5 years ago
All Wheels Are Round. Or Are They?
Though not enforced, there are quality standards to govern the production of wheels. Some countries though, like Germany
and Japan, have government regulations requiring aftermarket wheels to meet certain criteria and ensure proper fit. The
United States has taken steps to establish guidelines but it will be some time before they can enact regulation of any kind.
Consequently, all wheels are not made the same. The performance of an alloy wheel is a direct result of the manufacturing
The Tire Rack offers a wide range of wheel choices from manufacture's that have adopted the manufacturing processes that
meet the strict O.E.M. (Original Equipment manufacturers) requirements. Wheel companies that supply to the O.E.M. market
must follow certain procedures during the manufacturing process to maintain the quality and integrity of their product.
"...all wheels are not made the same. The performance of an alloy wheel is a direct result of the manufacturing technique employed."
There are many factors to consider when purchasing an alloy wheel.
What Is a Wheel and What Is a Rim? Are They the Same Thing?
It may seem obvious, but a wheel is comprised of a hub, spokes and rim. Sometimes these components will be one piece,
sometimes two or three. The hub is the center portion of the wheel and is what attaches the wheel to the suspension. The spokes
radiate out from the hub and attach to the rim. The rim is the outer part of the wheel that holds the tire. While many people refer to
wheels as "rims," this is technically incorrect. We'll discuss several ways that wheels are manufactured below.
One-Piece Cast Wheels
This is the most common type of aluminum wheel. The casting of wheels is the process of getting molten aluminum inside a mold
to form a wheel. There are different ways this can be accomplished and although it sounds simple, this is truly an art when done properly.
Gravity casting is the most basic process of pouring molten aluminum into a mold utilizing the earth's gravity to fill the mold. Gravity casting
offers a very reasonable production cost and is a good method for casting designs that are more visually oriented or when reducing weight
is not a primary concern. Since the process relies on gravity to fill the mold, the aluminum is not as densely packed in the mold as some
other casting processes. Often gravity cast wheels will have a higher weight to achieve the required strength.
Low Pressure Casting
Low pressure casting uses positive pressure to move the molten aluminum into the mold quicker and achieve a finished product that has
improved mechanical properties (more density) over a gravity cast wheel. There is a slightly higher production cost over gravity casting,
but low pressure casting is the most common process approved for aluminum wheels sold to the O.E.M. market. Some companies offer wheels
that are produced under a higher pressure in special casting equipment to create a wheel that is lighter and stronger than a wheel produced
in low pressure, but there's a higher cost associated with the process. Low pressure cast wheels offer a good value for the aftermarket while
still maintaining strength and a lighter weight.
Spun-Rim, Flow-Forming or Rim-Rolling Technology
This specialized process begins with a low pressure type of casting and uses a special machine that spins the initial casting, heats the outer
portion of the casting and then uses steel rollers pressed against the rim area to pull the rim to its final width and shape. The combination of
the heat, pressure and spinning create a rim area with the strength similar to a forged wheel without the high cost of the forging. Some of the
special wheels produced for the O.E.M. high performance or limited production vehicles utilize this type of technology resulting in a light and
strong wheel at a reasonable cost. O.Z. has used this technology for several years in their production of racing wheels for Formula One and
Indy cars. O.Z.'s Formula HLT wheel for the aftermarket is an example of a wheel produced using spun-rim technology.
High Light Technology (HLT)
The High Light Technology (HLT) process used in the manufacturing of select O.Z. Racing wheels uses rollers to compress and elongate the
material along the barrel of a low-pressure cast aluminum wheel to obtain the desired profile. This process, which is directly derived from
O.Z.'s experience in F1, produces wheels that are extremely light and strong.
The flow-forming process and the HLT technologies combine to create mechanical characteristics similar to those of a forged wheel. This permits
a dramatic reduction in wheel weight while enhancing structural rigidity vs. a standard cast wheel.
In forged wheels, computer numerically controlled (CNC) mills add the cosmetics and the bolt circle to exacting tolerances.
The ultimate in one-piece wheels. Forging is the process of forcing a solid billet of aluminum between the forging dies under an extreme
amount of pressure. This creates a finished product that is very dense, very strong and therefore can be very light. The costs of tooling,
development, equipment, etc., make this type of wheel very exclusive and usually demand a high price in the aftermarket.
This type of wheel utilizes two or three components assembled together to produce a finished wheel. Multi-piece wheels can use many different
methods of manufacturing. Centers can be cast in various methods or forged. The rim sections for 3-piece wheels are normally spun from disks
of aluminum. Generally, spun rim sections offer the ability to custom-tailor wheels for special applications that would not be available otherwise.
The rim sections are bolted to the center and normally a sealant is applied in or on the assembly area to seal the wheel. This type of 3-piece
construction was originally developed for racing in the early 1970s and has been used on cars ever since. The 3-piece wheels are most popular
in the 17" and larger diameters.
There are now many options for 2-piece wheels in the market. The 2-piece wheel design does not offer as wide a range of application that a 3-piece
wheel allows; however, they are more common in the market and the prices start well below the average 3-piece wheel. Some 2-piece wheels have
the center bolted into a cast or cast/spun rim section and other manufacturers press centers into spun rim sections and weld the unit together. When
BBS developed a new 2-piece wheel to replace the previous 3-piece street wheel, they used the special rim-rolling technology
(originally developed for racing wheels) to give the rim section the weight and strength advantages similar to a forged rim. On the high-end of the 2-piece
wheel market you can find wheels using forged rims and forged centers. Since these are only sold in small volume and due to the high development
and production costs associated with the forging process, they tend to be on the high end of the price scale.