Alloy Wheels vs Steel Wheels

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For many motorists the wheels on their car help make a statement. But apart from aesthetics, they also play an extremely important part in your safety. The wheels are the interface between your vehicle and the road, and thus anything less than the best wheels possible reduce your vehicle's optimum safety. So if you are choosing new wheels for your car it is important to know what the options are and what benefits or disadvantages may accrues from your choices.

What is the difference between alloy and steel wheels?

Traditionally most car wheels were made of steel. They were durable and looked presentable. But in the world of motor sport this was not enough and alloy wheels are the order of the day. Alloy wheels are different to steel wheels in a number of ways including:

  • They are made of an alloy of aluminium or magnesium, and sometimes even both
  • They tend to have greater strength compared to weight, than steel wheels
  • Alloy wheels have greater heat conduction
  • A possible problem is that alloy wheels can be more vulnerable in a fire
  • Tuning enthusiasts like them because of their look and connection with motor sport
  • Could contribute to improved vehicle handling

Put simply alloy wheels deliver all the strength of steel wheels but with lighter weight, which in turn is always a bonus for performance.

Why choose alloy wheels?

For normal road drivers the benefits of alloy wheels are not significant enough to make a huge difference to the driving experience. They are a technology born out of the motor sport environment, where saving every gram in weight is precious. However for true motoring enthusiasts, they are persuasive. Good alloy wheels make a visual statement, and this is important for many people who take motoring seriously. The benefits in weight reduction can also be relevant for more performance oriented vehicles and especially those that may do a little track work from time to time. On track, lighter alloy wheels contribute to a lower unspring mass, contributing to improved handling performance.

Choosing alloy or steel wheels

Ultimately your choice of wheel type will depend on your individual aesthetics and your motoring aspirations. Alloy wheels tend to be more expensive so that will be a consideration for many, but if you want to have the ultimate driving experience there may be a compelling argument for it.

To make choosing alloy wheels easy, JAX Tyres offer an easy to use Online Wheel Selector Tool, which allows you to select your vehicle and apply different wheels. You can change the colour of your vehicle and even suspension options to really give you a view of what your vehicle will look like with different alloy wheels.

Are you looking for new alloy or steel wheels? Find options to fit your vehicle by clicking through to our Online Wheel Selector Tool. 

Are steel wheels more durable than alloy?

The simple answer is yes.

Steel is one of the strongest metals we have. Unlike alloy wheels, steel wheels have the significant benefit of durability. In fact steel is so durable that it’s the industry-standard for most building and construction works. Moreover, steel wheels are made by being pressed and welded into shape, making them extremely strong, affordable and easy to repair.

Cracking a steel wheel is nearly impossible, and bending a steel wheel would require tremendous force.

And, as long as you maintain an adequate layer of paint on your wheel, your steel wheels will not rust.

Steel wheels generally aren’t very aesthetically pleasing as they naturally look rough and tough, so cosmetic damage is not typically an issue with steel rims. Tools like a hammer can quickly revert your bent steel wheel into shape. This makes repairing a bent steel wheel easier since there is no fear of damaging the appearance.

Which is stronger - alloy or steel wheels?

Steel wheels are significantly stronger than alloy wheels, making them the ideal choice for winter use and more powerful vehicles.

The main disadvantage of alloy wheels is their durability. Manufacturers designed alloy wheels to be much lighter and they’re usually forged from a mixture of aluminium, nickel, magnesium, or other metals. When the road impacts, alloy wheels tend to bend and even crack more easily than tougher steel wheels. This makes it best suited for sports cars and ultra-high performance vehicles.

On the other hand, It would require considerable force to crack or bend a steel wheel. If you maintain the layer of paint on your wheel as needed, your steel wheels will not rust. Steel is one of the strongest metals we have. In fact, it’s industry-standard in building and construction.

How safe are alloy wheels?

Generally speaking, alloy wheels are entirely safe to use. Alloy is made by combining one or more metals with non-metallic elements. For example, in an aluminium-alloy wheel, aluminium may be mixed with iron, copper, silica, zinc or magnesium. By combining materials, desirable properties are enhanced, and costs are lowered. Some of the safety benefits of alloy wheels are:

Transfers heat more efficiently than steel: Alloys are better heat conductors than pure metals, making them better at dispersing heat. This means it can take a more massive braking load without warping or damaging your car’s brakes.

  • Better braking: They promote better traction with decreased unsprung weight (the suspension, wheels or tracks, and other components directly connected to them).
  • Free from corrosion and rust: aluminium alloys are well-known for their ability to withstand corrosion and rust, and alloy wheels are no different.
  • Better handling: Aluminium, the base of many of these alloys, is considerably lighter than steel. It allows them to give a higher performance in almost every condition.
  • Lighter: Aside from that, their lighter frame adds less strain on your vehicle’s suspension. It will also allow for faster acceleration without wasting gas.
Can I use alloy wheels offroad?

Alloy wheels have some considerable advantages that make them attractive to certain car owners: better handling, fuel economy, heat conduction, and not to mention more visually appealing. However, alloy wheels’ durability is not one of them, so we don’t recommend them for offroading.

Generally, steel wheels are great for offroad use due to the steel wheels’ extra weight. Your steel wheels significantly contribute to your vehicle’s unsprung mass (the mass of the suspension, wheels or tracks, and other components directly connected to them). This mass gives you a lower centre of gravity, making for a more secure ride. What’s more, the extra friction will help keep your vehicle from slipping on unpredictable off road terrains like ice, snow and mud.

For this reason, and to preserve their alloy wheels in the best condition possible, many owners will switch to steel wheels when off roading or even when the weather outside turns bad.

Can you repair alloy wheels?

While alloy wheels are more complicated to repair than a steel rim, you can sometimes repair them if the damage isn’t too extensive. Rims that have been bent level to near the centre section are repairable. Beyond this, it’s likely that if you have buckled the entire wheel, you’ll have to replace it with a new one. In most cases, the lip that extends outward from the rim and forms its outer edge is the part that gets bent first. To repair an alloy wheel, you have to:

  • Spin the rim up and identify where the rim has been damaged and how much.
  • Before bending the alloy rim back into shape, your local mechanic must apply gentle heat to maintain proper metallurgical (physical and chemical properties of metal).
  • Your mechanic will then place the rim into a press jug to remove any more significant visible bends.
    Then, they will put the alloy wheel on spin-up gear to ensure the tyre sits neatly on the bead.
  • Finally, any cosmetic finishes you want, such as removing any gouges, scratches or curb rash.
Which wheel gets better mileage - alloy or steel?

As a general rule of thumb, alloy wheels have a significant advantage when it comes to fuel economy. Due to their much lighter weight, the alloy wheels put less strain on your vehicle’s suspension. This means they can operate at a higher performance in most conditions and allows for faster acceleration.

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