What are the different types of car wheels?

Automobile wheels might seem like one of the most simple and easy to manage parts of a car. However, every year the big manufacturers a lot of money is invested in researching and developing better, smarter, lighter, and stronger types of wheels.

Whether it’s a Koenigsegg Regera that features full carbon-fibre wheels or Jaguar, which continuously reproduces its popular steel wheels or steelies for the low-drag E-Type.

But why is that? Well, even though wheels do not seem like something that requires this much attention, but trust us they are much more responsible for the aesthetics as well as for the performance of the car. This is why wheels shouldn’t be taken for granted!

Right from the inception of wheels in the world, they are being continuously worked upon to develop and manufacture better wheels. And currently, there are so many different types of wheels available in the market.

How many different types of wheels are there? Read this article ahead to learn everything you need to know about various types of wheels which are used in today’s automobiles.

Different Types of Wheels

  • Steel Wheels
  • Alloy Wheels
  • Multi-piece Wheels
  • Chrome Wheels
  • Diamond-Cut Wheels
  • Forged Wheels
  • Replica ‘OEM style’ Wheels

1. Steel Wheels

Steel wheels, also known as Steelies, are one of the most basic kinds of wheels in the automobile industry around the world. The steelies are manufactured by using powerful hydraulic machinery and pressing steel billets. They have been used as a standard wheels-option in most of the low-end vehicles for decades & dominated the automobile wheels industry until the alloy rims came into the picture as a cheaper and lighter alternative.

Steel is an alloy of carbon and iron, a stronger and harder metal compared to most of the materials used to manufacture wheels. However, along with strength, steelies are bulky and heavier wheels than others like aluminium.

If we consider how the steel wheels are manufactured, then we’d know that there isn’t much room for new designs or any sort of graphic work that increases its appeal.

Most of the automobile companies use a set of hubcaps, with their badging on it, on the steel wheels to hide its unattractive appeal. This helps the companies to give the steelies the look of expensive, stylish and attractive alloys.

2. Alloys Wheels

Alloy wheels are some of the most common types of wheels used in today’s vehicles. These wheels are manufactured using the alloys of aluminium and magnesium. Steelies also use alloys but they’re not included in the alloy wheels category.

Here are some of the key benefits that alloy wheels offer over steelies:

  1. Alloy wheels offer more strength than the steelies (which are typically softer and more ductile)
  2. The alloys are lighter in weight while providing the same or even more strength
  3. They’re much more efficient at conducting heat and give a better visual appeal than the steel wheels

Even though the steel, one of the most common metals used in wheel manufacturing, is an alloy of carbon and iron, it is not an alloy wheel. Why? Because the alloy wheel category includes wheels that are made using non-ferrous alloys.

In the initial days of alloy wheels category, the wheels were made using magnesium alloys. However, those wheels had ductility issues and therefore, required some innovation. The ductility usually made the wheels expand by 2-3%.

After different experiments, the aluminium alloy wheels and casting refinements, discovered in the ‘60s, helped them become more advanced. After more aluminium casting improvements and R&D, the alloy wheels replaced the magnesium wheels as they were less costly, high-performance motorsports wheels.

3. Multi-piece Wheels

Multi-piece wheels are majorly produced by BBS company. They can be manufactured by using either two or three components.

The two-piece wheels are constructed by using the wheel face and the rim which are fitted together with rim screws around the circumference of the wheel’s centre. After this, the sealant is applied to them to secure the fittings and the sections together.

The three-piece wheel offers more freedom of adjustability in wheel’s width as its wheel rim is divided into two parts.

All these things make the multi-piece wheels heavier and weaker than the single-piece wheels majorly available in the market. However, various manufacturers like BBS have developed a new “rolled rim” technology. This new feature helps the manufacturers to build multi-piece wheels with strength almost equivalent to the single-piece variants.

4. Chrome Wheels

Most of the cheap wheels in the market are usually coated with paint to help avoid corrosion. Some of them don’t even need the paint, but only if the material of the rim is corrosion resistant.

However, expensive wheels use a layer of chromium to help avoid corrosion on the surface of the wheel. Apart from that, chrome wheels also improve the visual appeal of the vehicle by giving a more shiny, fashionable and eye-catching look. So, people who love to make their vehicle look appealing, favour chrome wheels.

5. Diamond Cut Wheels

Diamond cut wheels are sort of like the conventional alloy wheels, however, they offer a more high-shine finish. The manufacturers use machine lathe to create an incision in the metal which helps create the shiny finish along with edge and a little grooving effect.

These wheels help enhance the appearance of the vehicles thanks to their visually appealing look. This is why they’re more preferred over other wheels when the person wants to upgrade their vehicle’s look.

Along with the benefits that these wheels offer as alloy wheels, diamond cut alloys help create a more personalized appearance. These wheels are available in a wide array of colours including, but not limited to, energetic orange, striking gunmetal grey, etc.

6. Forged Wheels

If you’re purchasing aftermarket wheels then you’ll see that there are only two types of wheels to be considered – forged and cast. However, these two wheels are only different in the manufacturing processes followed to manufacture them.

The forged rims are manufactured by forging only a single piece of solid aluminium into the shape of wheel rims. On the other hand, cast wheels are manufactured using aluminium that is liquified and poured into different moulds.

Forged wheels offer some key benefits than the cast wheels such as they are 3 times more strong and 25% lighter – some of the best things you’d want in your high-performing car. However, the major disadvantage is that the forged wheels are three times costlier than the cast wheels.

But did you know? You can also find many cast wheels that are even lighter and cheaper than the forged wheels. Let’s look at one of the most amazing cast wheels – Enkei RPF1. It weighs only 17.9 lbs with an 18×9.5 wheel, on par in weight than most of the popular forged wheels.

7. Replica ‘OEM style’ Wheels

If you are an automobile enthusiast then chances are that you might have seen or at least heard about the countless “high-quality” replica wheels for different car brands on the internet. However, people should stay extremely far away from the tempting offers they provide. Because the replica wheels might seem just like the OEM ones, but when it comes to strength and other essential features, they are way behind.

These replica wheels are mostly made by keeping the manufacturing costs as low as possible. And for doing so, their quality suffers a great deal!

Most of these wheels are manufactured by using the gravity casting method. In this method, the molten metal is poured into the moulds, but not compressed, and is left to be poured completely with the help of gravity.

What does this mean for its quality? This means that the replicas are nowhere near the density of OEM alloy wheels, which were manufactured by using compression force during the manufacturing process. Therefore, the replicas are always brittle, weak and potentially dangerous for the occupants of the vehicles.

History of Automotive Wheels

The inception of wheels started with wooden wheels in Mesopotamia that were made for transportation. After that, the bicycle wheels and wagon wheels were invented. But don’t worry, we won’t bore you with all the history about the wheels and will just focus on interesting facts about the automotive wheels.

Here are some of them:

  • During a car race event in 1895, the first pneumatic tires (rubber and air) were introduced to the public. However, they were not available to be used widely until the late 1940s.
  • One of the most popular aluminium alloy wheels, currently, were not used widely by people even after getting invented and introduced in the 1920s.
  • Introduction of aluminium refinements casting process in the 1960s that lowered the manufacturing costs made them more durable and less brittle.
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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