Steve goes to a car lot to browse and find himself a new car. He walks among all the different vehicles on display, considers their horsepower, fuel economy, size and what not. But there is one car that catches his attention not because it ticks all the boxes on his list of what he is looking for in a car, but because it has the most beautiful wheel rims he has ever seen. Long, clean lines, sturdy constitution, black coat of paint… And the way it complements the car’s overall appearance – he is simply smitten! But what is the deal with wheel rims? What are they and why are they so important in a car? Stick with us to find out!
You may not think wheel rims are that important for driving a car – some people tend to focus on them because of their aesthetic appeal – but they certainly play a vital role in the whole driving experience. Why? They allow your car to actually roll, so you wouldn’t get too far without them. Without undamaged and quality wheel rims mounted, your car can only be stationary – and that is questionable in itself – and you certainly haven’t bought a car to just sit in your garage or driveway. So, let’s examine what wheel rims are, their varieties and why they matter.
Rim is an essential component of a wheel (although most people consider them one and the same thing):
1) Outboard face/the “spider” – the face of the wheel which makes the design visible when looking at the vehicle and provides structure for the wheel
2) Center bore – an empty hole in the center of the wheel which is often covered by a center cap with the manufacturer’s logo so it isn’t visible when the wheel is on the car
3) Center disc/plate – the central section around the center bore that contains the lug holes; it bolts to the wheel hub, while the spokes connect the rim to the plate
4) Spokes – the structures that connect from the plate to the edge of the rim; they play a large part in determining the weight and strength of a wheel as are a huge variety of spoke patterns, with different spoke counts, diameters, lengths, and shapes available
5) Rim – outer diameter of the wheel usually measured when discussing the size of a wheel
6) Bolt circle – the circle that is created by the centers of the lug holes, where the lugs affix the wheel to the hub
7) Valve stem bore – the hole that allows air to be added to the tire; the valve stem itself be made of rubber or metal.
Wheel rims are made from a few different materials, which does not only affect the look of the wheels, but more importantly, their strength, weight and durability. Here are the most common types:
1) Steel – simple and cheap, usually basic in design and fitted to low-cost cars; they are often covered by a hubcap to add some style and are often heavier than more costly equivalents
2) Aluminum alloy – strike a solid balance between strength, weight, durability and cost, so all types of cars from every automaker are fitted with aluminum wheels, from sedans, to trucks, to luxury cars
3) Carbon fiber – extremely light and strong, but brittle (a single impact with a curb or piece of road debris can render them useless); still very rare, but more and more vehicles are available with carbon fiber wheels.
(Take a look at our infographic to get a clearer picture about the differences between steel and alloy wheels.)
Strictly technically speaking, wheels as a whole provide a means of mounting and affixing the tires to the vehicle through which the power of the engine is transferred to the ground. As the engine generates power, it moves through the drivetrain to the wheels where they bolt to the wheel hub and rotate around the axles. In order for the wheels to turn and propel the car forward, you need to have friction provided by the tires in direct and constant contact with the ground under the car. That way the car gets the leverage it needs to move by the wheel transferring power from the axle and the hub to the tires. The larger the wheel is in comparison to the power the engine generates, the bigger the leverage and the faster the car moves.
Moreover, looks aside, the car’s wheels have a significant impact on its alignment, handling, braking, ride quality, and acceleration, as well as the calibration of the speedometer. Therefore, before installing new wheels on your car, consider these things:
1) Make sure it fits in the wheel well
2) Consider the correct backspacing (the width of the wheel and the location of the mounting plate)
3) Ensure it matches your vehicle’s wheel bolt pattern
4) Determine if there is an adequate selection of tires that fit the new wheels
5) Make sure the wheels aren’t rubbing anything on the vehicle, especially while turning or under suspension compression.
Another major thing to consider when buying car wheels is their size. If you are looking to replace wheels on your car, you have to make sure that your new wheel and tire are as close in diameter as your old wheel and tire.
Following this particular rule will benefit you in a few ways:
1) You won’t have to spend more money to make additional modifications to your car and/or wheels to make them fit
2) You won’t risk your safety since you will have control over your vehicle on the road
3) Your acceleration times and fuel consumption won’t suffer (or might get marginally better).
Finally, despite being solid pieces of metal that can support hundreds of kilos of weight, there is a number of things to consider when it comes to wheel rims and wheels as a whole. Aside from size considerations, durability and strength are crucial to staying safe behind the wheel. Lightweight wheels may spin up faster and turn more readily, but are more susceptible to denting, cracking, and other damage. Heavy wheels might be stronger and more durable, but can reduce fuel economy. Every vehicle type has different needs and so you need to find them the wheels that will suit them best.
When thinking about changing your wheel rims, it’s wise to consult an experienced professional to make sure you select a design compatible with your vehicle. And we are just the right kind of mechanic for that. Come to our repair shops in Hamilton and Stoney Creek today and let’s upgrade your automotive pet together!