The wheels are the most critical components of an automobile. Historically, consumers have given very little thought to these essential components. Whee3ls were part of the purchased package and were replaced only when damaged. Alternate wheels have always been available, but were usually only purchased because they were a feature of an "upgrade" package that was being purchased for a different reason. For example, consumers bought an upgrade to cloth seats instead of vinyl, or power windows instead of manual windows, and alloy wheels may have been included in the package.
Standard truck or car wheels are made from stamped steel centers welded to rolled steel rims. These types of wheels are strong and cheap to produce, which is why they are the industry standard. Alloy wheels are made from steel and aluminum or magnesium alloys, instead of pure steel. They are produced by either die-casting or forging techniques. Of these two manufacturing methods, forging produces higher quality, stronger products.
Alloy wheels are more expensive than steel wheels â€“ typically 5 to 10 times more expensive. Unusually cheap alloy wheels should alert the buyer to potential fraudulent advertising. The wheels in question may have been produced from substandard materials or by using an inferior production process. Although most consumers are interested only in the appearance of alloy wheels, they were specifically designed to reduce the weight of wheels and to improve handling and braking characteristics.
Engineers care a great deal about the weight of an automobile's wheels. Lower wheel weights allow the vehicle to grip the road more effectively because the suspension follows the road's contours. Reduced vehicle weight overall also results in improved fuel economy. Braking characteristics are improived by the increased heat conductivity of the alloy, which allows heat to be removed more efficiently from the brake pads.
Although lighter wheels were a driving force behind the development of alloy wheels, they are not all lighter than their steel counterparts. The alloy is lighter, but the wheel may have to be thicker to support the weight of the vehicle and that extra thickness may counter the lighter material weight. Also, magnesium alloy wheels have been known to catch on fire when subject to the extreme frictional heat of direct contact with the road surface after a tire loss. Magnesium fires aZre extremely difficult to extinguish.
Aftermarket wheels are often referred to as "rims" in street jargon. It is now common for a certain consumer demographic - typically 20 to 30 year old males â€“ to replace automotive wheels with oversized alloys. These "rims" are generally quite expensive and are seen as status symbols. In fact, however, many of these wheels are cheaply made in Mexico or India and do not hold up well in use. Although they are expensive, they are not made from quality materials or in a well-crafted fashion.
Differences in wheel design, material and size can be critical to proper performance. Oversized wheels can prematurely wear out transmissions and strain engines. They may also crack in stressful driving conditions.
The bolt patterns of wheels are also very important. Chevy truck wheels are not universal and will not necessarily fit every Chevy pickup truck.