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 to go about finding the right wheels for you? How do you make sure they will fit on your car? Believe me, 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 all of my articles 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? We've seen enough disasters created by people who didn't know - or worse, didn't care – about wheel fitment to think that it's a good idea to leave everything in the hands of the person who wants to sell you wheels. It's always best to be able to discuss things like offset or plus-sizing with some confidence and authority, if only to keep that salesman on his 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

We see more problems with aftermarket wheels that came about because neither the buyer nor the seller understood this concept than with any other issue we encounter. 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 used 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.

The Top 5 Toughest Aftermarket Wheels (And 3 to Avoid)

We judge the toughness of a wheel by how often you don't have to repair one. Here's our list of the toughest wheels out there.

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 their own design and technological philosophies, each has their own strengths and weaknesses. Knowing something about the companies that make the wheels can help you choose what's best for you.

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 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. So there you have it – a good deal of what we know about wheels and wheel fitment from 10 years in the industry, tied up into a compact and logical a package. We hope that it helps make you a more informed and confident buyer. New wheels can be the best thing you can do for your car, or they can be a complete nightmare – we've seen it happen both ways. Most of the time a solid grounding of knowledge can avoid the nightmares before they occur. If you do have questions about wheels or tires, or if I've managed to confuse you beyond recall, feel free to ask in my Forum, via my Twitter, or on my Facebook page. Happy Driving!