While lighter wheels can improve vehicle performance, they also have to be strong enough to support the vehicle and endure the day-to-day punishment.
Many wheel manufacturers address these demands in a variety of ways like using different material types depending on the needs of the vehicle. There are also different wheel construction methods that can provide the necessary strength and weight, while maintaining lower manufacturing costs.
How much do my wheels weigh?
The type of material used makes a big impact on the wheel weight and performance. The two main types of materials used for everyday street/off-road use are steel and aluminum. The exact weight of your wheel can vary by the building material, size and width.
Steel is strong and durable, and is typically easy to repair. Steel is heavier than aluminum, but steel is strong and resistant to damage. Steel wheels are typically made using two-pieces, simply called the inner and outer, which are welded together. This process creates a solid marriage of the two pieces. Steel wheels have more room for imperfections that are easily absorbed due to the higher overall wheel weight.
Aluminum (Alloy) Wheels
One of the main benefits of aluminum (alloy) wheels is their lighter weight and huge range of styles and designs. There are a lot of construction methods used when making aluminum wheels, but most are made using a casting process. Aluminum wheels are the most common aftermarket wheel due the wide variety of finishes, colors, spokes and overall customizations.
Manufacturing Methods and Wheel Weight
There are several methods used to construct wheels so that they are lighter and stronger. There is typically a tradeoff, however. The more sophisticated the construction process, the higher the cost.
One-piece Cast Wheels
One-piece cast wheels are the most common wheels on the road today. Casting is the process where molten aluminum is poured into a mold to create a one-piece wheel. As the material cools and hardens, it takes the shape of the mold. There are three types of casting methods: low-pressure/gravity casting, counter pressure molding and high counter pressure molding. Manufacturers will choose between these methods depending on the weight, strength, finish and total cost that the product demands.
Although the words have become synonymous, they actually have different meanings. Forging is a manufacturing process that uses billet as a building material for the forging process. The billet, a solid cube of dense aluminum, is placed in the forge where thousands of pounds of pressure are used to press or roll the billet into its fundamental form. The forged aluminum is then machined to its final finished form. The forging process allows the wheel to be built with less material, resulting in a lighter, stronger wheel with varying unique designs.
Multi-piece wheels are constructed in two or three separate pieces, using a combination of any of the processes mentioned above, and then attached via welds, rivets or screws. This construction process allows for an almost limitless variety of wheel options. Wheels are then able to be customized by weight, strength and size. Some wheels may even have a cast aluminum center welded into a steel barrel. A three-piece wheel may feature a forged center that is riveted or screwed to a cast or steel barrel. This process allows wheels to be customized and made as light and as strong as needed to meet the requirements of any vehicle type.
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