The wheel has been an engineering marvel since it was invented some 5,500 years ago. Without the wheel we would not be able to transport large amounts of goods or travel long distances. Although the wheel seems like primitive technology it was an ingenious design which shaped the evolution of man kind. We have all heard the saying “stop trying to reinvent the wheel” and it makes sense, however making the wheel stronger, lighter, and more visually appealing has been the focal point of aftermarket wheel companies for nearly 50 years.
Some of the most popular wheels today are made by companies that have nearly half a century of manufacturing under their belts. Companies such as BBS, Work Wheels, OZ Racing, and HRE all started manufacturing wheels in the 70’s. I have a certain nostalgia for thinking about the posters I used to hang on my wall as a child and seeing the same wheels on present day cars. With new designs being available on what seems to be a daily basis there is something special about seeing the originals where the inspiration came from.
Top Wheel Manufacturers
BBS was started in 1970 and stands for Baumgartner Brand Schiltach. In 1972 an innovative 3-piece wheel design was engineered which strongly positioned the company in the motorsports sector. BBS went public in 1980 and currently has subsidiaries in Japan, USA, and Italy. BBS celebrated its 25th anniversary around the same time that Michael Schumacher won the Formula 1 World Championship for the second time while using BBS wheels. BBS is considered one of the premier wheel companies in the world with original designs and a proven track record.
If you’ve ever been to a car show you should be familiar with Work Wheels. This high-end Japanese wheel manufacturer has been around since 1977 under the name Work Equip. Their most notable for their Work Meister and Work Equip line of wheels.
OZ Racing has been a staple in high end wheels for over 40 years. Established in 1971 OZ Racing offers applications for F1, Indy, DTM, and rally cars. OEM and standard aftermarket applications are available. Continual victories in circuit racing will ensure that OZ Racing distinguishes itself as an industry leader.
HRE Wheels started in 1979 and have been a staple on super cars since. Their manufacturing process and ingenuity is second to none and offers some of the strongest forged wheels on the market. HRE is known for their original designs which they have started re manufacturing under their Vintage Series name.
Is it Rims or Wheels?
Wheels are made of a hub, spokes, and a rim. Many people will call a wheel a rim. However, the rim is just one of the components of a wheel. The hub attaches the wheel to the car, while the spokes run from the hub to the rim. The rim is actually the outer part of the wheel where the tire is held. There are different types of wheels and we will touch base on the different offerings below.
The one piece cast aluminum wheel is the most common wheel found on the market. These are made by molten aluminum being poured into a mold to form the entire wheel; including the hub, spokes, and rim. Gravity casting is a popular form of wheel manufacturing which uses gravity to fill the mold. These wheels are usually a bit heavier to ensure they are strong enough for daily use. Low pressure casting is usually a bit more expensive than gravity casting and is the most common form of one piece wheel manufacturing. With low pressure casting positive pressure is used to move the molten aluminum faster thus creating a much more dense cast wheel. High pressure can also be used however it is more expensive. With a high pressure cast you get a much lighter and stronger wheel compared to low pressure casting.
Gravity casting, low, and high pressure casting wheels are usually on the lower side of the price spectrum. If you’re looking for strength and weight reduction the following may be more up your alley. Flow forming uses a low pressure formed wheel which in turn is placed on a machine which spins and heats the casting to shape the wheel. The wheel is then pulled to its final shape using steel rollers which strengthens the wheel and keeps the pricing lower than a forged wheel. A forged wheel will be stronger and lighter than any of the aforementioned manufacturing processes. A solid billet of aluminum is forced between dies under pressure. Strength, density, and weight savings are the primary benefits of a forged wheel however the price is drastically higher than the rest.
A multi-piece wheel uses two or three pieces to construct the entire wheel. Different types of manufacturing can be used for the centers or faces of the wheel with cast and forged being the most prevalent. The rim section of the wheel is spun out of a disk of aluminum. The face of the wheel is bolted onto the rim and attached to the barrel using silicone. The barrel is the widest part of the wheel and the final piece in a three piece wheel. Multi piece wheels offer the customer to create a custom wheel as far as width, offset, and size is concerned. Two piece wheels are typically less expensive however cannot be customized as much as a three piece wheel. There are two types of two piece wheels, the first have the faces bolted into a cast while others are pressed into the rim section and welded together. Higher end two piece wheels use a forged rims and faces however the price is significantly higher.
Wheel hardware allows the face of the wheel and lip to come together. The most common types of wheels have wither 32 or 40 bolts that keep the face from falling off the lip. These are usually small specialty bolts with a nut in the back that holds the two pieces together. Certain wheels have exposed hardware (bolts are seen on the face of the wheel) while others have hidden hardware (bolts cannot be seen and offers a more modern look).
Offset is very tough to explain without reference to the picture below. Offset is essentially the distance measured from the centerline of the wheel, less the measurement of the back space. Back space is the measurement from the inside wheel rim, to the inside of the hub. Centerline is measured from the inside of the rim of the wheel to the center of the wheel. Take a glance at the image for a little while and try to make sense of it. Just understand that the lower the positive offset, the further the wheel will stick out.
Here’s a good example, lets say your offset is a positive 45mm. if you were to add a 10 mm spacer (covered in the topic below) your offset would be 35mm and your wheel would now stick out further away from the car by 10mm. You do not have to totally understand the concept of offset but just understand that while you can reduce offset by adding a spacer, you cannot add offset.
Willtheyfit.com is a great tool to figure out the proper fitment for a wheel and tire setup. You can input your specific specs to see exactly what your new setup will look like.
Wheel spacers are used on cars to push the wheel further out of the wheel well. The reason most people use spacers is to make the rim of the wheel as close to being flush with an imaginary line drawn from the fender to the ground. In some cases people use spacers to push their wheel even farther past this, it is commonly referred to as an aggressive set up. Wheel spacers are available in sizes ranging from 3mm all the way up to 30mm plus. Using wheel spacers also requires you to run longer bolts. If you are adding a 15mm spacer you must use a bolt which is 15mm longer than stock. You would need at least 6 full turns of the lug bolt to safely run any kind of spacer and wheel combination.
Wheel adapters allow you to change the bolt pattern on your wheels. If you’re car is a stock 5×112 you can get an adapter to run different bolt patterns such as 5×130. Adapters are usually thick with the smallest being about 15mm. Essentially it is a wheel spacer as well.
Audi and Volkwagens usually come with lug bolts rather than lug nuts. The good part about having a lug nut is the fact that you can run spacers simply by using longer lug nuts. Putting the wheels on can be a little more difficult however wheel hangers help make it a bit easier. There are two types of lug bolts, conical and ball seat. Ball seat are usually used on stock wheels while cone seat are usually for aftermarket wheels. These do vary.
Tires come in 5 measurements, lets break down each one assumed a 235/35/19 90-Z tire is being talked about:
235 – is simply a measurement of width in millimeters and is the width of the a tire (the part that has the tread)
35 – is a percentage of the 235 number, and represents the sidewall of the tire (example, 35 % of 235 is 82.25mm and that is the length of the sidewall) this is a proportional number and its very important that you understand the difference that a side wall number is a percentage, and a width number is a direct measurement
19 – represents the rim size the tire is made for and is measured in inches, (this tire would be used on a 19 inch rim)
90 – is the load rating, not talked about as much as the above 3 are but still important, the load rating measures how much weight each tire can hold. Proper load rating can be determined by a phone call to tire rack…again this is to get the user familiar with what is involved….im not going to spoon feed this you must do some work
Z – is the speed rating. This is measured by a consonant and not a number, each letter dictates the speed that which is safe to drive the tire up to….this should be painfully obvious that if a car is rated to over 160mph that you drive that fast….it just means that the tire will safely run at those speeds and not break down and fall apart.
Tyrestretch.com is a website which can help you get a visual as to what a certain size tire will look like on a specific wheel. Users submit photos of their setup creating a visual library of all different sizes.
Camber is the angle in which your tires rest, meaning if you were to take off your wheel and roll it on the ground you would notice that it makes a perpendicular angle with the ground, a 90 degree angle. Camber involves tilting the wheel on its side, positive camber would be having the wheel tilted away from your car. Negative camber would have the wheel tilted towards the car.
By angling the wheels or tilting them in towards the car you are helping more the tire hit the ground. You will notice that without camber, if you are very low to the ground that the insides of your tires will wear out faster then the outside. Adjusting camber will even out the tire wear and should be considered when trying to go as low as 24.5 inches fender to ground.
In addition the negative camber will help against rubbing by having the wheel tilted and during a bump in the road the wheel/tire will be angled and therefore clear the outside fender easier this way.
When you’re in the market for wheels you want to make sure that you’re purchasing a quality product that won’t bend or crack when it hits a pothole. Although even the strongest wheels can be damaged after hitting a highway crater knowing what you’re buying and the standards that were met during the production phase will help you sleep better at night.
When you look on the inside cast of a wheel you may see a few letters that may puzzle you. Why would a wheel company stand random letters on the inside of the wheel? These are certifications that let us know the quality of the wheel we are purchasing. If your wheels are blank on the inside they are probably sub par in the quality department.
ISO 9001:2000 Certification
International Service Organization (ISO) is a worldwide organization that sets technical standards for testing and quality purposes for various international industries. ISO 9001:2000 is the latest quality management system for businesses. It basically creates a unique structure, development and implementation of a QMS in order to increase the quality of business transactions, quality and customer satisfaction.
Japanese wheels must have a “JWL” logo on the wheel and “JWL” (Japan Light Wheel Alloy) is a compilation of standards defined by the Japanese Government to ensure the vehicle’s safety for aluminum road wheels. Every wheel put to market must be tested to meet JWL standards before a wheel can be put out to market in Japan. These standards are generally accepted worldwide as acceptable for most road conditions. That is why you will see these marks on European and other Asian country wheels.
Vehicle Inspection Association (VIA) is a third-party group in Japan which can test and verify whether or not any alloy wheels can meet JWL certification standards.
JAWA Quality Certificate
Since 1995, JAWA has introduced the “JAWA Quality Certificate” system to protect and develop consumer confidence in wheel safety and quality. The certificate guarantees that all products qualify to the JWL and JWL-T light alloy disc wheel standards approved by Japanese government.
A third-party entity called the Vehicle Inspection Association verifies whether a product meets the requirements prescribed by the JWL or JWL-T standard. This association permits a product to bear a VIA mark if it passes rigorous quality and strength verification tests conducted in accordance with the JWL or JWL-T standard.
Technischer Uberwachungs-Verien (TUV) (Technical Examination Association) in Germany. This is another third-party testing group which began in Germany and now has locations worldwide. The TUV Certification is the highest performance and durability standard any product can hope to meet. To even be considered for testing, all companies must first be ISO 9001:2000.
Since it is rather costly to obtain the both ISO 9001 and the TUV certs, most aftermarket companies have JWL, JAWA, & VIA certs, and will make sure their wheels MEET TUV cert standards, without officially having them.
When it comes to wheel care simply cleaning the wheel may not always be enough. If you have three piece or two piece wheels you may have a raw aluminum lip which will require periodic polishing. A good metal polish such as Mothers Aluminum Polish will ensure that your lips look like a mirror.
Sealing a wheel will make cleaning them much easier as well. A sealant will or wheel wax will provide a thin layer of protection on your wheels and keep grime from “sticking” to them. Just like waxing a cars paint sealant and wax will keep them shiny and cleaner for longer periods of time.
Powder coating is the most favorable way to “paint” your wheels. Powder coating is the process of using a gun to apply a electrostatic charge to the powder particles which in turn is attracted to the grounded metal. The powder is then cured under heat and creates a thicker layer than paint without any runoff. Powder coating should be done by professionals with years of experience to ensure that the compound composition is not changed in the heating process. Espos Powder Coating in Staten Island, New York is a premier powder coating shop that will ensure that all of your powder coating needs are met to the highest standards.
Wheels have become more than rollers, more than something that plants the car on the ground and allows it to go. Wheels aren’t just something you put a tire on, they are engineered to be stronger, lighter, and more visually appealing than their predecessors. Wheels have become a work of art that can completely transform the look of your car, which the right suspension of course.