Steel or Alloy Wheels: Which is Right for My Truck? February 24, 2014

steel versus aluminum Walk into any off-road or tire shop and you’ll see a wall of wheels and tires, some shiny, some matte, some big and some small. Choosing the right wheel for your truck shouldn’t be a guessing game and definitely shouldn’t be left up to a salesperson or wheel buying website. Arm yourself with some knowledge before you but your next set of wheels for your truck and make the best decision possible.

Steel Wheels

steel wheel off road (image courtesy of flickr) The two major types of materials you’ll find in a wheel is steel or aluminum. Aluminum rims are often called “cast wheels” and are indeed cast from a piece of aluminum while steel wheels are stamped from a sheet of steel. Steel wheels are heavier than their aluminum brethren, but with this weight comes strength. Since steel wheels are stamped from a single piece of steel, they tend to be stronger and less prone to cracking. With steel you get more uniformity in the wheel, which means better balance and less wobble. Steel wheels are less porous than aluminum ones, giving them a better resistance to corrosion from sand, dirt, salt, and corrosive brake dust. The major negative of steel wheels is their weight. If you’re looking to save on the total weight of your truck, replacing steel wheels with cast ones is definitely a good idea. If you’re off-roading and don’t care about weight or speed, steel is for you.

Aluminum Wheels

aluminum cast wheels (Photo courtesy of flickr) The second major type of material for wheel construction is aluminum. These wheels are sometimes called cast or alloy wheels, and are all the same thing. These wheels are usually created using low-pressure casting, which means the metal is more malleable. A softer metal means the wheel manufacturer can do more inventive things with the design than would be possible for a steel wheel. Aluminum wheels are made of a more porous material, which helps keep things cool and allows for better dissipation of heat from the brakes. Since cast wheels are not steel, they don’t rust and as such are usually easier to clean. They stay clean longer and overall look better. Cast wheels are more prone to cracking and distortion, especially from pothole hits and rock climbs, so they are best kept on the open road and off of trails.

Which to Use?

steel-vs-cast-finish (Photo courtesy of flickr) This is a general statement, but alloy wheels are best for the road, and steel wheels are best for the trail. If strength or durability is in question, the answer should always be steel and if you’re looking for something with more performance and better looks, an alloy wheel is for you. This isn’t to say that all steel wheels are ugly; it’s just that there are more design options available for cast wheels. For example, Pro Comp Rock Crawler Xtreme Steel Wheels are a great choice that’s available in different designs as well as finishes. Aluminum wheels abound, but a popular maker is Mickey Thompson. These offer the look of off-road wheels in a lighter and more attractive package.

Cost

When it comes to cost, steel wheels are almost always the cheaper option. They are more inexpensive to manufacture, which means a lower cost for consumers. Since aluminum wheels are harder to make, and are made for style, they tend to be more expensive. Depending on the size wheel you’re buying a steel option could be far cheaper in cost than a similar aluminum wheel. In the world of cars there is little to look at with steel versus aluminum, as just about every car wheel that’s aftermarket is a cast wheel. Stock wheels tend to be steel, which is why customizers love to replace them.

Wrap-Up

steel-vs-cast-wrap-up (Photo courtesy of flickr) So what wheel should you get? Well, if you’re looking for off-road action it’s a steel wheel, hands down. If you’re looking to up the looks of your custom truck and plan to keep in on the smooth and flat, then aluminum is best for you. Whatever you choose, make sure you know what you’re buying before you shell out money for a set of wheels. Having proper wheels and tires is one of the most important upgrades you can do to your truck. Not only will you get a better look, but make the right choice and you can make your truck safer, too. (Header image courtesy of flickr)


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