Some drivers spend quite a good amount of money on alloy wheels for their cars. Is it all about looks, or is there a technical reason behind it?
Steel and alloy wheels are the two most common types of wheels used in cars. There are a few other types like carbon fibre as well, but those are quite rare. The main differences between alloy and steel wheels lie in their durability, strength and appearance.
Lower-priced new cars, and many older cars, come standard with wheels made from steel. Steel is the metal of choice for most parts of a car, as it is cheap and can be made into different shapes quite easily. So it has always been an obvious choice to use for wheels. But more and more cars are now equipped with wheels made from alloys, which are stronger and lighter than steel, and improve the appearance of the car.
Advantages of alloy wheels
Alloy wheels are made of an alloy of light metals, namely aluminium, nickel, magnesium, or a combination of these metals. They offer performance advantages over steel wheels, as they are often several pounds lighter per wheel - less weight means quicker acceleration and faster stopping. Less weight also means less strain on suspension components. In extreme driving conditions, alloy wheels are better able to dissipate heat away from brake components than their steel counterparts.
Benefits of steel wheels
First off, alloy wheels - particularly forged aluminium alloys - are more expensive than steel wheels, mainly because of differences in production techniques. Steel wheels are also more easily repaired than alloys, as steel can often be hammered back into place when bent. On the other hand, alloy wheels tend to break or crack more easily under impact than their steel counterparts.
Visual differences are, for many drivers, the primary factor in whether to purchase steel or alloy wheels. Alloys are more conducive to complex styling of the wheel itself and improve the overall looks of the car.
So should you go for alloy or steel wheels? It's not as simple as making a choice between 'this' or 'that'. A buyer needs to weigh the pros and cons of both types and take personal preferences and the vehicle's needs into consideration before deciding on the best option.