What you need to know about wheels  

What you need to know about wheels

Wheel Basics

Up until the 1980's, almost all wheel rims were made from steel. For increased performance, keeping wheel weight low is VERY desirable. For this reason, racing wheels have long been made to be as light as possible, even being made from a magnesium alloy, where the wheel itself may only last one race. Soon sports cars and performance vehicles came with aluminum alloy wheels, and currently more aluminum alloy wheels are being manufactured and sold than steel.

Lighter wheels accelerate faster, and brake faster, increase handling by staying in better contact with the road, and can increase fuel efficiency.

Alloys Steel wheel with hubcap
Alloy wheelsSteel wheels with Hubcap

Steel versus Alloys

At first glance, the comparison of steel rims to its alloy counterpart seems easy enough: Steel is cheaper, more flexible, and heavier, while alloys are lighter, more expensive and crack instead of bending. People who take their vehicles off road would choose steel, and people who race their car would choose alloys.

Is the performance boost noticeable?

When you're at a dealership and they're trying to get you to upgrade to alloys for an extra $400 or $600 or even $1000 over the stock steels, they'll tell you it for increased performance. I disagree. It may be a good investment if you want to sell the vehicle down the road assuming the alloys look better, but here's my 2 cents on the topic of performance:

Will I be able to notice the performance boost from having lightweight wheels?

Possibly. If you don't drive your car hard, you likely won't notice a difference. If you get new wheels that are around 10 pounds lighter than your stock steels, you might notice.

  • Less than 2 pounds lighter: Better take your car to the race track to notice a difference.
  • 2-5 pounds lighter: If you can notice the difference, either you know your car really well and you're a good driver, or you are a crazy driver whose driving makes them a menace to society!
  • 6-10 lbs lighter: Many drivers claim to notice the difference especially for acceleration.
  • More than 10 lbs lighter: Yeah, average drivers can notice this weight difference on the acceleration.

Is it possible to get wheels 10 pounds lighter than my OEM's?

Sure it's possible, but on some cars unlikely. If you take a look at some older steel wheels in the 15"x6.5" size, you can find them around 18 lbs. The average alloy seems to be around 15 lbs, while the lightest comes in at just over 8 pounds! When you're looking at larger tires, like 20" and up, the weight gap between light and heavy can be 20 lbs or more.

Alloy rims can also be heavier than steels, so if you have performance in mind, you better find out about the weight!

Does tire weight make a difference?

Yes! Shaving weight off the tire can have a bigger effect than go lighter on your wheels. The only problem in buying lighter tires is getting the weight information. When you're looking to buy new wheels, the weight is most often clearly displayed, but finding out your OEM wheel weight is often difficult.

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Friday, 15-Jun-2012 17:29:23 CDT