Looking for the ultimate performance upgrade? One that delivers on all fronts? Aftermarket wheels have a huge say in how your car handles, the speeds it can reach, and how it comes to a stop. They also allow you to slap on bigger tyres for more cornering grip. But, besides the performance and handling aspects, a good set of wheels can also inject some style. With so many options, and prices ranging from dirt cheap to outright ridiculous, choosing may be the hardest part.
Why Upgrade Your Wheels?
Your factory wheels might be fine for everyday driving, but aftermarket choices add something extra. They’re better made, handle superbly, and look the part. Here’s a more detailed list of what’s on offer.
Improved Handling, Faster Acceleration and Better Braking
You want a new set of car wheels because of the huge bump in performance they provide, especially when compared to cheap factory options like steel wheels. Aftermarket wheels are significantly lighter, allowing the car to accelerate faster and reach higher speeds. Their higher strength also aids in handling, especially when negotiating high-speed corners and turns, keeping the car stable and poised. The confidence-inspiring steering feel here is just a welcome by-product.
Moreover, there’s added thought into designs and how they dissipate heat, so braking components like discs and pads can bring the car to stop faster and at a shorter distance. All this can be further improved with the higher grip and traction when pairing performance wheels with similarly capable tyres. In a word, you get a car that’s faster, safer and more fun to drive.
Strength, Durability and Looks
The higher you go up the price range, the better the car wheels are made. Here different production processes retain more strength in the metal alloys, meaning no warping or cracking when pushed or hitting potholes with the acceleration pedal flat out. Additionally, the choice of metals and the use of coatings means no rusting and spoiling their looks. This is an area where only imagination is the limit and you can find wheels in thousands of designs, different spoke count, and countless colour combos. The wide variety here lets you pair the look you like with any type of car regardless of age or power output.
Aluminium or Magnesium?
These are the two options when it comes to materials. Aluminium alloys are low-cost, widely available, have high tensile strength and are lightweight. This makes them ideal for street use. Most are made from 6061 T6 alloy, which is also anodised to prevent rusting and combined with trace metals (magnesium, copper and silicon alloys) to increase strength.
Magnesium wheels (or mags) are significantly lighter (read: faster), deal better with heat for improved braking, and are ideal for track use. They do have their shortcomings though. Mags are more brittle than aluminium wheels, so won’t hold up when repetitively potholed or kerbed, are much harder to find, and are out of reach for most car owners due to higher price tags. Choosing between the two materials then is often a matter of how much you’re willing to spend and where you’ll be doing most of the driving.
How They’re Made
Both types of car wheels can be made using different production processes. The options here are between cast, flow-formed and forged wheels with each setting you back different amounts of cash and providing varied performance.
Cast wheels are made by pouring molten aluminium into a mould to form the desired wheel shape, and then machining it once it’s cooled. They offer decent strength for street and light track use, higher malleability, meaning more intricate designs, and are very affordable. Move up to flow-formed wheels for more hardness and tensile strength. This process involves applying pressure and heat to a pre-cast wheel while it spins on a mandrel. Flow-formed wheels shed considerable weight over cast types, manage higher speeds and stresses with more aplomb, and will last longer in spirited driving. They’re the performance proposition without the exorbitant cost.
This is reserved for forged or monoblock aftermarket wheels. Their high cost is down to their exceptional strength while also being the lightest option. Forging involves applying huge amounts of pressure to a single piece of metal (hence the name). then rolling of the wheel disc, heat treating for additional strength, and then machining it to perfection. This is a labour-intensive process that adds to the end cost, but results in a considerably lighter, stronger car wheel, reserved for the track.
If this is not enough, forged wheels can additionally be found in 2 and 3-piece types. These allow changes to parameters like the offset to suit different road surfaces and widths when fitting tyres in different profiles. They also help by reducing the costs of any sustained damage, as parts can easily be swapped out. A good choice if you do a lot of track work.
Sizing, Fitment and Buying Considerations
Wheels are sold in diameters ranging from 13 to 22 inches and widths from 6 to 11 inches. The wide variety means you can find something that fits every car and the ability to go with tyres that work best for the driving and weather conditions. If you find a design you like, additionally check for the bolt arrangement or PCD, Wheels either have 4 or 5 holes for the bolts, spaced out between 100 and 120mm. They can also differ in offset or ET, or how far out or in they are from the street. This affects how they look, just ensure if you go for a “dished” look that they fit in the arches. When buying, set a budget (for all fours), find a design that suits the car, and choose from a respected brand.