How does wheel weight impact vehicle performance?
If you’re thinking about upgrading your wheels with a lighter weight in mind, some of the key terms you’ll want to know during your search include:
- Sprung weight – this is weight not supported by the suspension – real life examples include rear seats, insulation and interior panels all the way to the spare tire that many enthusiasts opt to remove in order to decrease weight for performance or economy effects.
- Unsprung weight/rotational mass – the operational components of your vehicle bear this weight, which include the actual tires and wheels, driveshaft and brakes.
- Handling – a vehicle’s responsiveness to steering input and its road-holding ability.
- Rotary Forged/Flow Formed – performance wheel manufacturing techniques that reduce wheel weight and strengthen the wheel structure itself.
By switching out your stock OE wheels for lighter aftermarket or performance-based wheels, what occurs is the reduction of unsprung weight (rotational mass).
Reducing unsprung weight by changing to wheels that weigh less will immediately aid the overall ease of acceleration and handling capabilities for a vehicle, especially when paired with performance or competition tires. Via the laws of inertia, the unsprung weight of a wheel requires roughly three times the power to accelerate over stationary dead weight.
As a working example, if you’re able to drop 15 pounds per wheel, you’ve effectively removed unsprung weight in the neighborhood of 180 pounds – a huge load off of your drivetrain and chassis that will make your vehicle feel more responsive and accelerate noticeably quicker than it did before switching to lighter wheels.
In the case of a high-powered muscle car like a Mustang or Camaro, this can make a difference in the tenths of a second range, equivalent to one to two car lengths at the track.
And for hybrids or hyper-efficient vehicles, this can spell out MPG gains both in city and highway mileage results, as the engine systems don’t have to work as hard to get and keep your vehicle moving.
When combined with upgrading to energy-efficient tires that have low rolling resistance (LRR), this can yield a significant uptick in fuel economy, and can supplement the results that many in the hypermiling community are able to attain by cruising at lower highway speeds and accelerating as smoothly as possible.
Types of lightweight wheels
- TSW (general fitments)
- Black Rhino (off-road wheels)
- Beyern (BMW-specific wheels)
- Coventry (Jaguar-specific wheels)
- Cray (Corvette-specific wheels)
- Mandrus (Mercedes-Benz-specific wheels)
- Redbourne (Land Rover/Range Rover-specific wheels)
- Enkei (general fitments)
- Konig (general fitments)
Alloy wheels are also popular lightweight aftermarket wheel options, as they are generally going to be lighter than equivalent-size steel wheels.
Whether you’re looking to improve your autocross times or enhance your everyday driving experience, putting on forged wheels or lightweight aftermarket rims also gives you the chance to personalize your ride.
If you have any questions about lighteight wheels, stop by any of our America's Tire locations and we'll get you taken care of!