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What to look for when buying wheel rims

  Monday, 15 May 2017

Car wheel with alloy rims

Wheel rims are one of the most popular replacement car parts around.  They’re a sure-fire way to make virtually any car look that little bit cooler.  Aside from the aesthetics, they’re also a fairly common replacement made through necessity.  Wheel rims most often need replacement after damage or – in the worst case – a road accident.

This is our guide to all the things you need to think about when purchasing new wheel rims for your car.

Common wheel rim terminology

There are a number of key terms used nearly every time wheel rims are under discussion.  Whatever reason you have for needing new ones, it’s in your best interest to understand them.

Bolt pattern
Otherwise known as a lug pattern or bolt circle, this is the diameter of the circle formed by the wheel lugs, as seen on the exterior of the wheel rims.  This is comprised of two numbers.  The first is how many bolt holes are on the wheel and the second describes the diameter. (For instance, 5x108 would indicate a 5 lug bolt pattern within a 108mm diameter). Your car make and model possesses a unique bolt pattern, meaning any wheel rims purchased must be compatible with the specific type.
Hub centre bore
This is the central hole that keeps the wheel centred on the hub of the car.
Torque
Wheels are always installed using a torque wrench, and freshly installed wheels should always be re-torqued after the first 100km in order to ensure that everything remains tight.
Offset
This refers to the distance from the hub mounting surface of the wheel through to its centreline.  There are three types of offset: zero, positive and negative.  For zero offset, everything is even.  Positive offset means that the mounting surface is leaning towards the front or wheel side of the centreline.  Negative offset means that the mounting surface leans toward the back or brake side of the centreline.

What is a rim made out of?

Wheel rims are generally available in two main types of metal: aluminium and steel.

Steel rims are strong, durable and easy to keep clean, but aren’t as shiny or as lightweight.  Aluminium wheels are shinier, but aren’t as durable with more susceptibility to scratches, dents and dirt.

Rims can also come in an alloy of titanium which is both very hard-wearing and light.  However, titanium rims are much pricier than the usual aluminium or steel options.

Chrome rims are a popular choice for their aesthetic appeal.  It’s worth noting, however, that the chrome effect is usually achieved by application of a coating.  The metal of the rim itself will be of a type with those described above.

Choosing is simply a matter of preference, with a caution that durability is the best metric for a good wheel rim purchase.  A wheel rim that isn’t built to last can gradually crack and then break, making driving dangerous to physically impossible.

Wheel rim sizes

A key to proper performance is ensuring that your wheel rims fit perfectly.  The size of rim you choose could have different effects on your car’s handling.  A larger diameter rim for your wheel can lead to improved responsiveness when steering and better adherence to the road.  However, it’s important not to go too far.

Wheel rims that are too big for your vehicle will reduce stability and proper suspension, creating poor steering control.  On the other hand, wheel rims that are too small don’t support a car well.  Customising a wheel rim to fit your car takes two forms:

Plus sizing: Plus sizing on a wheel rim increases the size of the inner line diameter, not the outer line.  This offset provides more stability and control to the steering of the tyres.

Inching up: Inching up refers to making the wheel rim larger in diameter whilst matching the tyre so the height remains the same overall.  This provides better performance, traction and manoeuvrability.

Perhaps you have decided to opt for bigger rims than those your car currently has.  If so, there’s one more important thing to remember: make sure your new rims do not come into contact with any stationary parts of your car.  Doing so could have a negative impact on car handling as a result of unwanted friction.

Wheel rim weight

A wheel rim’s weight is another factor to consider when buying.  Your car’s suspension cannot counteract the weight of the rim, so the heavier it is the less agile your car will be.  The material the rims are made of has perhaps the biggest impact on rim weight.  As a result, it’s a good idea to seek light rims that nevertheless meet your needs for durability and aesthetics.

How to check rims for wear

As with all car parts, anyone investing in used car wheel rims should take the time to check for dents, scratches, tears and other signs of wear before handing their money over.  As ever, if you’re not sure how to replace the current part, then take the time to consult an expert: you don’t want your wheels to come rolling off whilst you’re driving on the M4.

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