Alloy wheels have become increasingly popular over the years for many reasons, and more and more drivers are choosing them for their lightweight durability, design, and effectiveness. Although most wheels are typically made from steel, alloy wheels are made from a mixture of different materials that contribute to aesthetics and performance, among many other benefits.
Alloy wheels are typically made from aluminum alloys. The most common aluminum alloys used for wheels are aluminum-magnesium and aluminum-nickel alloys. Alloy wheels are generally made of non-ferrous metals; they don’t contain iron or steel.
In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss what alloy wheels are made from, how they’re produced, and their advantages and disadvantages. Finally, I’ll discuss whether alloys are fuel-efficient and whether or not they’re ultimately a better choice than traditional steel wheels.
What Are Alloy Wheels Made Of?
Alloy wheels are usually made from materials other than iron or steel. These materials can generally be melded more readily into a particular shape than iron or steel, as they’re more flexible and workable. This makes the manufacturing process of alloy wheels much more streamlined and manageable.
Alloy wheels are made of a mixture of aluminum and nickel or magnesium. They’re often referred to as “Mag Wheels” because of the significant amount of magnesium they often contain. Durable and efficient, these alloy wheels have become a popular alternative to steelies.
Alloy wheels have non-ferrous wheel rims with excellent design options and feel more comfortable to ride, as their flexibility acts as suspension. They’re much lighter than their steel counterparts.
Choosing an alloy wheel is often accompanied by a desire to have a specific aesthetic assigned to a car. Those with high-performance cars, or those who travel very frequently, are much more likely to choose alloy wheels over the traditional steel rims.
How Are Alloy Wheels Made?
Alloy wheels are made in factories. They’re produced from raw materials heated and shaped to the desired cut. The process of manufacturing alloy wheels is usually much less cost-effective than that of steel wheels, adding to the higher up-front cost.
Alloy wheels are made using one of three processes: forging, rolled forging, and casting. All of these methods use heat and pressure in specific ways to create the desired shape of the wheel rims. Multiple chemical checks and quality checks are conducted before they can be released.
The melting process for aluminum can be surprisingly quick — as little as 30 minutes is needed to melt the raw material to be shaped accordingly. The final product is typically scrutinized for minor defects using X-rays before being shipped off to retailers.
Alloy wheels are significantly more expensive for manufacturers due to the materials used. This is one of the reasons why these rims can ultimately cost more for buyers too. However, over time, their superior design and composition will likely save the buyer money in the long term.
What Are the Main Advantages of Alloy Wheels?
There are many reasons why alloy wheels are more popular than their steel counterparts. They provide a more significant number of benefits for those who care about customizable design aesthetics, long-term performance, and weight capacity.
The main advantages of alloy wheels are that they’re much lighter, have many design options to enable you to get creative with your vehicle, and are more resistant than steel wheels overall.
Being lighter allows the vehicle to stop and start faster. With the addition of alloy wheels, your vehicle will ultimately be easier to handle, accelerate quicker, and brake faster.
Alloy wheels are usually around 100 pounds lighter than the more traditional steel wheels, so gas mileage is improved as well as the overall performance for any car.
Additionally, there are a considerable number of design options for alloy wheels. While steel rims are usually built in one specific way, you can easily customize your alloy rims to suit your personal preferences.
They come in many finishes, such as:
- Bare polish
You can also update the design however and whenever you wish. So if you ever feel like a change, alloy wheels allow you to do so more easily than their steel counterparts.
These rims are incredibly resistant and are much more likely to stand the test of time — as long as they are correctly looked after, of course. They’ll be perfect for your daily driver, especially if you have a lengthy commute.
What Are the Main Disadvantages of Alloy Wheels?
While these wheels are often the preferred choice for frequent drivers, they have a few disadvantages that you need to consider before purchasing.
The main disadvantages of alloy wheels include up-front expenses, maintenance issues, and the inability to function in persistently cold temperatures. Other than that, there aren’t too many disadvantages to these popular rims.
Alloy wheels are a significant investment for any vehicle. They’re typically about seven times more expensive than steelies, making them the most expensive type of non-race car wheel currently on the market.
Unfortunately, for those without a large budget, it might not seem like a good idea to put all your money on a set of wheels for your car. However, they’ve been proven to save money over time because they’re so lightweight, so this might counteract this particular disadvantage if you can afford the high up-front cost.
Although alloy wheels have many advantages in terms of design, this also means they’re much more likely to suffer damage. If you own a vehicle with painted alloy wheels, for example, you have to buy specific products made for alloy rims, or you might damage the exterior. Not to mention that the paint chips easily once the protective coating wears off.
Products that cater to alloys are typically a little more expensive than products used for durable steel wheels. However, using these products will ensure that your alloys remain durable and will stand the test of time in the long term.
Finally, cold temperatures can negatively impact the physical properties of aluminum wheels. If you live in a frigid climate for many months of the year, you might be better off with steel rims instead.
These rims are more prone to corrosion in the cold, resulting in rapid tire pressure loss. This can lead to more frequent flat tires, which is certainly not ideal for any driver in severe weather.
Therefore, if you live in an icy climate, aluminum wheels are probably not the best option. Opt for steel wheels since they are more durable in ice and snow and will ultimately last longer.
Are Alloy Wheels Fuel-Efficient?
Although the up-front cost for aluminum wheels is higher than other types, they’re surprisingly durable and can save you money on fuel in the long run.
Alloy wheels are fuel-efficient because they’re lightweight. Since a car with less weight to carry will drive further for longer, alloys will undoubtedly save you money on fuel. This is one of the many reasons more people nowadays choose them over steel rims.
The difference in weight is significant enough to produce a better driving experience while losing less fuel in the process. Heavier wheels will make for more difficult driving since they’re weighing the vehicle down, so you’ll need to pay more for energy.
Their modern designs also allow for better aerodynamics. This, in itself, makes them more fuel-efficient than their steel counterparts since it enables the car to drive with less wind resistance.
Do Alloy Wheels Rust?
Alloy wheels tend to be quite hardy and will last a long time. However, if the wheel gets scratched, some problems may arise which will damage the wheel if left unfixed.
Alloy wheels do not rust, but they may corrode if scratched. Since alloy wheels have a protective finish, a scratch may cause damage to the finish, resulting in corrosion. However, they do not typically rust.
Corrosion is a process characterized by the oxidation of a material, whereas rusting is a process that affects iron if exposed to significant moisture.
You can remove corrosion on an alloy wheel the same way you would remove rust. Small damages to these wheels should be fixed by a specialist.
Is Aluminum Environmentally-Friendly?
You might think that the production and manufacture of metals is terrible for the environment since it requires specific machinery and processes to make them malleable enough. However, you may be surprised to find that aluminum is different.
Aluminum is more environmentally-friendly than other metals because it’s recyclable. Over 75% of the aluminum manufactured in the last 100 years is still around in various forms today since it can be recycled repeatedly.
Because of this, it might seem more prudent to choose alloy wheels over steel ones, especially if you’re more conscious of the environment and want to do something nice for the planet.
Although some suggest that the production of metals, in general, creates too heavy a carbon footprint to warrant its use, aluminum is undoubtedly better for the environment than other metals — it can be reshaped and reused many times over.
Overall, spending that extra money on recyclable alloy wheels might indeed seem worth it.
How Much Do Alloy Wheels Cost?
While prices vary between suppliers, aluminum wheels tend to have much higher prices than steel wheels. So, it’s always good to check with a few different suppliers if this is important to you.
Alloy wheels can cost anywhere from $200 for a used set to over $2,000 if you choose specific designs and sizes. In general, smaller, simpler alloy wheels with a cheap finish cost less than designer wheels from popular brands.
The cost will vary greatly depending on what you choose. For example, chrome wheels can go for around $100 per wheel, but you could find yourself paying a lot more than that with extra design options.
Overall, it depends on what you want for your vehicle and how much you’re willing to pay up-front for design and aesthetics. For example, if you have a high-powered supercar, you’re more likely to spend extra money to get them designed exactly how you want.
Verdict: Are Aluminum Wheels Really Better Than Steel Wheels?
In general, everybody is different, and everyone has specific priorities when it comes to choosing wheels for a car. Some people might care more about design and aesthetics, while others may want something more basic without the fuss of unique designs.
Overall, aluminum wheels really are better than steel wheels. Better for the environment, greater design options, money-saving capabilities, and improved fuel efficiency, alloys are the superior option.
The main disadvantage that may put a buyer off is the up-front price, but you’ll undoubtedly save money in the long term if you can cover this. This is why it’s often much more prudent to purchase alloys over steel since it’s an investment that’ll keep giving back.
While steel rims will get you from A to B, alloys have the added benefits of being sleeker and more aerodynamic, leading to a much better suspension and a more comfortable drive.
Additionally, there’s usually only one option for sizing for steel rims (16 inches (40.64 cm) is typical). In contrast, alloys come in all shapes and sizes and can be optimized however you choose. A high-performance vehicle generally benefits from alloys because of the privilege of selecting a size.
The sheer variety of aesthetic options should be enough to convince anybody with the budget to pay for them. If you drive your car every day, it’s worth looking after your investment by fitting it with the best wheels.
Alloy wheels, whether made from aluminum and nickel or magnesium and aluminum, are always an excellent choice for anyone looking to upgrade their vehicle.
Nowadays, most modern cars already come fitted with alloy rims when purchased, but you can always buy them to upgrade and optimize the size to fit your vehicle. Overall, they’re great for anyone who cares about the environment, cost-effectiveness, and the durability of their car.