2011 Wheel Buyer’s Guide
Installing aftermarket wheels on your heavy-duty pickup will improve its looks while providing benefits in performance and economy
By Peter D. DuPre
The wheel is arguably man’s single most important invention, allowing the movement of goods, the development of society and the modern army to develop.
It’s been around for a while, probably developed some 10,000 years ago in Asia as a way to make the transport of heavy goods a lot easier.
But it wasn’t until about 8,000 years ago, when the chariot was developed for military use, that the custom wheel came into vogue.
In an effort to make their horse drawn war machines faster, military engineers developed the spoke wheel to replace the solid wood wheel. After that, someone got the bright idea to attach sword blades to the axle hubs.
Sometime later, gilded carriages and beautiful spoke wheels came into being for transporting the well-to-do and that’s a lot of what we see today. Wheels are statement makers on the vehicles we drive.
You may think that the history of the wheel has nothing to do with the day-to-day workings of your business, but if you think that, you are mistaken because without the wheel your pickup truck would be good for little more than using it as a backyard planter for your wife’s geraniums!
Because of the wheel, your business is on a roll, so to speak, and although your heavy-duty pickup came from the factory with a perfectly functional set of eight-lug wheels, carefully choosing a set of nice aftermarket replacements can benefit your marketing position and possibly your fuel costs.
BENEFITS OF CUSTOM
Stock wheels come in two basic varieties for HD pickups: pressed steel or aluminum alloy.
Either way, these wheels generally look fine on the vehicle and they get the job done, i.e., they hold the tires in place and let you roll down the highway.
However, aftermarket wheels allows you to personalize your pickup and make it stand apart from the crowd of HD pickups clogging the job sites.
Custom wheels also allow you to build a “signature look” for your fleet, so that it is instantly recognizable, a fact that can help your marketing.
Dan Remson, owner of a small Washington state contracting firm specializing in custom remodeling, told ProPickup his three-truck fleet of nicely-painted and custom-wheeled pickups actually brings him business.
“People call us and ask if we are the guys with the nice looking pickups,” says Remson. “Because we take such care of our work trucks, they tell us, they think we’ll be just as meticulous when working for them. And you know what? We are!”
However, there are also practical considerations to take into account. Alloy wheels are as much as 30-percent lighter than a comparable steel wheel so they offer reduced “unsprung” weight when compared against OE steel version.
(Unsprung weight is that portion of the vehicle not supported by the suspension system, such as the weight of the wheels, tires, wheel hubs and brakes.)
It’s one of the most vital factors affecting a vehicle’s road holding ability and ride quality. A reduction in this critical weight means more precise steering input and improved suspension manners.
A reduction in unsprung weight also means a reduction of the rotational mass, allowing for improved overall performance.
Acceleration is better because it takes less energy to break rolling resistance when the wheels are lighter. Likewise, braking is improved since it takes less energy to stop the vehicle.
The result is improved driveability and a slight reduction in fuel costs.
Alloy wheels are lighter than comparable steel wheels and offer a strength advantage because of they way they are made. Wheel engineers use computer-aided design (CAD) in the development process.
Unlike steel wheels, which are made of pressed steel and welded together, custom-design alloy wheels are cast from molten alloy and CAD allows the engineers to develop wheel designs that maximize wheel strength, meaning that alloy wheels offer added rigidity and have reduced deflection when cornering. This translates into improved handling.
Another advantage of the custom alloy wheel over its steel counterpart is that aluminum alloys offer improved brake cooling because they are excellent dissapaters of of heat, drawing it away from brake components to reduce brake fade under the demanding conditions of hauling and towing.
While a few wheel manufacturers are offering custom steel wheels, the vast majority of the market is alloy and it really makes sense. With steel wheels, the manufacturer is limited in the number of designs and special purpose wheels they can produce.
With alloy, the design choice is virtually unlimited, allowing an almost endless variety of models for both looks and special purpose use.
While steel wheels are made from pressed steel sheets that are stamped into shape, formed into rims, and have the supporting spokes and hubs welded into position, alloy wheels are made cast, billet or forged pieces.
Casting is the most common method for making alloy wheels because it is inexpensive and the end product is an attractive and reasonably strong wheel.
In this method, molten alloy is poured into a mold and allowed to cool. Then when the wheel is removed from the mold only minor finishing and polishing is needed for a quality product.
Billet wheels are machined from a solid piece, or “billet,” of aluminum. The piece of stock from which the wheel is machined is generally extruded and so a “grain” runs through the piece, which adds some strength to the material that is missing from a cast wheel.
The making of a billet wheel means that there’s a lot of waste material, thereby raising the cost of manufacture, which is why most billet wheels are actually two-piece units with the center and hub being machined and then affixed to a spun or stamped alloy wheel rim.
Since the wheel center and hub carry the load, the use of the spun rim takes little from the overall strength of the wheel and greatly reduces manufacturing costs.
Forging uses extremely high heat and pressure to make a wheel from a block of extruded alloy.
Using this method the original grain in the stock material is forced from the wheel center, through the spokes and out towards the wheel edge, making it stronger than a billet wheel and as much as 300 percent stronger than a cast wheel.
Since less material is used to make a forged wheel than a cast one, the forged wheel is also lighter. Forging is complicated and expensive and because of this, most forged wheels are constructed as two- or three-piece units.
The main advantage to forged wheels, aside from strength, is that the two- or three-piece construction allows great flexibility in design and also rim damage can be more easily repaired.
Installing a set of new tires and wheels is one of the most cost-effective ways of personalizing your rig while adding to practicality. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t like riding around on a cool set of new wheels?
For fleet owners operating in the snow belt or around coastal areas where high concentrations of corrosive road salts are found, the conundrum of whether to winter tires on steel or aluminum wheels abounds.
In this arena, steel is generally considered the clear winner, as it stands up better to road salts than aluminum with fewer problems due to pitting and clouding of the finish.
With a steel wheel, a quick run through the car wash and an annual touch up, plus a waxing, is all the protection you need to keep your wheels virtually corrosion free.
With alloy wheels, salt is the enemy. Not only does it cause corrosive pits in the aluminum wheel structure that can eventually weaken the wheel, but it is also damaging to the protective clear coat finish that most alloy wheels have.
Combine water, job site dirt and chemicals, and road salts and your custom alloys are going to suffer from the perfect storm of damaging and corrosive materials.—Peter duPre
Just because the aftermarket wheel/tire combo you are eyeing has the same rim width and rolling tire diameter is the same as your OE setup it doesn’t mean it’s an automatic fit.
There are a number of factors affecting proper fit, but far and away the most important is offset.
Offset can be a confusing thing for the average person because wheels can have a variety of offsets. There is negative offset, positive offset, and neutral or zero offset.
So what is offset? Simply put it is the distance from the wheel’s mounting pad (the part of the wheel that fits against the wheel hub) to the wheel’s true centerline.
Many people think that the mounting pad of the wheel is the centerline of the wheel, but this is not the case. The facing side of the wheel is often more shallow than the inside of the wheel rim, but sometimes it is deeper.
This centerline difference reflects the wheel’s positive – or negative – offset.
A positive offset to a wheel means that its mounting surface is positioned in front of the wheel’s true centerline. This results in the tire being positioned more inside the fender well.
Negative offset, on the other hand, means that the mounting pad is behind the centerline, which has the effect of pushing the wheel/tire outward from the vehicle. On a zero offset wheel, the plane of the mounting pad surface is even with the centerline of the wheel.
To maintain handling characteristics and avoid undue loads on bushings and ball joints, and providing proper inner fender clearances, the vehicle manufacturer’s original offset should be maintained when choosing new wheels, unless there are overriding clearance issues due to tire width or height changes.
If you are considering a wheel change, be sure to consult with both your vehicle dealer and your wheel/tire installer.
To measure the offset of a given wheel, measure the overall width of the wheel and divide by two; this will give you the centerline of the wheel.
It is important to remember that because you have a 17×7.5-inch wheel does not mean that the overall width is 7.5-inches. It simply means that the distance between the outboard flange and the inboard flange is 7.5-inches.
Once you’ve got the centerline, measure from the mounting pad of the hub to the edge of the inboard flange (if the wheel is flat on the ground – face up – measure from the ground to the hub-mounting surface). This is your back spacing.
Subtract the centerline from the backspacing to get the offset. – Peter duPre
Tire theft isn’t something contractors think much about – until they put on nice wheels and/or new tires.
With even a cheap set of aftermarket wheels costing in the neighborhood $400, not counting the price of decent tires, protecting your rolling investment is vital.
The least expensive protection is using wheel locks, which use a special-design lug nuts/bolts that requires a unique key socket to remove them. These typically discourage the casual tire theif from an easy picking.
Companies such as McGuard Wheel Locks (www.mcguard.com) and Gorilla Wheel Locks (www.gorilla-auto.com) specialize in selling locking systems for wheels. More sophisticated electronic theft protection might be worth considering if more expensive tire/wheel package and other items are on your wrok truck. –Peter duPre
E-STORE OR BRICK-AND-MORTAR
Online shopping has drastically changed the way many of us shop for pickup parts including tires and wheels.
The biggest issue with online tire and wheel purchases has been getting the them mounted and balanced by a local tire shop.
Many building-based tire stores are reluctant to mount tires to wheels not purchased from their facility because they see (and rightly so) this as a lost sale and don’t want to spend the time and effort to take care of you for the few dollars they will make in installation/balancing fees.
But online shopping allows you to get exactly the tire and wheel you are seeking because the average wheel E-tailer has a much broader product selection than the local retailer – and often at a better price.
The downside is most E-tailers don’t provide you the ability to walk in to a local tire store and get customer service and warranty work on the tires/wheels you purchased.
There are some good exceptions.
Discount Tire (www.discounttire.com) has a program where you buy your products online and they ship them to the Discount Tire dealer nearest you. You then make an appointment and go in for installaton.
Tire Rack (www.tirerack.com) offers you a couple of different options. You can buy a tire/wheel package and have mounted/blanced tires/wheels shipped directly to your door, or you can have the items shipped separately to your door and then take them to a
Tire Rack approved installation shop (an local tire dealer who will mount, balance, install your tires/wheels). A few other online shops offer similar programs, so you no longer have to worry about getting online purchases installed on your vehicle. – Peter duPre
OUR TOP PICKS
- American Force 19.5 SS – American Force specializes in big wheels for big trucks, offering a full line of custom wheels for HD applications for both single and dual axle trucks. This 19.5-inch SS bolts-on using factory hardware and offers increased payload, towing capacity, and extended tire life. www.americanforcewheels.com
- American Racing 88_18x9_Teflon A – American Racing’s ATX series carries a load rating of 3,600 lbs and is available in 8×170 and 8×6.5 bolt patterns and in sizes ranging from 16×8 to 20×9. Available in chrome or black finish coated in Teflon to help keep mud and debris from sticking. MSRP ranges from $182 -$341. www.atxwheels.com.
- KO Wheel 840 Anaconda and KO Wheel 845 Guillotine – KO Wheels come in 5 to 8 lug bolt patterns for single and dual axles. The two shown here come in 17×9-inch and 20×9-inch with offset ranging from +18 to 0mm and are available with black or chrome finish. Max load rating is 2,100 lbs per wheel. MSRP ranges from $104.00 to $299.00 depending on the size & finish. www.kowheels.com.
- ProComp 8on180 – Pro Comp’s new 8 on 180mm bolt pattern wheel for the 2011 GM 2500 HD is available in several popular styles are available including the Series 7033 (shown), 7047, 7113 Metal Mulisha, 7032, 7089, 7098, 8101 and many more. The new wheels are available in 17-, 18- and 20-inch diameters. www.procompusa.com.
- Rev Wheel 990 Chrome – Manufactured by KO Wheels, The Rev Wheel 990 comes in 17×9-inch and 20×9-inch with offset ranging from +18 to 0mm and are available with black or chrome finish. Max load rating is 2,100 lbs per wheel. MSRP ranges from $104.00 to $299.00 depending on the size & finish. www.kowheels.com.
- Vision 394 – Vision’s V-Tec Warlord alloy wheel comes in 17×8.5, 18×9, 20×9 and & 22×9.5 wheel sizes with a load rating of 3,640 lbs. It is available in matte black and chrome finishes and the V-Tec line is offered in 22 different designs, all rated for truck use. www.visionwheel.com.
- Wheel Pro-MotoMetal mo961 – If you are looking for a unique look, Moto Metal may just have the answer. They offer a wild selection of cast aluminum wheels finished in satin black or chrome with colored accents. MotoMetal wheels have a load rating of 3,600 lbs and are available in 8×170 and 8×6.5 bolt patterns and in sizes ranging from 18×9 to 20×10. MSRP ranges from $197 -$354. www.atxwheels.com.
- Wheel Pro-Rock Star Dually – The cast aluminum KMC XD RockStar Series are finished in satin black or chrome, offering dually owners a strong and attractive wheel option. RockStar Duallies are load rated at 3,200 lbs and come in 8×170 and 8×6.5 bolt patterns and in sizes 16×6 and 17×6. MSRP ranges from $184 -$282. www.kmcwheels.com.