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Custom Wheels 101: The Basics

Custom Wheels 101: The Basics – Part 2

If you are just entering the world of custom off-road wheels, there are lots of things that you need to know before buying a set for your truck, SUV, Jeep or 4x4 vehicle. I will try to guide you through the basic steps for selecting the perfect wheel for your vehicle.

  1. FINISH – Before you start looking through the thousands of styles of custom wheels out there, start to narrow your choices by deciding what finish you prefer or will work best for you. There are many finishes available so let’s break them down for you. 
    1. Chrome – Bright and shining. A pain to take care of especially if you live in an area that uses salt and chemicals on the road in the winter. If you live in such an area, I would advise against chrome wheels. Guaranteed you will end up with rusted or pitted wheels and neither of these problems are warrantable. Another problem with chrome wheels is that brake dust will eat at the finish also. Once again, not a warrantable issue. If your vehicle is mostly used for shows or rarely driven in bad conditions and you like the brilliance of chrome, this could be the wheel for you if you don’t mind a little polishing.
    2. Polished Aluminum – Everything that I said about the chrome wheel applies here also, very high maintenance and very susceptible to salt, brine and brake dust. Another little know issue with polished wheels is that the chemicals in a car wash can spot and discolor the finish unless you immediately dry them off. The one good thing about a polished wheel is that with a lot of aluminum polish and a lot of elbow grease, you can usually bring back an aluminum wheel from the grave.
    3. Powder coat – When you see a wheel that is colored (black, red, bronze, gold, blue, etc.), chances are that it is powder coated. Powder coated wheels come in many colors as well as a combination of color and machined or milled that lets the aluminum show through creating two tone finish such as Black & Machines, Black & Milled, Red & Milled etc. Powder coated wheels are the easiest to take care of as well as the toughest against salt and chemicals. These wheels are very easy to take care of. The wheels that have machining or milling on them are normally clear coated and can be washed just like the rest of the vehicle with no special care needed. Anodized wheels also fall into this category.   
    4. Painted – Steel wheels are about the only wheels left that are actually finished with an automotive type of paint. These are susceptible to scratches and chips but are easily touched up or even repainted 

The next step in choosing a wheel is the size that you want. The two parts to choosing a wheel size is diameter and width, both of which have their advantages and disadvantages.

Diameter: Diameter is the first part in a wheel size, This is basically the size of the hole in the tire. Vehicles come in a variety of OEM wheel sizes. You can choose to stay with the size that the vehicle came with or you can go up in size. Going to a larger diameter wheel is commonly called “Plus Sizing”.

Switching to a larger diameter wheel can affect quite a few things and can also result in problems.

  1. Road Handling: The larger the wheel diameter, the smaller the sidewall of the tire. Shorter sidewalls can be a benefit to the way your vehicle handles during a turn because the shorter sidewall does not “roll” as much as a tire with a taller sidewall so you have a less sway going around a turn.
  2. Looks: Some people like to see more sidewall, some like to see more wheel. The larger the diameter of the wheel, the shorter the sidewall becomes. 
  3. Wheel Damage: One disadvantage of a larger diameter wheel is that the wheel becomes more susceptible to damage when hitting potholes, rocks, etc. The shorter sidewall of the tire offers less protection to the wheel.
  4. Stiffer Ride: The larger diameter wheel also results in a stiffer ride because there is less sidewall to absorb the shock. Less wheel and more sidewall on the tire will result in a better ride.
  5. Weight: Larger wheels weigh more than smaller diameter wheels. The heavier combination of a large diameter wheel and tire can overpower an OEM suspension. The springs and shocks on the vehicle were designed to be used with the tire and wheel combination that was on the vehicle from the factory. You may need to upgrade your shocks and suspension to accommodate the added weight.  

Width: The current tread is to use the widest wheel possible resulting in the tire sticking way out past the fenders. While some love the looks of these wide wheels, there are many disadvantages and safety concerns when going past the reasonable limits. To keep the tires under (or close to) the vehicle, an 8- 9” wheel is usually the best choice. The 8 to 9” wheels are usually close to having the center of the wheel close to a neutral offset meaning that there is as much of the wheel sticking out and there is sticking in under the vehicle. 10” wide wheels and larger have deeper lips and more of the wheel starts hanging out past the fenders. The wider the wheel, the farther the wheel and tire will stick out past the fenders. Here are some disadvantages to wider wheels.

  1. Handling – The wider the wheel, the more the rotating mass gets pushed out away from the vehicle, putting more stress on the bearings, brakes, tie rods and other suspension components than the manufacturer intended. This can result in shaking, vibrations, wandering and other issues especially on IFS (Independent Front Suspension) vehicles. 
  2. Clearance Issues - Wider wheels can also cause clearance issues with bumpers, fenders, and suspension components. If you don’t mind cutting bumpers and sheet metal, this won’t be a problem.
  3. A Clean Truck – If you choose to go the wide wheel route, say goodbye to a clean truck. You will have anything on the road thrown up on the side of your truck unless you put on a set of fender flares that cover them up.
  4. The Police – Many states have laws against a tire sticking out past your fenders. Do you really want to invest your money in paying tickets? 

Whether or not you are willing to makes these sacrifices for the look of a wider wheel will be a choice that you will have to make.