Alloy Wheel Basics

Alloy Wheel Basics - Straight Talk from an Alloy Wheel Specialist

Alloy Wheel Basics

For a lot of people, alloy wheels are all about adding style and flair to a vehicle. And it’s true, alloy wheels can be crafted into elaborate designs with beautiful details—real head-turners when you take your ride out on the road. But what about the practicalities of alloy wheels? In this article, we’ll share information from an APR alloy wheel specialist about their advantages, disadvantages, and what you should know if they need to be repaired.

What, Exactly, are Alloy Wheels?

Alloy Wheel Basics - Photo of a gold and silver alloy wheel on a white vehicle. Simply put, alloy wheels are made from a mix—or “alloy”—of two or more metals. Most alloy wheels are made primarily from aluminum and magnesium, which makes them much lighter than standard, steel wheels. Because they weigh less, they require less energy to rotate, and they dissipate heat more effectively. Alloy wheels can also be manufactured in a much greater variety of shapes than steel wheels, offering a profusion of detailed styles and intricate patterns.

Everything You Need to Know Before Buying Alloy Wheels

Alloy Wheel Basics - Photo of a purple and silver alloy wheel on a black vehicle. The first thing most people look for in alloy wheels is eye appeal. You want a design that looks great on your car, but there are a few practical considerations, as well. Will that beautiful, elaborate design match your wheels’ lug nut pattern? And remember, some designs hold up better than others when you run them over potholes, curbs or just rough stretches of road, so you should consider your average driving conditions before making a purchase. With so many designs available, it’s also important to make sure those new wheels will be compatible with the brake disc and drum configurations on your vehicle. A good alloy wheel salesperson will confirm that, and they’ll check the rotational dimensions of the wheels to make sure they’ll function properly on your car or truck.

The Advantages of Alloy Wheels

For many alloy wheel owners, sleek appearance is all the benefit they need. But, as we hinted at earlier, there are some practical considerations, as well. Here are the three main advantages of owning alloy wheels…

A More Enjoyable Ride

Alloy wheels offer better handling and road-grip than steel wheels because their lighter weight means less inertia to overcome as they make contact with the road surface. Their lighter weight also slightly reduces stress on the vehicle’s springs and suspension. And because you’re reducing the mass being bounced around by bumps in the road, alloy wheels provide a smoother ride.

Better Fuel Economy

Looking at your wheels, you may think the decrease in wheel weight not would have a huge effect on your car’s total mass. However, reducing rotating weight has a larger effect on fuel economy and performance than reduced nonrotational weight. In a recent study, it was found that 82 pounds of reduction in wheel weight gave the same result as a 132-pound reduction in total vehicle weight.

Better Brake Performance

Photo of alloy wheel on a vehicle showing brake pads and discs behind it. Since alloy wheels are lighter, their heat dissipation is superior to steel wheels. The reduced heat helps improve brake performance and decreases the possibility of brake failure.

The Disadvantages of Alloy Wheels

Of course, alloy wheels are not without their drawbacks. While an aluminum/magnesium alloy offers better performance than steel—and it can certainly crank up a vehicle’s beauty factor—there are a couple of disadvantages to be aware of. 1. Less Durable than Steel Steel can withstand significantly greater impacts than alloy without cracking or bending, so it does a better job of standing up to rough roads and severe driving conditions. 2. Alloy Costs More The manufacturing methods used to make alloy wheels are more expensive than those used for steel wheels. Higher costs also come into play when you have to repair an alloy wheel. They’re more intricately formed than steel, and considerably costlier to repair.

Be Cautious When You Clean Alloy Wheels

Alloy wheels are often clear coated to protect their finishes, just like your car’s paint, so wash them with a soft sponge, mild soap and water, as you would the rest of the vehicle’s finish. Don’t use polishes, abrasive cleaners or abrasive pads. If you take the vehicle to a car wash service, make sure they don’t use acid cleaners, which are fine for removing grime from steel wheels, but they can really dull alloy wheels. Stiff brushes and cleaning pads should also never touch the finish of alloy wheels.

Alloy Wheel Maintenance

Okay, so there are a few disadvantages, but alloy wheels still offer better handling and fuel efficiency than steel. The only other downside is that they’re not cheap, so it’s important to protect your investment. Here are some tips: 1. Rotate Your Wheels Periodically Alloy is tough stuff, but it will have to endure significant wear and tear; it’s a fact of driving life. Different wheel positions on the vehicle may receive different kinds of wear, so it doesn’t hurt to rotate your tires every time you get an oil change, to even things out. 2. Keep ‘em Clean Every driving day adds new layers of dirt, dust and road grime; it’s unavoidable. But dirt “wears in” over time, embedding itself more deeply into the grain of the wheel finish. Alloy wheels should be washed at least once a month and after road trips, if you want to keep them looking great. Make sure to hose off dirt and grime before applying soap, as it can scratch the finish. And once each spring, after the harsh, winter weather has passed, it’s a good idea to remove the wheels and give them a thorough, all-over cleaning.

Alloy Wheel Repair

Photo of a technician removing an alloy wheel for repairs. An average wheel repair costs between $50 and $150, which is far less expensive than a replacement. It’s a very specialized process, so avoid the temptation to use a DIY wheel repair kit. These kits seldom include the range of tools and variety of finishes needed to return a wheel to like-new condition. Alloy wheel repair is also a bit of a craft, not a task to be undertaken without experience. Some repair jobs literally cannot be done with DIY kits because they require expensive, specialized equipment that most of us don’t have. The fact is that professional alloy wheel repair doesn’t cost that much more than many of the kits out there, but professional repair comes with a guarantee, so you know it will be right. When you have the inevitable run-in with curbs or flying gravel, and your alloy wheels need refurbishment, give us a call at (316) 262-8888 or bring the vehicle in. We’ll take care of you, guarantee the work, and probably cost less than you expect.

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