It's here again, the newest edition of the wheel and tire buyer's guide. Last year we learned quite a few things about putting a guide of this magnitude together, so this year we decided to combine what we learned with your suggestions, and this is what we came up with.
Listed beneath each group of wheels and tires is information pertinent to that product. This information includes the name, the price range, the weight for the specific wheel we received, and contact information. We opted not to include such information as offsets, bolt patterns, sizes, and finishes.
For a change, we decided to include wheel weights. We tried to limit the wheels we received to 18-inch diameters only, but for some wheels that simply couldn't happen. Because of this, we decided to list the wheel diameter after every wheel weight. Although wheel weight may seem to tell you a lot about a wheel, don't let that completely rule your shopping. Some wheels we weighed were significantly wider than others, thus they weighed more. Other wheels weighed massively less than other wheels, but the pricing was usually higher, too. Many companies have ongoing sales, but we opted to list the regular price. The price listed can get you into your price range and then you can call the manufacturer to see what they can offer.
Flip through the guide, enjoy, and tell us what you think-this way, next year's guide will be even better than this one.
Casting Process UnveiledAs many know, there are several methods of producing wheels. One of the most common ways is through a process called casting. Cast wheels, like billet wheels or forged wheels, are usually made from a block of aluminum, but instead of using high amounts of pressure to make the wheel, or chiseling away at a solid block of metal, cast wheels are produced using little to no additional pressure.
One of the most common methods of wheel casting is called gravity casting. During gravity casting, a block of aluminum is heated up until it forms a liquid. The liquid is then poured into a mold and cooled until it forms a solid, at which point the wheel is removed from the mold and polished into a sellable wheel.
There are several other forms of casting, such as low pressure and squeeze casting; both of which employ somewhat similar methods to produce a wheel. Low pressure die casting applies a slight amount of pressure to the metal after it is turned into its liquid form, thus allowing the melted aluminum to enter the mold faster, while at the same time reducing imperfections which may be present in a gravity cast wheel. This process allows for thinner walled wheels that are also lighter than gravity cast wheels, but the process is slightly more expensive.
Squeeze casting requires melting the aluminum to a near liquid state and then forcing the nearly melted aluminum into a mold. Although not quite as costly as forging, squeeze casting is one of the most expensive forms of casting. The advantage to squeeze casting is that not only are the wheels lighter than the other forms of casting due to a thinner wall width, but they are usually just as strong.
The advantages of gravity casting are numerous. The most obvious advantage is that the process is extremely inexpensive, thus the cost to the consumer is minimized. Another reason gravity casting is an often-used wheel manufacturing technique is that it allows small quantity designs to be produced at very little cost. Unlike the other forms of wheel production, gravity casting allows a manufacturer to produce a wheel design for a very limited production run, while keeping the costs well below mass-produced forged or squeeze cast wheels.
There are two unfortunate side effects to casting. The first is that when the aluminum block is melted, it loses essential minerals that are vital for the aluminum to maintain its strength. This problem is easily solved through the use of additives. Once the aluminum block is heated into a liquid, additives are used to ensure the product's strength.
The second unfortunate downside to casting is that the casting process leaves imperfections in the aluminum, due to its minimal pressure manufacturing technique. The more imperfections a wheel has, the more likely it is to bend or crack. To solve this problem, cast wheels are generally produced thicker in order to add stability to the wheel. Thicker wheel walls result in heavier wheel weight, and we've all been trained to believe unsprung weight is the root of all evil. According to TSW, however, a lightweight wheel may add a little extra performance, but the majority of cars with aftermarket wheels spend most of their time on city streets-the same city streets that also have curbs, large potholes, and speed bumps. If a wheel is too light, it may have a tendency to bend more easily then a heavier, sturdier wheel, when driven into said curb, pothole, or speed bump. TSW also points out that manufactured vehicles are designed to handle certain weight wheels. Although utilizing a comparatively heavy wheel may seem like it could hurt the suspension components, TSW says that is not the case. Chances are, unless you're installing a set of 50-pound chrome plated SUV wheels on your Mk 2 Golf or you're an avid track racer, weight should not be too much of a concern.
Source: TSW, www.tsw.com
Wheel Care for DummiesWe're about to reveal a secret that no car care product manufacturer wants you to know: The only products you need to clean your wheels are car soap, warm water, and a sponge.
Actually, most car care product manufacturers will be the first to admit that these three products are all that are needed-if we lived in a perfect world. If you cleaned your wheels weekly, or depending on the weather, daily, you would never need to buy a cleaning agent for your wheels. Since most of us don't have the time to clean our wheels every evening, there are a multitude of wheel cleaning products on the market that are designed to make our lives easier.
Most manufacturers of quality car care products, such as Mothers, Meguiar's, and Eagle One, have at least one wheel care product. Mothers, for example, has three entirely different products that are designed to clean wheels. Before you can purchase any product, however, you need to determine which kind of wheels you have. Once you've decided which product is right for your wheels, be sure to turn the container over and read the directions-and most importantly, follow the directions. Most people damage their wheels by either using the wrong product or not following the directions at all.
If you pick up any wheel-cleaning product and read the label, it will specifically tell you which wheel types it is designed for. Some wheel cleaners are formulated to clean chrome and chrome plated wheels, while others are pH-balanced for uncoated aluminum, polished, or anodized wheels only. If you use the wrong product on your wheel you could end up permanently staining the wheel, so before you clean any wheel with a cleaning agent you should always test the product on a small, hidden portion of the wheel first.
Once you have determined your wheel type, choose the appropriate wheel cleaner for the job. Mothers Wheel Mist multi-purpose cleaner is designed for cleaning hub caps, painted, and clear coated wheels, Mothers Mag & Aluminum Polish is specifically formulated for non-coated wheels, and Mothers Wheel Mist is designed to clean wire hub caps, chrome, and wire wheels. Mothers recommends waiting for your wheels to cool completely, and cleaning your wheels in the shade in order to eliminate any chance of etching. Spray the cleaning agent on the wheel starting at the bottom and work your way up. Leave the product on the wheel for about two minutes and then rinse the wheel with water. In the event that the wheel is extremely dirty, you may need to use a nonabrasive brush, or clean the wheel multiple times.
If you're not sure what type of wheel you own, if you own several cars with different kinds of wheels, or if you own wheels that consist of a variety of materials, you will want to invest in a universal wheel cleaner. Universal wheel cleaners are safe for use on any kind of wheel, but the cleaning agent is not as effective as a wheel-specific cleaner. A cleaning agent that is specifically formulated to clean a polished aluminum wheel will be more effective than a general wheel cleaner, but the damage you can cause to a wheel not designed for use with the wheel-specific cleaner may be irreversible.
If you don't clean your wheels on a regular basis, brake dust and other road contaminants can permanently stain you wheels. If you clean your wheels correctly and often, however, you will enjoy many years with perfect, shiny wheels. Before you decide to clean your wheels, however, remember the basic and most important rules of wheel cleaning: never clean hot wheels, use a cleaning agent that is safe for your specific type of wheel, clean from the bottom to the top, and the most important rule of all-read the directions on the bottle.
Source: Mothers, 714/891-3364, www.mothers.com
Understanding Plus SizingIn case you're new to the whole modifying scene, we're about to pass on a secret that will be invaluable not only to the performance of your car, but also the looks: Buy larger diameter wheels than what came on your car. If you presently have a Mk 4 Golf with the stock 15-inch wheels, you can easily step up to 16-, 17-, 18-, or even 19-inch wheels. Changing to larger diameter wheels will leave you wondering what size tire to get, but fortunately, there are professionals who can work out what size tires you need as fast as they can sell them to you. BFGoodrich is one of those professionals that is insanely helpful when it comes to working out problems, so we called up for a brief explanation as to what "plus sizing" is and why it's a skill any aftermarket groupie should have.
The concept behind plus sizing was to create a simple way to mathematically work out the change in tire size based on the increase in wheel diameter. If you step up the wheel size from a 15-inch wheel to a 16-inch wheel, that would be called "plus one." Along the same lines, using a 17-inch wheel would be "plus two," 18-inch would be "plus three," and so on. We don't know if there is such a thing as "minus sizing," and frankly we don't care.
Before we get to the next step, we're going to have to quickly explain tire sizing. If you look at the side of a 15-inch Golf tire, it will read 195/65-15-This was the standard Golf GL tire size for 2001. The "195" is the width of the contact patch (section width) in millimeters, the "65" is the aspect ratio (i.e., sidewall width) measured as a percentage of the section width, and the "15" represents the wheel diameter in inches.
Continuing with the same example of the Golf with 15-inch wheels, if you decide to step up to 16-inch wheels, which is plus one, you will need to adjust the tire sizing to match. The goal of plus sizing is to keep the overall wheel/tire diameter as close to stock as possible to solve a number of potential problems-the most obvious of which is incorrect speedometer readings. During plus sizing, for every inch the wheel diameter increases the section width must increase and the aspect ratio must decrease accordingly. The stock 195/65-15 tire has an overall diameter of about 32.66-inches. Thus, a plus one tire for the Golf would be a 205/55-16 with a 32.95-inch diameter, a plus two size would be 215/45-17 at 33.06-inches, and a plus three would be 225/35-18 at 32.04-inches.
Theoretically this works, but in all reality, if you put a plus three 225/35-18 tire on a Golf, the sidewalls will look tiny. A much better tire selection for an 18-inch wheel on a VW is 225/40-18, which has an overall diameter of 33.94-inches. Increasing the aspect ratio like this will increase the overall diameter of the wheel and throw off the speedometer slightly, but not by much. Another thing to consider is that although the 225/35-18 may be what plus sizing dictates, that size may not be available, or if it is available, it may cost significantly more than a more common 225/40-18 size.
Plus sizing will help you get in the ballpark for what size tire you need, but remember, although the tire may mathematically work out, that specific tire size may not even be produced. With the European tuning scene blowing up the way it is, one of the best methods of deciding a tire size is finding someone else with the same car and size tires you want. Ask them if they are having any rubbing issues and how the car feels on the road. If, however, you're pioneering new tire sizing on a specific car, we recommend giving someone like BFG a call to get a professional opinion.
Source: BFGoodrich, 877/BFG-Tire, www.bfgoodrichtires.com
The Magic Of Forged WheelsForging is one of the most expensive methods of producing a wheel. Despite the cost to both the manufacturer and the consumer, when you consider that forged wheels are generally lighter and stronger than cast wheels, it is no wonder why forged wheels have become the choice product for racing teams, and the prized purchase for many a car owner. What makes forged wheels so expensive and good? The answer is all in the manufacturing process.
First of all, there is no single "correct" way to make a wheel. Every manufacturer has developed a method that works for them, and each manufacturer steadfastly insists that their method is the best. But, when you look at the individual manufacturing techniques used to create forged wheels, they all have several basic components.
The forging process starts similar to the casting process, with a single block of solid aluminum. Unlike casting, where the aluminum is melted into a liquid thus losing minerals vital to the rigidity of the metal, forging only heats the aluminum block into a semi-solid state, allowing the metal to retain its natural chemical makeup. Once the metal is in its semi-solid state, the aluminum block is then placed inside a giant press, and the block is squeezed into the shape of a wheel. This squeezing process varies in pressure, depending on the manufacturer, and each manufacturer insists that its pressure is the ideal amount. For instance, Weld Wheels applies its EVO wheel line to over eight million pounds of pressure, where as Carriage Works, a motorcycle wheel manufacturer, applies over 10 million pounds of pressure. Either way, a lot of pressure is applied.
No matter how much pressure is applied, the idea remains the same: By pressing the block of aluminum with massive amounts of force, imperfections-such as air pockets-will be removed from the aluminum. The more imperfections that are present in a wheel, the more susceptible the wheel is to fatigue. During the forging process, however, the grain of the aluminum block changes. Forged wheels tend to have a radial grain, true billet wheels usually have a straight grain, and cast wheels have little to no specific grain direction at all. Fikse, along with almost every other forged wheel manufacturer, claims that a radial grain is the strongest type of structure for a wheel.
Many wheel manufacturers, such as Fikse, forge the wheel center and use an aluminum rim for the outside portion of the wheel. The aluminum rim is then either welded or bolted to the forged center. There are, however, manufacturers that create entire one-piece forged wheels by either pressing an entire wheel or machining the wheel out of a forged block of aluminum, Weld Wheels uses this process.
Once again, it depends on which manufacturer you speak to as to which process is better. The manufacturers of one-piece forged wheels claim their method results in stronger wheels since they are utilizing a single piece of forged aluminum with no seals or breaks. The manufacturers of multi-piece forged wheels argue that in the rare event that the rim is bent, it can simply be replaced without purchasing the forged wheel center, which is usually unaffected when a wheel bends-making a multi-piece design more affordable to repair.
Another benefit to multi-piece forged wheels is that the offset and wheel width can be easily altered by bolting on a new aluminum outer rim while utilizing the same forged center for multiple applications. This versatility allows for the expensive forging process to become more affordable, since the manufacturer is able to produce mass quantities of the costly forged centers and simply swap out the less expensive aluminum outer rim for different applications.
The overall result of the forging process is wheels that can be manufactured using less aluminum and thinner wheel walls than cast wheels. The overall cost is more, but the resulting loss in unsprung weight enables the car to perform better. The question you have to start asking yourself is if the increase in performance is worth the cost of the wheels.
Source: APP Forged Wheels, 714/546-4100, www.appwheels.com; Fikse USA, 253/872-3888, www.fikse.com; Kinesis Motorsport, 760/930-9800, www.kinesismotorsport.com; Weld Wheels, 866/753-4297, www.weldracing.com
The Importance Of WeightIn the most non-committal way we know possible, we're here to say that wheel weight doesn't matter that much. That said, wheel weight is very, very important. Is this beginning to sound like so many other articles you've read about wheel weight where no one is willing to commit to an answer about lightweight versus not-so-lightweight wheels? Well, why stop now?
The truth of the matter is this: Wheel weight does matter. If you're looking to make a car perform, you need to minimize the amount of unsprung weight the vehicle is toting around. Without getting too technical, here's the one basic fact you need to know about unsprung weight-one pound of unsprung weight is not equal to one pound of sprung weight, it's equal to a lot more. Thus, by saving 40 pounds through lightweight wheels, you're going to see a noticeable increase in performance, and by noticeable, we're talking about knocking a second or so off your lap time at the track, and a tenth or two at the dragstrip.
To accelerate, your car has to rotate the wheels and tires, and the heavier those components are the slower your car will accelerate. In theory, the lighter the wheel, the easier it will be for the car to rotate the wheels, thus the faster the car will accelerate.
We may have just sold you on lightweight wheels, but that's not what we're trying to do. The key to modifying is knowing what your specific application is going to be. Not to disillusion some people, but you cannot build a competitive track car that is also a great looking show car, and a comfy and reliable daily driver. It's simply impossible. The parts needed to build each of these three kinds of cars are completely different. To put this into engine performance terminology, if you're going to put a turbo on your Golf and try to get 500 hp out of your VR6, the chance of the engine running flawlessly every day, year after year, is almost nonexistent. That setup is good for the track, but if you're relying on the car to get you to and from work then you'll probably end up losing your job.
Similarly, select wheels for the specific application you're going to use them for. If you're building a track-only performance car then the car will probably only ever experience the lush, smooth track and never feel a pothole or speed bump. Because of this, track cars are able to run extremely light wheels that may not hold up to rough street conditions. On the street, however, bumps and other obstacles are everywhere. If you peg some debris at highway speeds you'll quickly bend a wheel-as Maria will attest. Since city streets aren't as perfect as a track, daily driven cars probably should use a heavier, sturdier wheel. Show cars, however, are a different animal. Some show cars are towed to events, or only driven to and from shows. These cars will more than likely see less debris and bumps then daily driven vehicles, thus they can run wheels which may otherwise suffer during daily street driving.
With all that said, a lot of lightweight wheels are as strong, if not stronger, then their heavier counterparts-and just because a wheel is heavy doesn't mean it's strong. Which wheels are strong and which aren't is a difficult thing to determine. Check out the composition of the wheel versus the weight. If the wheel is a 15-pound gravity cast 19-inch wheel, chances are it isn't too sturdy, where as a forged wheel with the same specs may hold up to quite a few potholes. Ultimately, however, the lighter the wheel, the more expensive it will be. This fact alone will usually determine how light of a wheel you will be able to purchase.
Wheel Purchasing ProcesWow, look at all these wheels and tires. You've been flipping through these pages for days and you've finally decided which wheels to buy-now it's time to order those bad boys and mount them on your Euro.
There are various ways to purchase wheels. Some manufacturers sell direct tothe consumer while others sell their wheels through distributors. Either way, chances are you'll be able to head to the Web site we've listed and find out more information. If a manufacturer doesn't sell the wheels direct to the consumer, more than likely its Web site will tell you where you can buy the wheels. No matter which Web site you eventually end up on in your search, you'll probably be given the choice to place your order online or dial an 800 number.
There are advantages to both methods. Speaking to a person gives you the assurance that you have ordered the correct wheels, and the sales representative will also be able to make suggestions and help you select the right wheels for your car. The downside to using the phone is the hold time you'll have to endure. This is why, if you know the exact wheels you want, we highly recommend placing your order online.
Discount Tire Direct, one of the largest distributors of wheels and tires online, stresses that ordering from its Web site is both safe and easy. With the click of a few buttons you can be on your way to driving around in style. Much like everyone else, we're always skeptical of return policies when ordering anything, especially when ordering online, but after talking to the folks at Discount Tire, our fears were put at bay.
Discount Tire Direct's return policy is a simple and easy one: If you change your mind about your order, Discount Tire will gladly refund your money. Not only that, but Discount Tire's return policy extends to 30 days after you've received your wheels. The only thing they ask is you don't use the wheels or tires before you return them. Discount Tire Direct even goes so far as to tell you how to pack the wheels if you are going to return them, and if you need any shipping material, they will deliver it to you free of charge.
If you have any specific questions about ordering your wheels, the company's Web site will probably already have an answer waiting for you. Discount Tire Direct's Web site has quite an extensive breakdown of questions, concerns, and answers to both. Along with answering the ever important "why won't I get a full refund" question (which, incidentally, is usually caused by the customer not returning a wheel correctly packaged), Discount Tire's site also explains how to place an order both online and through the phone, trouble shoots browser compatibility issues, and offers a phone number and e-mail address in case you need more assistance.
At eurotuner, we've ordered our fair share of wheels and tires, and we quickly formed our own opinions on what is the best way to order parts. We've discovered ordering online is hands down the best method as long as you know exactly what you need. If you think you may have a question or you're mildly unsure about something, dial the phone number and sit on hold for a couple minutes-believe us, it will be well worth your time. We highly recommend knowing what you're ordering before you click the "order" button. If you order your wheels and you change your mind later on, most companies will allow you to return the wheels as long as they are in the same condition you received them in. However, some companies may charge you shipping costs as well as restocking, dismounting, and cleaning fees. Granted, these fees are less then purchasing a new set of wheels and tires that you don't want, but it's money you could have saved by simply knowing what you wanted before you ordered.
Source: Discount Tire Direct, 800/589-6789, www.discounttiredirect.com