Alloy vs. Steel Rims | Everything You Need To Know

We usually see them in car brochures: alloy wheels, chrome mags, and steel rims. Yes, all of them are metals, and they look very similar when viewed from afar. But if you look will closer, you’ll see that the chrome’s shinier, the alloy ones are lighter, and steel wheels are more substantial. Aside from that, they also have a lot of pros and cons, and you should consider these factors based on the kind of environment and lifestyle that you have at the moment.

So, which one is the best for you? Here’s a complete guide on how to choose the right tyre for your vehicle:

Should I Get Steel Rims?

Pros

Perfect for 4WD vehicles

You’re a person who loves to head out to forests and test your car’s ability in rough terrain.

So, they are great for 4WD trips. Steel wheels are the most durable ones of the bunch, and they can take the rough blows with relative ease. Cracking a steel wheel is nearly impossible.

You can get the most of your money

Steel tyres are generally 70 to 80 per cent less costly than alloy wheels, so they’re relatively inexpensive to replace.

Great performance

Steel isn’t as flashy as alloy or steel. But what it lacks for that flashiness, it more than compensates for in durability and reliability on the road. Remember: they’re very tough, which makes them highly resistant to the constant wear-and-tear that many daily commuters usually experience on the way.

Cons

Not useful in very humid or harsh environment

It is also true if you live close to the sea because steel can rust easily. You’ll fare better if you live in places where humidity is lower.

Fuel efficiency can take a hit

Although steel is durable, it is very heavy, so it can significantly add to your vehicle’s overall weight. According to the Department of Energy (US), “the per cent of fuel consumption affected is connected to the weight and size of the vehicle.” It means that the engine will use up more fuel or gas to make the vehicle move.

Speed can be reduced

It is again due to their heaviness compared to alloy and chrome. In simple terms, a more substantial vehicle would make it move at a slower pace.

Your vehicle’s maneuverability can be affected

If you’re a person who loves to make impressive stunts and complicated maneuvers with your car to impress other people, then you’ll encounter several issues if you’re using steel tyres.

Not ideal for high-performance cars

It can affect your car’s agility on the road, making it more challenging to manoeuver. These tyres are not for you if you’re into high-performance vehicles.

Not designed for large wheels

Steel wheels are usually only available in some sizes. A lot of them are 16-inch size rims or lower. It means you cannot downsize to a set of steel wheels on high-performance vehicles and larger vehicles.

Should I Get Alloy Rims?

Pros

Good for fuel efficiency

Alloy tyres are lighter–and if you use aluminium alloy, then they are even fairly buoyant. So, these are the best tyres to use if you want to make your fuel efficiency better without affecting your car’s speed and performance.

Very customizable

Alloy wheels are significantly more malleable compared to steel, meaning they can be moulded and shaped in more sizes and shapes.

Good for heavy braking

Alloy, which is made by combining one or more metals with non-metallic elements, transfer heat more efficiently than steel. It means it can take a more massive braking load without warping or damaging your car’s brakes.

Perfect for high-performance, high-speed vehicles.

Aluminium, which is the base of many of these alloys, is considerably lighter compared to steel. It allows them to give a higher performance in almost every most condition. Aside from that, their lighter frame adds less strain on your vehicle’s suspension. It will also allow for faster acceleration without wasting gas.

Usually has a more refined and subdued look.

Polished alloys have more refined and subdued look compared to chrome. They are perfect for drivers who like a classier–or a more traditional–appearance on their wheels.

Also, alloy wheels offer more advanced styling finishes than the steel ones. They can be polished when they become dull, and they can even be chromed, painted, and machined, depending on your preferences. Really, what else can you ask for?

Cons

Not very affordable

Alloy wheels can get relatively expensive, especially if you customise it.

Not great for 4WD vehicles

Alloy is much more pliable than other metals like steel and chrome. This factor makes it the least candidate to handle challenging, off-road driving–especially those that involve rocky terrain.

Needs a lot of maintenance

Alloy steel is more susceptible to wear-and-tear, even in city driving. They are also more likely to crack and break when enough force is applied to them. Also, polished alloys need to be cleaned and polished more often since their wheels are not plated.

Not as durable as steel rims

Alloy wheels usually bend and crack more often compared to steel wheels when it encounters a significant blow on the road. It’s also more likely to get cosmetic damage since they’re more malleable than steel.

Bonus: Should I Get Chrome Rims?

Pros

Cheaper than other rims

Chrome wheels usually are affordable–and some are even cheaper than alloy tyres. Although it depends on that store that you’re buying it from. Also, you’ll save a lot if you’ve done your research before buying one to find the best options.

Very attractive

These wheels have a distinct ‘pizazz’ to them, and they’re an absolute head-turner because of their mirror-like sheen. It’s a great option to make your vehicle look a lot cooler and hipper like the ‘bling-bling’ you see dangling (and almost suffocating) ‘gangsta’ rappers.

Perfect for harsh environments

The chrome layer acts as a protective coating for your wheel. This layer also lessens the oxidation process and prevents rust from forming on the surface.

Can turn heads

Chrome-plated wheels have a mirror-like and brilliant sheen that gets attention even from afar. So, expect people to do double (or triple) takes when you’re driving around town.

Perfect for off-road driving.

Chrome wheels are more durable because they’re electroplated with several layers of metal. They can survive rugged terrain far better than alloy tyres.

Cons

Needs a lot of cleaning

Chrome wheels tend to flake off if you don’t maintain it properly. So, it’s essential to wash them off and polish them regularly to avoid brake dust and salt residue from forming on the surface. Remember: if you don’t periodically clean off these impurities, then they will accumulate over time. Also, they can be challenging to remove once they settle there.

The good news that it’s relatively easy to clean your chrome tyres. Only use a pressure nozzle or hose in rinsing. You’ll need to do this once every week (do it more often if you live near the sea), but it’s well worth the effort if you want to keep their shine.

Can affect speed

Chrome is a plating process that needs the application of several layers of metals (usually nickel and copper) to the base metal. After that, it is followed by chrome plating. So, all these layers contribute significantly to the weight, which affects your vehicle’s acceleration and performance on the road.

What’s the Strength Difference Between Cast, Flow formed, and Forged Wheels?

Alloy wheels are typically manufactured through three different processes: flow formed, cast, and forged. So, we’ll go through the difference between manufacturing processes and some pros and cons of each kind of wheel.

Cast Wheels

Casting aluminium wheels is the most common manufacturing process for alloy wheels on the market. These wheels are made by melting aluminium and pouring it (or drawing it into a vacuum) to a mould that forms the desired wheel shape. The aluminium cools, and then it is drilled, and trimmed to create the final wheel. This process of casting a wheel is more straightforward and less expensive than other methods. But the process of allowing the molten aluminium to solidify can cause porosity. It occurs when there are inconsistencies in the material structure, which can lead to cracking and the overall reduction in the wheel’s integrity. Because of porosity, to ensure a cast wheel can be more durable, manufacturers have to use more material, which leads to heavier wheels.

The main benefit of a cast wheel is they are relatively inexpensive. The disadvantage of a cast wheel is the failure point. Cast wheels usually crack under extreme stress and have impressive failures on track. The porosity of the alloy also allows the casting to breaking away. It can be a bad thing when you are driving around, and it can cause significant damage, both to your wheel and car. But what’s worse is it can cause a collision that will damage you.

Cast wheels are meant to be used for a lower load rating and are built to have 500 treadwear tyres on them. If you put a slick tyre on a cast wheel with a heavy car, you can break a cast wheel.

Flow Formed Wheels

Flow forming is a process that is a notch higher than cast wheels. This process is also known as forged hybrid or flow forged. The reality is the “forged” part about these wheels is debatable. It is really a misnomer and should not be used (but is typically used by brands who want to evoke a sense of strength in their product). But flow forming does have its advantages to increase strength in the aluminium. This process allows wheel manufactures to utilise less material, so it leads to the creation of lighter wheels.

The flow forming process is just like any other cast wheel. But the die for the barrel part of the wheel is narrower than the final wheel will be. Once the cast is built, the unfinished wheel is put on a machine. After this, the wheel is heated to over 400 degrees Celsius and then spun. A spinning disc contracts the wheel and widens its barrel, forming its final shape and width. This process of applying heat and pressure helps strengthen the aluminium in the barrel portion of the wheel.

The trick to making sure a set of flow formed wheels are good enough to use for performance driving with sticky tyres is the load rating. If you don’t see a load rating indicated, or it isn’t stamped on the wheel, you really shouldn’t use them for racing. Also, you need to make sure your vehicle and tyres do not go beyond the load rating capacity of the wheel.

Forged Wheels

Forged wheels are durable, and they are light, but those amenities come with a price. But when get to know the process and the materials used to make them, it makes sense why these wheels have such a considerable asking price. While forging, it usually uses 6061 aluminium. After that, it is forged to gain grain flow or a point where 30-35% of the material can be used. By doing so, manufacturers can save on weight. Most manufacturers start with one block of aluminium, and these are forged for strength. 

After the forging process, manufacturers put the wheel blank in a lathe and begins spinning. The wheel starts at about 100 lbs, then they turn it and reduce it to around 45-50 lbs. Then they put it in a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) mill, and they cut it again to approximately 19.5 pounds for an 18-inch wheel. A lot of forged material is slashed to create a durable wheel.

This process creates a wheel that is lightweight but has a high load rating. The load rating for each racing wheel is at 2,100 pounds. Why load rating is essential is due to the forces acting on the wheel, depending on the tyres used. So, if you had a wheel rated at 1,000 lbs and put on a 200 lbs treadwear tyre, then that wheel is only suitable for about 800 pounds. If you put a Hoosier tyre on that wheel, it would only be good for about 700 pounds. It is a problem when you have four wheels (700 lbs x 4 = 2,800 lbs) on a car that weighs around 3,500 lbs. With forged wheels rated at 2,100 pounds each, they can handle the stickiest tyres on the market.

The forging process, which creates a high load rating, aids the wheel during a collision. So, if a forged wheel crashes on a wall, it will bend. It is different from a cast or flow formed wheel, which has granular aluminium, so if the wheels hit a wall, they will break -which means their failure mode is catastrophic. 

Even though a forged wheel is more robust, it is still a wearable item. But wheels don’t last forever, they are designed with a triangle concept: strength, weight, and longevity. Manufacturers can make a strong and heavy wheel that lasts forever, or they can make a more manageable one that is not as durable but will only last for three years. So, there is a fine line to balance the trade-off for any wheel. These items often encounter wear and tear, and it’s not crucial if it is cast, flow-formed, or forged, they’ll fail eventually. 

Related Questions

Are Steel Wheels Better Than Aluminum?

Steel wheels are made with a combination of carbon and iron. They are more substantial, but they’re more durable and can be easier to repair and refinish. Steel wheels are generally less expensive than aluminium wheels. Here’s a breakdown comparing the characteristics of the two-wheel material choices.

Are Steel Rims Better For Winter?

Steel rims are often recommended with winter tyres – instead of the aluminium wheels that can be bought from the OEM or aftermarket for almost any vehicle. Aluminium wheels tend to contract more in colder temperatures, which can cause inconsistent tyre pressure, as well as allowing air to leak over time.

Will Alloy Rims Rust?

Technically speaking, alloy wheels don’t rust. They can corrode, but it is not similar to rusting. Instead of the brownish-orange rust colour, you get white stains. Most stock alloy wheels are polished and have a protective finish that is designed to prevent corrosion.

Why Do Rims Rust?

The strength of the wheel and rim parts are compromised if the contact surfaces develop rust and corrosion. Oxygen, air, and moisture can destroy steel wheels, but they can also cause a chemical reaction with rubber. With this kind of corrosion, small particles of rust and dust can break off and clog valve cores, which causes them to leak.

What Are The Usual Forging Defects?

Types of forging defects include unfilled section, cold shut, scale pits, die shaft, flakes, improper grain growth, incomplete forging penetration, surface cleaning, and residual stresses in forging.

Can You Fix Peeling Chrome Rims?

Use a wire brush or soft steel wool to remove the paint in the part it’s chipping or peeling. After that, rinse the area and make sure to dry it. Paint the affected area with spray paint with rust-resistance, and once that dries, you can cover it with a layer of silicone-based wheel sealant for added protection.

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