Car guys express their automotive passion in different ways. Some choose big engines while others choose flashy paint. However, there is one choice that always seems to draw criticism – deserved or not – and that is wheel selection. Mechanical and eye-catching attributes of your car notwithstanding, your car’s appearance can either make you the envy of the show, or “that guy” at the end of the row.
It’s all a matter of perception, and the wheels you choose and the tires surrounding them will definitely influence whether others like your car or not. But, there are more than good looks to consider when selecting wheels. To get some expert advice, we turned to Jeff Roberts of Wheels For Less. That’s because, we were curious about any specific attributes we should be looking at when choosing wheels.
Like almost everyone else, we can’t afford to go out and spend an untold amount of money on wheels, so we need to make the right choice the first time. Choosing wheels begins by figuring out your budget first, then choosing the wheel that looks right and fits your ride.
The four main factors you should be considering before you choose are style, size, weight, construction, and most importantly, price. Realizing how much cash you have to put into a set of wheels will affect things like construction and size. Once you have your budget, you can start narrowing your choices. After all, it doesn’t matter if those billet wheels you have your eyes on are perfect for your Chevelle if you don’t have the dinero to buy them.
It’s also a good idea to have a basic understanding of wheel fitment. In other words, understand what wheel/tire sizes can be properly mounted on your vehicle. We all remember a time when N50s mounted on a 10-inch wheel didn’t have to fit within the wheelwell. Back then, that was considered a cool look. Today, no one wants to see that look make a comeback. Without knowing what will actually fit, you risk buying a setup that doesn’t, can cause vibration issues, and alter ride quality. The wrong package can cause contact with fenders, inner fenders, struts, shocks, tie rods, brake calipers, and other suspension parts. “The questions we receive most, are really about fitment and size,” said Jeff.
The questions we receive most, are really about fitment and size. – Jeff Roberts, Wheels For Less
One-Piece Cast Aluminum Wheels
Everyone knows that one-piece cast aluminum wheels are made by pouring melted aluminum into a cast mold. But, did you also know that there are three types of casting methods used when making cast-aluminum wheels? One is a low-pressure gravity feed casting. Another is counter pressure, which uses vacuum to pack the aluminum into the mold. And finally, there is high pressure casting, which uses air pressure to pack the aluminum into the mold. The method used depends on the particular weight, strength, and finish of the wheel they are building.
“All one-piece cast-aluminum wheels are made overseas in China, and then shipped over by container to their distribution centers in the U.S. The quality of these wheels is high due to today’s manufacturing techniques,” Jeff stated, However, the drawback to a one-piece wheel is their limited size and offset availability. The manufacturer has to predict how many wheels of a particular style they can sell , and build only the sizes and standard offsets they believe will have the best sales potential.
Pros: These wheels are most inexpensive to purchase and come in a myriad of designs.
Cons: They are more brittle than forged wheels. These are also the heaviest of all wheel construction types. Backspace, width increments, and diameter selection offerings are limited. If one gets cracked, they are nearly impossible to safely repair. A damaged cast wheel usually needs to be replaced.
Two-Piece Cast Aluminum Wheels
The centers of two-piece cast wheels are made in exactly the same way as one-piece wheels are made. The centers are cast overseas and then shipped to the U.S. where the wheel is assembled. The cast centers are welded into an outer aluminum rim that is spun, heated, and then pressed between steel rollers to give the rim its final shape and width.
This process produces a wheel that is lighter and stronger than a one-piece cast wheel, but is much less expensive than a forged wheel. “This also offers the consumer a wide variety of fitment options, as the centers can be welded to achieve custom offsets. That means, if you are custom building a car that has a narrowed rear axle, you can get a custom offset and width to allow for a wider, deeper wheel to make your car look exactly as you want,” Jeff told us.
Pros: These wheels are not as expensive as a forged wheel and offer more backspace options than a one-piece cast wheel.
Cons: The centers are still more brittle than forged wheels, but the rim is not as brittle as a cast rim/barrel. If the center gets cracked, a safe repair in not certain. But, unlike a one-piece cast wheel, the rim/barrel can be repaired.
Forging A Finer Fender Filler
Forged wheels are made by placing a hunk of aluminum into a press that forms it into its fundamental shape. The wheel’s basic shape is then machined to achieve the final design. This process of making a wheel uses much less material, and this means a lighter wheel. Forging also creates a wheel that is stronger than other manufacturing processes.
Two-Piece Forged Aluminum
A two-piece forged wheel is built by using a center that is welded into an outer rim – or barrel. This affords a greater available selection of design, offset, and widths as compared to cast wheels. Forged wheels are also made in the U.S. and are of the highest quality wheels available today.
Three-Piece Forged Aluminum
Three-piece forged aluminum wheels will have the same show quality, varied styles, and lighter weight as the two-piece forged aluminum wheels. A huge benefit of three-piece wheels is there is a greater range of size and offset options available. If your running bigger than stock disc brakes, this is a huge advantage. Some of today’s big brake systems with four and six-piston calipers can make aftermarket wheel fitment very difficult.
Mono-block Forged Aluminum
A Mono-block wheel is a fully-forged, one-piece wheel that is machined from a single piece of 6061-T6 aluminum. This type of process creates a product that is extremely stiff, exceptionally strong, and very lightweight. These are ideal for racing, because they are the stiffest, strongest, and lightest weight possible.
Pros: This dimensions can be configured to fit over larger than stock brakes. More design and fitment options available.
Cons: They are substantially more expensive than cast wheels.
What’s Best For Me?
You always want to consider how you plan to use your vehicle. Is it a race car that will be hitting the corners? Is it mostly street-driven? You might not realize it, but it does make a difference. Wheels designed for racing need to be strong and lightweight. They need to be able to withstand very strenuous cornering loads, heat, and abuse. When it comes to wheels for a street car, looks are usually the primary end-goal.
What The Hub Is Going On?
Most aftermarket wheels are not hub-centric – Jeff Roberts
A hub-centric design means the large center hole of the wheel is a perfect fit to the hub of the vehicle. This allows the weight of the vehicle to rest on the center bore, rather than the studs. This creates a very safe and stable design, and most OE wheels are hub-centric. This also requires that you know the hub dimension of your car.
“Most aftermarket wheels are not hub-centric. That is because most manufacturers make the center hole large enough to accommodate a wide variety of applications,” Jeff said. That means the wheel is lug centric. A lug-centric wheel employs wheel stud holes with cone-shaped bottoms that are matched to a conical-seat lug nut. The car’s hub protrusion does not actually contact the wheel. When the lug nuts are tightened, the cone-shaped lugs locate the wheel on the hub and properly center it.
This also brings up a long-standing discussion about the wheel studs supporting the weight of the car. Some feel that running a lug-centric wheel without using a spacer is asking for trouble. This is because the wheel studs are supposedly dealing with side – or shear – loads. But, others say that a wheel’s stud is not subjected to the shear-load factor because of the Coefficient of Friction (COF) principle.
COF can be explained this way: In an exaggerated example, take two pieces of sandpaper and place the grit-covered surfaces against each other. Now, try to slide each piece in opposite directions. The principle is applied in wheel mounting, as the tightening of the lug nuts “mates” the hub and wheel surfaces, and any movement must overcome friction between the two surfaces. But, if the lug nuts do not supply sufficient clamping force (i.e improper torque), the wheel can move, and overcome the COF principle. Once the wheel is able to move, the shearing action of the studs can occur.
Since many aftermarket manufacturers rarely make a hub-centric application, some will provide a hub-centric spacer. This is usually a machined collar that fits inside the hub opening of the wheel, and over the car’s hub. This does help to maintain hub support and a solid centering of the wheel.
Summing It Up
As you should with any part you buy for your car, always do a little research before you commit to a purchase. When it comes to buying wheels and tires, these parts have to be able to stop, turn, and support your car. If you experience a failure at any speed, the results can be bad. So once you’ve done your research and decided what wheel is best for your ride, the guys at Wheels For Less can be sure to help you get the right wheel the first time.