What Type of Wheels Should You Buy?
When you’re building your truck up for the first time, one of the most important and also most confusing parts of the build. Don’t get overwhelmed! With our helpful guide, you’ll be choosing your next set of wheels and hitting the trails.
How Much You Should Spend
Buying a new set of wheels for your rig can be as much of an investment as you choose to make it. Brand new wheels can run from about fifty dollars each to tens of thousands per wheel. For most aftermarket wheels, you can expect to spend $500 to $1500 on wheels for a full set.
After the first purchase, you’ll need to figure in the cost of purchasing tires as needed, mounting and balancing tires, and potentially an alignment while you’re there. For simplicity, let’s say you’re just mounting and balancing tires. You can expect the service to run you $12 to $50 per tire on average at a mass retailer.
Steel Versus Alloy
Steel wheels are the cheapest and most durable wheel option on the market. They generally run from about $50 each and they’re great for standing up to winter conditions, and particularly for heavy or hard-working vehicles.
Because steel wheels are so much heavier than alloys in the same sizes, they can put additional strain on your car or truck’s suspension, even making acceleration more difficult and changing your center of gravity, which can affect handling. During the winter though, all that extra weight can mean extra traction when you need it most on cold, icy roads.
They’re not the greatest aesthetically, but if what you’re looking for is function over form,steel wheels might be just what you need. Consider this: police departments run steel wheels on their fleets of cars; they’re cheap to run through with heavy use, and durable enough to handle running over curbs regularly.
Most people looking to change their wheels will be looking for an alloy wheel. While they cost more (generally over $500 for a full set), they save in the long run on fuel economy alone. If you’re exclusively using your truck for the trails, though, that might not be the most useful way to make a decision.
Unfortunately, they can bend and crack more easily, and that’s a serious tradeoff when you’re looking at offroad abuse. That said, they usually feature designs that add both style and function when you’re working on your truck.
Cast Versus Forged Wheels
There are two primary ways to manufacturer wheels -- casting and forging. Let’s get into the differences.
Cast wheels are made by pouring molten aluminum into a mold that’s shaped like the wheel it will ultimately be. Once it cools, it’s removed from the mold, and the finishing touches are made. It can be trimmed, cleaned up and drilled out for mounting. The process is quick, which makes for less expensive production, and a less expensive wheel for the buyer.
Cast wheels are more porous because of the curing process, so they’re more susceptible to cracks and other structural issues when they’re put up to extreme use. For normal driving conditions, that porosity isn’t something to worry about.
If you’ve got the budget to spring for a little more, you can look into forged wheels. Forged wheels start as solid block of billet aluminum, which is shaped into the wheel form and pressurized for added strength before it’s machines out into the final wheel design. Forged wheels are significantly lighter and stronger than cast wheels, and the look can’t be matched with cast wheels. If you’ve got a serious race truck, they’re well worth it. For most people, it’s just a matter of aesthetics.
Beadlocks Aren’t for Everybody
One of the most unique options out there for wheels are beadlocks. True beadlocks allow a tire to stay on a wheel with lower tire pressure, and in more extreme conditions, like drag racing or off roading. They work by clamping the bead of the tire between pieces of the wheel. They work well in those conditions. But if you don’t need them?
They’re a pain to install and deal with. You can always find a faux beadlock if it’s the look you’re after, without all the additional cost and headache.
Finish It Off
No matter what material and style of wheel you choose to go with, the world is your oyster when it comes to finish (and color) options. In the last twenty years, we’ve gone from choosing between chrome and painted steel wheels, any color in the rainbow. It’s not as simple as picking a color and going with it, though. Different finishes mean different care and maintenance, so make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.
Chrome is the brightest option out there, but it’s the most difficult to care for. As with any chrome part, keeping up the mirror finish is a little bit of work if you’re looking for show-quality looks. That said, unless you’re living in the great white north, and battling the elements (and the road grime, chemicals, and salt that come with them), upkeep isn’t terrible.
Polished aluminum is one of the most popular choices out there, but it requires a little but more work. When they’re in great shape, polished aluminum wheels will be almost chrome looking, but that means careful and consistent hand polishing before you head out for the nearest cars and coffee.
Painted wheels are an easy-care option that’s meant to be very durable and live up to whatever your day to day drive entails. If you’re living in an area that requires winter tires, consider painted wheels for the winter setup. Just make sure they’ve got an extra layer of clear coat to add to the corrosion resistance in the face of salt and chemicals.
Powder coated wheels are easy to care for, and the finish is extremely durable. They’re meant to take what life throws at them, and do it in style. Powder coaters generally offer a wide range of color choice, so you can get as custom as you’d like if you’re going this route. Powder coating is also one of the most environmentally friendly metal finishes available, if that’s something that matters to you.
Anodized aluminum is one of the less popular options that’s on the market, but it might be right for you. Anodizing chemically integrates color into the surface of the metal, and allows for a huge range of custom color choices. Because it’s not a “coating” in the traditional sense of the word, it won’t mask any flaws on the surface of the wheel, so it’s not something you can use to bandaid any scratches, scuffs, dents, or dings. If you store your car outdoors, be careful if you’re choosing anodizing, and be careful with color choice. UV rays from the sun really take a toll on the color of your anodizing with time. On top of that, certain colors will degrade faster, so ask for an expert opinion before you make an expensive commitment.
Wheels are For More Than Looks
Or, they can be. Most people upgrade and modify their wheels and tires purely for aesthetics. But they can be a great way to get a little more performance out of your truck. Bigger wheels can mean more torque -- meaning better launching and acceleration. Larger diameter wheels often mean wider wheels, which mean a larger contact patch, and better traction. Contrary to popular belief, wheels can be used for better performance, it’s just a matter of knowing what you want out of your build when you go to buy wheels.
If you’re ready to get upgrade your wheels and tires, but you aren’t sure where you should get started to set up your rig for the long haul -- we can help! Give our helpful team of offroading enthusiasts a call, or shoot us an email, and we will get you on the trail as fast as we can, with all the gear that makes sense for you.