Types of wheels for your car? There are many.
Types of wheels? Believe it or not, we get asked that question many times. In fact, this question prompted us to post the answer in our blog to help you determine what type of wheels your vehicle has.
There are three main types of wheels available to every vehicle that rolls out of the assembly line. These vary according to their prime manufacturing material. Until a few years ago, Steel Wheels were the most common type, since they are very tough. In the last 25 or 30 years, Aluminum Alloy Wheels became very popular for a market anxious for more options. A relatively small and select market segment prefers upscale Forged Wheels, these are usually owners of high-end vehicles. Below you will find a more in-depth explanation.
Yes, they used to be grandpa’s favorite type of car wheels, but they are much more than that. Steels are hardy, heavy and very tough, excellent to work with. Base car and truck models come with steel wheels and a plastic snap-on wheel cap for aesthetics. But there are some markets for the upscale steel wheel, in fact, some very stylish fans of low riders, customized and classic car communities prefer them. Finally, these may be some great American classics, either plated or stainless steel. But if you are looking for regular steel wheels, we recommend you look for some locally. Steels are very heavy and shipping charges will surely be more than the cost of the wheel itself.
Aluminum Alloy wheels are today’s mainstay of the wheel industry. Most of these wheels were made from a cast that has been pre-approved by the car manufacturer. Because they are fairly inexpensive to produce, they came in all kinds of sizes and finishes. Our shop technicians regard them as a blank canvas, where given the opportunity, you can get very creative. Over 90% of all cars in our roads today roll on alloy wheels. On reflection, this is also true for our Wheel Store.
There are three important basic categories for alloys, according to their origin: wheels that come with the vehicle (OEM Wheels), wheels made as replicas of the later (OE Replicas) and wheels designed and manufactured by third parties (Custom). Allow me to explain their differences in the following paragraphs:
Factory OEM Wheels
These wheels are designed and made by manufacturers approved by the vehicle brand, on their behalf. These are the wheel that most likely came with your brand-new vehicle. Because they were made for your vehicle brand and model, they are a perfect fit. Furthermore, car dealers may offer you to upgrade your wheels when you are about to purchase. That is because most medium range vehicles have made a selection of popular sizes and finished for your car model. I can think of a BMW 3 series vehicle with 14 different styles of wheels that come in 5 different sizes and 4 finished that range from silver paint to chrome.
How do you know if your wheels are OEM? It’s easy, just check the manufacturing seals on the reverse (inside) of the wheel. You should see stamps referring to the wheel size, offset and brand stamps.
The advantage to factory wheels is that when you have to replace one, the new one will be exactly alike, matching the remaining wheels in your car. The disadvantage is that your style is limited to their design and sizes. Furthermore, car dealers have a set cost established by the vehicle brand, so by the time you buy a new wheel at the dealership, it’s usually at a high price.
They are also called “replacements” as a fancy way to refer to their true nature, replicas of the same Factory OEM wheels we mentioned above. Its a much cheaper alternative to buying a OEM wheels from your dealership, thus their demand is ever increasing. Mainly because they have the same design, look and function than the factory rims, but they are made in Asia, for the most part. Chinese and Indonesian manufacturers have been improved greatly in the last few years, turning a very nice quality. What’s more, their own competitiveness are always driving prices down, benefiting the American distributors and ultimately, the end customers.
Replica wheels today are an exact match of the factory OEM counterparts. They are usually sold brand new, but you may have to seek the center cap with your vehicle brand logo elsewhere.
Since the 90’s, custom wheels have taken the market by storm. Like the replicas above, Custom Rims are usually made in China. The difference here is that limits are only set by the designer’s imagination for these types of wheels. That is, they come in all sizes, finishes and bolt patterns. Some are double drilled with two bolt patterns to fit more vehicles.
Like I said above, Chinese manufacturers have improved a great deal on quality in the last 15 years. Today there are very reputable importers and distributors with a long track record in the U.S.
The quality produced by most Asian factories is very good. I’ve spent 3 years in China, designing and importing custom wheels back when the custom wheel fever first started. I can tell you that the quality turned by most of them today, was produced by only 4 manufacturers back then.
When buying custom wheels, make sure they are from a company with a long track record. Since these wheels are imported, the distributor may discontinue a slow performer and you may find yourself that you have to replace all your wheels, because your customs are no longer in the U.S. market.
These are also aluminum wheels, but while most wheels are made through melting aluminum billets and casting the liquid, Forged Wheels are made from a solid billet. Extreme pressure machines shape the billet with heat, much like a blacksmith will do with a piece of iron. This process gives the forged material 3 times more strength than cast alloys. Afterwards the forged material is given the desired shape through a lathe.
While sectors of the market, like the classic cars fans prefer 1-piece forged wheels, there is an exclusive market for 2 and 3-piece forged wheels. Overall, forged wheels sales represent only around 4% of the total wheel market. This is due to the high cost in production, making the choice a luxury not everyone can pay for.
Nevertheless, 3-piece forged types of wheels offer great versatility and have a great look. The pieces are assembled though rivers or screws, giving you a chance to choose your rims’ size and width compatible with your vehicle.