Wheel Buyer's Guide

Close-up of car mechanic with tires
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When it comes down to it, there's really nothing, not even a new coat of paint, that can change and customize the way a car looks and feels than a new set of rims. But how do you go about finding the right wheels for you? How do you make sure they will fit on your car?

The process of fitting wheels and tires can be much more complex than it looks. That's where a Buyer's Guide comes in. Here in one convenient place, you will find comprehensive information related to fitting and buying new wheels, whether from a shop or online.

It's true that many reputable wheel sellers will know this information and will make the right choices for you. But how do you know if a seller is really knowledgeable if you're not? When people don't know, or worse, don't care about wheel fitment and leave everything in the hands of the seller, the results can be disastrous. It's always best to be able to discuss things like offset or plus-sizing with some confidence and authority if only to keep the sales professionals or their toes.

Alloy vs. Steel

The differences between aluminum alloy and steel wheels are tremendous, and it's ultimately what you as the driver want out of your wheels that will determine which is the best choice for you.

Wheel Anatomy, Parts 1, 2 and 3

Start by knowing the basic terminology for the parts of any wheel, and how they all work together. Then in the more advanced lessons, you will learn about the mysterious but important sizing issue known as offset.

Bolt Patterns

The bolt pattern is the first and most fundamental fitment issue with wheels. Unless the bolt pattern is correct, the wheels will simply not fit on the car. Learn how to find your car's bolt pattern in order to know that those awesome wheels you're looking will even go on in the first place.

Hub-centric vs. Lug-centric

The most common issue when there are problems with aftermarket wheels come about because neither the buyer nor the seller understood the concept of hub-centric versus lug-centric. It is incredibly important when buying wheels to know why your wheels must be hub-centric and what to do to ensure that they are.

Wheel Composition and Construction

The many different ways that wheels are built also affects what kind of driving they are best suited for. An extremely light, high-performance, and correspondingly expensive forged-alloy wheel is hardly needed on the family minivan, but a great choice on the track.

Wheel Cosmetics

The cosmetic finish on a wheel not only makes a big difference to how the wheel looks, obviously but also how you will need to take care of the wheel to keep it looking good. Whether the wheels you're looking at are painted, polished, machined, hypersilver, or chrome, it's best to be armed with the knowledge of what those finishes really are, and how to go about caring for them before you buy.

Where to Buy Wheels and Tires Online

Online retailers can often be your best choice in terms of buying quality aftermarket wheels. They will generally have a better selection than brick-and-mortar shops and most often will have better prices due to lack of overhead and economies of scale.

The best online retailers have a lot of knowledge and very good software to deal with even the knottiest of fitment issues.

Plus and Minus Sizing Your Tires

If you're changing the size of your wheels, you will also have to change the size of your tires, and not just any size will do. The ratio of your new tires has to be carefully determined so that the overall diameter of the wheel and tire combination remains the same, or your speedometer and odometer settings will be off, among other bad effects. Learning about the concept of plus-sizing will make the process easier and prevent a lot of trouble down the road.

How to Not Damage Your Wheels, Part 1: Cosmetic Damage

There are a lot of hazards to your wheels out there, from evil curbs to even more evil cleaning supplies. Knowing how to keep your particular wheels clean and undamaged can prevent some very expensive repairs.

How to Not Damage Your Wheels, Part 2: Structural Damage

Potholes, raised manhole covers, even train tracks can bend or even crack extremely expensive alloy wheels. There's no magic solution for avoiding such hazards, but there are some common sense defenses.

Alloy Profiles

There are quite a few wheel makers out there. Some are extraordinary, some are terrible, and most lie somewhere in between. Each has its own design and technological philosophies; each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Knowing something about the companies that make the wheels can help you choose what's best for you.

Aftermarket Wheel Toughness

The toughness of a wheel can be judged by how often you don't have to repair it. Here are some common options.

  • BBS In 1970, partners Heinrich Baumgartner and Klaus Brand founded a small plant in Schiltach, Germany to manufacture plastic chassis parts. The rest is history.
  • American Racing The history of American Racing is intimately tied up in the history of muscle cars. Whenever muscle cars are present, so you will find the wheels that are considered by many to be the only proper choice for their heavy iron, American Racing wheels.
  • TSW TSW tends to build performance wheels first and foremost, with looks being an important but secondary priority.
  • OZ Racing In general, OZ Racing is about very light, high-performance wheels. Their motorsports heritage is a proud one, and they claim to have won more motorsport titles than any other wheel brand. From that heritage comes technical perfectionism. OZ's designers have little patience for fancy.
  • Sport Edition Sport Edition has for many years offered some very nice-looking wheels at extremely good prices, but buyer beware! Since the demise of Mille Miglia, Sport Edition has taken up the banner of making some of the most easily bendable rims in the industry.

Conclusion

New wheels can be the best thing you can do for your car, or they can be a complete nightmare. Most of the time a solid grounding of knowledge can avoid the nightmares before they occur. Happy Driving!