ThunderFox profile picture ThunderFox 7 years ago

On the Subject of Wheels

On the Subject of Wheels - General

Here is another weekly blog post: This time I’m going to talk about a subject that has been following me around since I ever got into cars… The subject of wheels!

For starters I would like to tell you a short story… When I first got my driver’s license, if I recall it correctly, changing the wheels was the very first thing I ever did to a car. Even before it was mine. It was actually on the very same car I drive daily today: My Punto. Back then, I had a spare set of alloys from a car that had been scrapped, and that’s the set of wheels I ended up fitting. After that, having the right set of wheels for the circumstance became sort of like changing the appropriate outfit for the occasion: from the stylish wheels I drive daily, to purpose-chosen wheels dedicated to trackdays or driving in the wet.

Form and Function

OZ Rally wheels on a Celica Gen. 6
OZ Rally wheels on a Celica Gen. 6

Wheels are as much an object of purpose, as they are an object of fashion. One could go so far as to say there are different schools of thought as to what wheels would suit each purpose.

You would find that a rally driver will always search for the sturdiest, most time proven wheels to fit to their car. At the same time, a circuit racer or track day enthusiast would be searching for wheels of proven quality, but with a greater level of attention to brake cooling and reduced weight.
But wheels are not only bought based on purpose: The stance crowd will most likely drool over an original set of BBS RS wheels (and to be fair, they do look pretty amazing), or maybe buy a set of wheels with the sole purpose of making their car look good. Whether it’s a very rare set of OZ Futuras, or the much cheaper Japan Racing wheel that can be had almost anywhere, everyone is looking for that one special set that fits their ride, and their dreams.

Quality Matters

Japan Racing JR11 on a Seat Leon
Japan Racing JR11 on a Seat Leon

One of the most debated issues about wheels, is their build quality. Are the wheels you want really good? And most importantly, are they suitable for the use you will be giving them?

Feedback on this subject also comes in as many flavours as you can get: From the cheaper brand owners who justify their choice with a “It hasn’t broken on me yet” to the die-hard fans of big name brands who say “BBS is master race; all else is absolute crap”.

Me, as I am an engineer by trade, tend to look on the objective side of things. Wheels, despite being original or “knock-offs” (that is, copies of pre-existing designs), can be usually asserted for quality issues.
First of all, one should check for the “VIA” and “JWL” logos on the wheels. These stamps guarantee that wheels have passed the strict tests they are required, comply to standards, and attest to their quality.
One other thing one should keep an eye out for, is the rating on the wheel. If I take a look at one of my trackday wheels (those are Rota Attacks by the way), it says they have a rating of 450kg. This means they will take up to that weight, per wheel, when being used. Always consider the weight of your car when buying wheels, but most importantly, consider that during turns, your car will shift most of it’s weight on top of the outer wheels. If you drive a lightweight car, it’s most likely not a problem. If you drive a heavier car, it may be a problem to use wheels rated lighter if you take your car to the track, or do any sort of sports driving.

In short, you should pay attention to the quality and characteristics of your wheels, and the use you will be giving them. All the rest is really a matter of taste: Buy the cheaper, prettier wheels, or go for something exotic to rack up some street cred. If you want to play it safe, go the OEM route: OEM wheels are always built to spec.

Style that Fits

Enkei RPF1 on a Mazda Miata (NB)
Enkei RPF1 on a Mazda Miata (NB)

So, now that I’ve covered the aspect of quality, I’m going to cover the aspect of style.
Not all wheels will fit okay to all cars, and more than technical spec, most of the time it is a matter of style. It’s not easy to make a new car look good with a 20 year old wheel design. At the same time, it’s not easy to make a 20 year old car look good with new wheels.

Some wheel designs I believe are timeless. Again, I will give the example of the BBS RS wheel. It’s still sold these days, if you’re fortunate enough to find them or build them from assorted parts. But it’s a very old design that will look good on almost any car. The Euro crowd will drool over them.
On the other hand, some wheel designs are cutting-edge and futuristic looking, and don’t look good on many cars. Picture an old car, like a boxy Golf MK2, and imagine it now with a set of shiny new wheels from a Golf MK7. It does not look good, does it? They were made to fit a newer design of car, and while they may look out of place nowadays in an old Golf, they will look right at home in the Golf MK7 for many years to come.

So, when choosing a set of wheels, browse around to see some examples of cars with them fitted. If possible, have a friend help you photoshop those wheels you want onto your car, or if you can do it yourself, ask someone you trust for their opinion on how it would look. It will reduce your possibility of regretting your choice after fitting them.

Don't oversize it!

Lenzo PDE on a Mazda 2
Lenzo PDE on a Mazda 2

Finally, there are the technical specifications that you must make sure to meet between the wheels and the car you own. The most obvious characteristics are the wheel diameter and PCD (that is, the bolt pattern). Most often overlooked, are other technicalities such as the center bore, width and offset.
The center bore can usually be corrected with spigot rings, provided that the center bore on the wheels is always larger than the center bore of the car. Take the Mazda 2 for example: It has a center bore of 54mm. Any wheel with a center bore greater than 54mm can be fitted, which means a wheel from a Volkswagen (57mm) would fit. But you would not be able to fit the Mazda wheels onto the Volkswagen.
Then there is the width and offset. You can play around with these, but only up to a point: If the wheel is too large and the offset too high, the wheel will interfere with the shocks or the body of the car. This is a concern especially on the front, where the wheel must ensure no interference in the whole turning range.
Then again, if the offset is too low and the wheel too wide, it will interfere on the wheel arches or poke out of the bodywork, which is not only dangerous but also illegal in most countries.
The width of your wheel should match the width of your tire. As a rule of thumb, I think the wheel should not be wider than the tire tread by more than around half an inch, and not narrower also by more than one and a half inches. This is because the mounting face of the tires is actually narrower than the thread. Stretching tires over too narrow or too wide wheels may cause the bead to break, and eventually will cause an accident as well.

So be sure to choose the right wheel to fit your car, and avoid dangerous situations. It’s not uncommon for failure to happen when the wheels and suspension are under the most stress!

To top it all off...

949Racing 6UL on a Honda Civic EG
949Racing 6UL on a Honda Civic EG

… you should really do as you please regarding the wheels you choose, as long as you ensure that:

  • They meet the minimum criteria for quality
  • They are rated for your car’s weight and the use you will give them
  • They fit your car correctly and safely

Now go and buy new wheels for your car. Never mind the guys saying they should be as cheap as you can get them. Never mind the guys saying only big brand wheels are good and the rest is crap. Just get what you really are looking for and suits your needs!

Just to top it off, I have read and heard countless stories of people complaining and criticizing wheels like Rotas, only to see them using 6ULs which, in older versions, don’t even have proper approvals and are known to crack under stress. There are also countless stories on the web saying “buy the real thing, the fakes crack/break/whatever” but this is also not true: Given a catastrophic condition such as hitting a pothole or losing control of your car into a ditch, any wheel, even the most expensive or the sturdiest OEM wheel, can break.

An additional tip: If you’re buying second-hand wheels, be sure to check them thoroughly for signs of wear and tear: Rough spots on the surface, sometimes painted over, small cracks on the spokes, barrel or next to the bolt holes, or any sign of the wheel being repaired or modified, can be a cause of concern.

As long as you can ensure the quality of what you are buying, you are good to go!

Now, I want some feedback from you guys. What wheels do you own/use on your cars?