How to Choose a Wheel
Wheels have a huge impact on your car’s appearance. And custom wheels are one of the most common enhancements that people make to their vehicles. But a new set of rims is about more than just aesthetics. Depending on the size, materials and manufacturing process of your new wheels, they can also represent one of the quickest and easiest performance boosts you can give to your car.
So what are the differences between various types of wheels? What are the advantages and disadvantages? And what should you really be looking for?
We’ve got you covered.
How They’re Made
Most wheels are going to be made using some kind of aluminum alloy – aluminum because it strikes the right balance of strong, light and relatively affordable. It’s how that aluminum gets shaped into a wheel where the differences start coming in, and those will determine just how strong, how light, and how much they are going to cost. Lighter and stronger equal better for wheels, so you don’t want to skimp on either, and you certainly don’t want to skimp on both for cheap knock offs that look good, but could fall apart and inflict damage on the rest of your car, or you…
Cast aluminum wheels are the most common type of wheel, and typically what you will find on a car when it comes from the factory. This is because they are relatively cheap to produce, and provide good strength, partially thanks to government regulations which require much more strength than most people really need.
The simplest type of casting is called “gravity casting” and is done by pouring molten aluminum into a mold and letting it spread, harden and set. Because the aluminum sets naturally (i.e. through gravity), tiny air pockets can form in the alloy which lower the overall strength and structural integrity of the wheel as compared to other manufacturing processes.
“Low pressure casting” is a slightly better process, whereby the aluminum is forced into the mold and set with vacuum pressure, where helps to eliminate those air pockets and increase structural integrity.
While cast wheels can be quite strong, they are also heavy, making them not optimal for performance. They are also virtually impossible to repair, meaning that any damage they incur would require full replacement.
“Flow-forming” (also known as “roll-forging” and “spun-rim manufacturing”) starts out similarly to low pressure casting. But instead of letting the allow fully set, it is finished by using high-heat, high-pressure spinning steel rollers to create the finalize the outer hoops and the wheel’s shape. The result is a wheel that is nearly as strong as a forged wheel, but for a lower cost. However, flow-formed wheels do still suffer from some of the same drawbacks as cast wheels.
Forged wheels are the true top-of-the-line when it comes to manufacturing process. They start as a solid block of billet aluminum, which then has heat and pressure applied until it forms the shape of a wheel. This process makes forged wheels incredibly dense, while still allowing them to be 25-30% lighter than cast wheels, despite three times the strength. The forging process allows for more strength with less materials, which means additional room for things like larger brake components.
Forging also allows for wheels to be made in 1, 2 or 3 pieces. Each has their own distinct advantages and disadvantages.
Also called “monoblock” wheels, 1-piece wheels are, as the name suggested, all formed from one piece at the same time. Cast wheels are always 1-piece. Forged wheels can be monoblock, too. While forged 1-piece wheels are incredibly light and strong, they are often expensive and offer less versatility, since manufacturers can mix and match sizes and fitments.
For 2-piece wheels, the center piece and spokes are manufactured separately from the rim. This allows for more intricate designs and for the use of different materials in a single wheel – a forged center with a cast rim, for instance. 2-piece wheels therefore offer greater variation and flexibility in cost, while still maintaining high strength and low weight.
3-piece wheels are constructed of a center piece, an outer barrel, and an inner barrel. They allow for even greater flexibility of materials than 2-piece wheels, since different parts can be forged, spun or cast.
3-piece wheels also offer the most versatility of any wheel type. They can be customized to exact specifications of cars and take into account other modifications that have been made to things like the suspension and brakes. You can have different widths, different offsets, and can have almost unlimited fitments. They also allow to the largest lip size while still bringing the wheel flush to the fender, and they eliminate the need for spacers.
Additionally, 3-piece wheels offer and advantage with damage control. Since they can be disassembled and repaired in pieces, significant damage doesn’t necessarily mean having to replace the entire wheel.
As you can see, there are a lot of options and things to think about when it comes to custom wheels, and there are not right or wrong answers. But if you are looking for a quick, easy and surefire way to boost performance and give your car a unique look, custom wheels are a great way to go. Contact us to review your wheel options and attain competitive pricing.