guzzling muscle cars” from Ford, Chevy and Chrysler capture attention on the streets. And so, “what distinguished the ‘hot’ from the ‘cold” was not just the big-block engines under the heavy hoods. It was the rims that let you know real quick who was a serious threat and who a poser. If you have American Racing rims, you were the big-time. They kept all that raw power under control.”
Complex.com also takes you through 1960-1970, the age of chrome, when racecar rims made it on the streets and the smooth aluminum Moon Disc reduced drag, when chrome reverse rims were cutting edge and people painted their rims. Also check out rims from the era of the low rider (1970-1980), from the age of the spinner (1980-1990) and beyond.
Steel versus alloy
** Less nickel creates a lighter wheel, but one that can bend more easily upon impact; more nickel makes a heavier wheel, which doesn’t bend easily but can become brittle and crack.
Some wheels are made of cast aluminum where the melted alloy is poured into a mold, with multiple methods of casting, including:** Less nickel creates a lighter wheel, but one that can bend more easily upon impact; more nickel makes a heavier wheel, which doesn’t bend easily but can become brittle and crack.
• Gravity casting: metal is poured directly into a mold with only gravity pushing the alloy. This ends up being a thicker and heavier form of alloy.
- Low pressure: air forces the molten metal into the mold, making it denser and stronger
- Counter-pressure: a mild vacuum in the mold sucks the alloy into it; this also makes a denser, stronger wheel
Some wheels are made of forged aluminum where a solid piece of alloy is placed under 13 million pounds of pressure (and heat) to crush it before shaping. This makes an exceptionally dense and strong piece of metal that is also very light. TSW Wheels takes forging a step further, doing so while the forge is spinning at high speeds, which creates an even stronger product.
See Tires.About.com’s Wheel Composition and Construction for more info.
Time to DIY
The TireRack.com site is a great resource when you’re a DIYer. One article suggests that, when choosing which wheels to buy, you should consider quality, integrity and value. What level of quality do you need? If you’re looking for winter wheels, you’ll have less of a need for sophisticated technology, TireRack.com points out, than if you’re looking to race.
Having the correct size of wheels, of course, is crucial. You already know that they come in a wide range of widths, from the petite 14” wheels to massive 24” ones, with 16”, 17” and 18” serving as common diameters. Widths tend to increase along with diameters, so you might see a 14 x 5 wheel or a 19 x 10 one.
Yet, a proper fit is something more than diameter (or even diameter and width). According to TireRack.com, “To property fit on a vehicle the wheel must have the proper bolt pattern, centerbore, offset, width, and most importantly, the proper load capacity for the vehicle.” And, when selecting wheels, make sure that you tell your vendor what has been upgraded on your vehicle. If, for example, the brake system has been modified, then additional measurements need taken for an optimal fit.
If you’re buying online and need to measure the wheels yourself, eBay.com’s Wheels and Rims Buying Guide offers advice. If you aren’t changing the size, it’s fairly simple. Look at the code that’s on your current wheels. It might read “225/70R16.” If so, then these are 16 inch wheels on a 225 millimeter radial tire with a sidewall height of 70. Note that, on some high performance cars, rear wheels are slightly larger than those in the front.
If plus-sizing your wheels, then precise measurements are a must. Measure the width (left edge to right edge); diameter (top to bottom); bolt pattern (“how many bolts; measure width of bolt circle with bolt circle gauge or use measuring tape and starting at edge of first bolt hole, measure to the center of the third bolt hole, skipping the second one); backspace (clearance of wheel from the wheel well); and offset (distance from the hub mounting surface to the wheel centerline)
When it’s time to install your wheels, we refer you back to TireRack.com. The site offers tire and wheel installation tips. Even if you’re fairly comfortable with doing the job yourself, it wouldn’t hurt to review these first.
Budgeting for your upgrade
Costs vary widely. Bigger wheel sizes, not surprisingly, can cost more than smaller ones, all else being equal. Steel is cheaper than alloy. Plainer wheels are typically less expensive than flashy and/or artistic choices, and more appealing wheel finishes can cost you.
We’ve seen $65 wheels on discounted wheel sites. We’ve seen refurbished wheels that cost much less than what they would when brand new, and we’ve seen eye-catching ones that are custom made (and therefore more expensive).
It will almost always be cheaper to upgrade your Ford or Chevy than your Mercedes-Benz. Replacements for luxury cars can easily cost $500-600 per wheel.
The best general advice that we can give:
- Determine your vehicle’s needs; as mentioned above, you need more sophistication if you plan to race than if you drive more traditionally.
- Decide your budget.
- Choose wheels of reasonable quality that fit your vehicle (and your budget).
- Don’t be so penny foolish that you buy wheels that are poorly made or that aren’t the best fit because those decisions will cost you in the long run.
- Beyond that, let your personal taste be your guide.
- Have fun!
You’ve probably heard that the right wheels can save on gas mileage – and we decided to investigate, to determine how much of that is rumor and, how much, fact. Among other sources, we took a look at BankRate.com’s article, Wheels and tires affect car’s gas mileage. This article points out how manufacturers invest time and money determining the ideal wheel and tire sizes for a particular vehicle. When you replace OEM wheels and/or tires, the car’s handling – and therefore fuel economy – can be affected. And, handling and mileage can be affected in either an upward or downward manner.
Common sense suggests that bigger wheels are heavier and are therefore a drag on fuel efficiency, but the formula isn’t quite that simple. We recommend that you read the entire BankRate.com article if you’re interested in how aftermarket wheels can affect handling and/or mileage.
You can also look at CarAndDriver.com tests on upsized wheels as they attempt to find just the right upgrades.
Other performance benefits with the right wheels
TireRack.com lists these four that, taken together, make for a smoother more comfortable ride:
• Alloy wheels reduce unsprung weight, which allows for “more precise steering input and improved ‘turning in’ characteristics.”
• Improved acceleration and braking
• Added rigidity, which can “significantly reduce wheel/tire deflection in cornering”
• Increased brake cooling
Future of the wheel
The pneumatic tire was invented in 1845, when leather was filled with compressed air – and it’s still the standard used today, although the leather was replaced with rubber.
Here’s a glimpse of what’s around the corner with futuristic wheels: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVgMArLtDk8
In 2006, Michelin announced the Tweel, which is a non-pneumatic tire/wheel combo that, according to Michelin, can provide the same load-carrying capacity as the traditional wheel and tire. Stability challenges apparently exist once a vehicle moves at more than 50 mph, with significant vibration occurring, but we expect to see improvements.
Michelin is also experimenting with the Active Wheel System for electric cars. This system houses the vehicle’s engine, suspension, gearbox and transmission shaft.
Keep your wheels looking good
Once you invest all this time, energy and money into choosing the right wheels for your vehicle, you’ll want to keep them looking nice. Fortunately, Advance Auto Parts has a complete line of products to keep your wheels looking their best, plus accessories.
Wheel graphic courtesy of Hemmings Motor News.