This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue.
Want to buy aftermarket wheels for your truck but can’t decide which type to choose? It’s usually a good thing to be in that mindset. Never just buy a wheel because it looks “cool” or it’s the right size. You’ll never know what’s good for you if you don’t know the difference between the terms “forged” and “cast,” or if you don’t know the advantageous differences between aluminum and steel for rims. Whether you want the off-road ruggedness, performance, or stylish looks, it’s worth looking deeper to figure out what best suits your needs. To categorize them in the simplest way, there are normally three different types of wheels found on pickup trucks: forged aluminum, cast aluminum, and steel.
Forged aluminum wheels are typically constructed by forcing a solid billet of aluminum between forging dies under extremely high pressure and heat. Simply, the large amount of pressure crushes the metal into the desired shape set on the dies. This creates a very strong and dense finished product that’s tough and durable, and very light, versatile, and stylish at the same time. The costs of tools, equipment, and development normally lean forged aluminum wheels toward the higher end of the aftermarket, though the wheels still carry a premium price tag for what they have to offer.
Pound for pound, the wheel is considerably stronger than a cast aluminum alloy and is even five times stronger than steel as proven in crush tests. It’s not ideal for off-road use, though forged aluminum will hold up better if you happen to find yourself on rugged dirt roads. More are noticing that forged aluminum wheels also rotate better for a smoother ride than steel. That’s all thanks to the solid construction that steel doesn’t have. This produces better handling to reduce fatigue on long drives and improves safe hauling of fragile material (if that’s what you use your truck for). Forged aluminum also requires less maintenance than other materials.
Cast aluminum wheels are constructed by pouring molten aluminum into a wheel-shaped mold to form a wheel; that can be accomplished by either gravity casting or low-pressure casting. Gravity casting is the most basic process, which simply uses our planet’s gravitational pull to fill the mold with molten aluminum. It’s great for putting together stylish designs or when there are no concerns with reducing weight. Gravity-cast wheels can be produced at a very reasonable cost. Since it relies on gravity, the aluminum is less densely packed than in other processes; these wheels will often have heavier weight to achieve high strength. Another process in manufacturing these wheels is low-pressure casting, which pressurizes the aluminum to move it into the mold quicker. That process generally produces much more density over gravity casting and generates higher production costs. Regardless, the sale prices are variable based on style, size, and brand. Low-pressure casting is also the most common method in constructing aluminum wheels in the OEM market.
Cast aluminum wheels can’t bear the rugged off-road surfaces, but they’re resistant to rust and they’re easy to clean, so they can hold their shine for a long time. Their light weight makes them excellent for vehicles with speed tunes; they’re perfect for drag racing. The enhanced malleability of low-pressure casting also makes the aluminum wheels very flexible, which means it’s easier for manufacturers to get creative with designs, and you have many cool-looking options to choose from. You’ll be better able to make your truck boast its performance. With cast aluminum wheels, you even have better airflow to help cool your brakes.
Steel is a heavier material than aluminum alloy; it’s the way to go if you frequently go off-road. Steel wheels are simply stamped out by large presses and welded; they don’t require any forging or casting to shape the metal. One downside is that steel does not normally allow for stylish spoke and face designs; all that can be done with steel is stamping windows for cooling purposes. However, many companies nowadays are producing these wheels with chrome-clad finishes. Chrome clad is a thin coating (usually made of tin) that’s chrome-plated and glued to the face of the wheel. Many Ford and Chevy trucks now come with chrome clad as standard options.
For performance, the heavier weight means increased durability and consistent composition. Steel is more malleable than aluminum, which means it prevents chipping or breaking from impact. Their consistent composition helps them stay more uniform and symmetrical to prevent wobbling. They are also less porous than aluminum wheels, meaning they are more resistant against wear from sand and dirt. Steel is also cheap to produce, and it builds the most cost-efficient wheel if speed for racing isn’t on your list.
Overall, choosing the right wheels for your lifestyle is not as easy as you might think. It’s not possible to tell you all of the true benefits and weaknesses of cast aluminum, forged aluminum, and steel wheels. As a truck owner, you need to assess your own situation and apply the basic pros and cons to determine which material is the right one for you. With different materials, so many areas vary, including cost, handling, durability, speed, style, and cleanliness. Wheel selection should not be taken lightly, as pickup trucks continue to become more and more multi-purpose and multi-lifestyle.
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