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The Wheels On Your Car Go Round And Round...

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On: Tue, Sep 20, 2011 at 1:30PM | By: Peter C Sessler

The Wheels On Your Car Go Round And Round...

I have to admit that wheels make the vehicle. Take any car or truck, put a set of nice wheels on it and—presto!—you’ve got a vehicle that stands out. It’s especially true if your car originally came with wheel covers. Some wheel cover designs are visually interesting, to be sure, but they still look like what they are—pieces of painted plastic.

 Some cars, of course, already come from the factory with aluminum wheels. You’ll find that practically every top-of-the-line model from every car maker is equipped with eye-catching wheels.

But, if you are not the proud owner of one of those vehicles, and you want to add some pizzazz to your drive, then a nice set of wheels will make a tremendous difference. Not only will your car look better, but it will perform better too.

There are a bewildering variety of wheel designs to choose from in various widths, diameters, colors, and finishes. It’s easy to make an expensive mistake here.

Wheel Types
Most stock wheels are made from two pieces of stamped steel—a center section and a rim, which are welded together. Their main advantage is their low cost, but they are heavy and not very attractive. Steel wheels can also deform under hard cornering.

Some manufacturers use wheels that have an aluminum center section that’s welded to a steel rim. Although still heavy, these hybrid wheels look better.

Most optional stock wheels and aftermarket replacement wheels are made of aluminum. Aluminum wheels are stronger than steel. Because they are lighter, they also contribute to reducing unsprung weight. The less unsprung weight, the better the car handles and rides. Most aftermarket wheels also allow for more air to circulate through the wheel openings to cool the brakes.

The majority of aftermarket wheels are made from aluminum or an aluminum alloy. They can either be cast or forged. Forged wheels are more expensive, but stronger. There are also two- and three-piece modular wheels to choose from. By using different sections, wheel width and offset can be changed to accommodate different tires for different applications, but these are typically intended more for racers.

What about offset and backspacing? You don’t want wheels to stick out past the fenders or hit the suspension. A negative offset wheel is said to have the tire’s centerline outboard of the wheel’s centerline—this is typical of the deep-dish look. The opposite occurs with positive offset, which is found on most front-wheel drive cars.

Backspacing is the distance from the wheel’s mounting surface to the back rim flange. This isn’t the same as offset. Two wheels can have the same offset but the wider of the two wheels will have a larger backspacing. Too much backspacing and the wheels will hit the suspension.

Choosing the Right Wheel
Once you’ve chosen a wheel design, the next step is to decide what size to get. Getting a wheel that’s the same size as the stock wheels works, but most people generally prefer bigger wheels.

The easiest way to guide yourself is to see what optional sizes for your car were offered from the factory. For example, the 1999 Mustang comes with a standard wheel measuring 15x7 inches. Optional wheels measure 16x7.75 and 17x8 inches. As long as you stick with these sizes with factory offset, you can’t go wrong.

Resist the temptation to go beyond the maximum factory recommended sizes. Too much positive or negative offset can put unnecessary strain on your car’s suspension, often leading to parts failure. Too wide a tire can hit your car’s bodywork or suspension and might also be illegal, especially if the tires stick out past the fenders.

Get a good set of wheel locks and find out what the wheel manufacturer recommends as far as cleaning goes—some wheels are coated and require special care.

Finally, don’t throw out the original stock wheels! If your car turns out to be a collectible, it will be worth a lot more with the original factory wheels.


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