What are car wheels made of?

Car wheels, also known as rims, are made from different materials. The quality of the material determines the cost of the rim and each material has varying effects on the weight, durability, strength, and finish of the wheel. These conventional materials are:

Steel wheels

Wheels made from steel are the most common ones and usually come with new vehicles. They are often covered with hubcaps since they are very plain. Advantages of steel wheels include: 

  • They are durable and bear a greater load than other wheels.
  • They are easily repaired when dented.
  • They are cheapest wheels available.
  • During winter, their heaviness provides a greater sense of safety.

Their drawbacks include: 

  • The heaviness lowers their center of gravity, which can dampen your driving performance, particularly in the summers.
  • Over time, the paint layer of the rims comes off, exposing the steel to rust.

Alloy wheels

Some wheels are made from an alloy of metal, usually aluminum. The most common casting alloy is A356. These rims were traditionally available only on high-end luxury cars, but they have trickled down to budget cars and their benefits include: 

  • They are lighter than steel making them have better performance, improved acceleration, and quality of the ride.
  • Their better heat dissipation offers better braking performance and decreases the risk of brake failure.
  • They are completely airtight and therefore are the perfect foil for tubeless tires.
  • Less likely to corrode and rust, due to the aluminum alloy, which protects it from corrosion.
  • Lighter wheels lead to enhanced fuel economy because it takes the car less effort to accelerate.
  • The alloy can be cast into different designs, meaning they offer more options when it comes to how your wheels look.

Their cons include: 

  • Compared to their steel counterpart, they run a possibility of receiving cosmetic damage from collisions, scrapes, salt, and cleaners.
  • They are more expensive than steel wheels.

Magnesium wheels

Magnesium is the lightest metallic material available. Magnesium wheels are produced by either casting/metalworking (molten metal is introduced and solidified within a mold) or by forging (a fabricated bar is deformed mechanically). Their advantages include: 

  • They are lighter than alloy or steel wheels and therefore offer better vehicle mileage.
  • They have fewer risks of overheating as they spread the heat from the brakes more efficiently than steel.
  • They offer your car an excellent look and can be customized.

The cons are: 

  • They are expensive.
  • In winter conditions, they can be too light, reducing grip and that means you’re more likely to slip on ice or be stuck in the snow.

 The takeaway

The choice of car wheels has never been easier as you’re trying to achieve optimal performance while keeping cost down. With the numerous options to choose from, it’s beneficial to have an idea of the benefits and drawbacks of all wheel types. 

Carlos G. Hill

Carlos G. Hill

Carlos joined TireReview in 2019 after seven years of living and working in Dubai. He has been a journalist for over a decade and has worked for a wide range of publications, including Rolling Stone, Time Out, iQ and Loaded. After starting out on the automotive team as deputy editor of Engine Technology International, Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology International and Transmissions Technology International, he has been an editor since 2015, and began editing Tire Technology International in 2018. In 2020, he was appointed editor-in-chief of Tire, Professional Motorsport World, Electric & Hybrid Marine Technology International and Crash test Technology International

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