At some point, your wheels are going to take a beating. From general wear and tear to that one time you accidentally curbed them, once you see the scratch or dent on your wheels, you can’t take your eyes off it.
What can you do?
When a wheel becomes damaged, you can either have it fixed or have it replaced. Knowing what to look for and your ideal outcome can help you decide which option makes the most sense for you.
When getting to know your car, you may find that some people use the words rim and wheel interchangeably, but they’re actually not the same thing.
The wheel is the entire metal assembly that holds your tire, while a rim is the outer edge of the metal assembly closest to the tire.
While many wheels are one piece, some multi-piece wheels arrive as separate components which can be swapped or adjusted. These parts often include the hub, spokes, barrel (or bowl), and rim. When you scratch a wheel on something like the curb, the rim is often what gets damaged.
When some people say they scratched their rims, others have assumed they meant the entire assembly was a rim—hence the confusion.
Depending on the damage to your wheels, you may notice a difference in your driving.
Deep dents or out-of-round issues may lead to road vibrations and should be addressed immediately. Even small, non-felt damage could lead to further issues and should be resolved earlier than later.
Take a look at each wheel first from a distance, looking for any out-of-round shape. Your wheel should be completely round, even if your tire itself may not be due to the vehicle’s weight.
Next, take a look along the rim or edge of the wheel for any dents or paint chips. It helps to run your hand around the edge.
A common stress point is along the spokes, especially where the spokes connect to the rim or inner hub. Check these spots and the entire wheel for small cracks or worn spots.
Depending on your vehicle, you may have different desired outcomes for your repair.
For people with a simple daily driver, the idea of mismatched coloring or visible signs of a repair may be alright. For others who spent a lot of money making their vehicle look nice, a new finish may be a must.
To understand what repairs are possible, you should understand what materials your wheels use and the coating.
Wheels are typically made of 2 primary metals: aluminum or steel.
Aluminum wheels weigh far less than steel wheels, making them an ideal choice for many new vehicles. Steel wheels are more cost-effective and tend to be more durable, making their way onto many SUVs and trucks.
The simplest way to check the material of your wheels is by conducting a magnet check. Steel is magnetic, and aluminum is not. When placed on your tire, a simple refrigerator magnet will stick to a steel wheel but fall from an aluminum one.
You will see three primary manufacturing methods when purchasing aftermarket wheels: forging, casting, and billet.
Forged wheels involve metal being heated and stamped into its initial shape. From here, the part will move into a CNC cutter to receive its final shape. Forging is cost- and time-effective, making it a popular option for runs (AKA, the production of a set of wheels).
For mass production, casting remains a popular option. This involves creating an initial mold, heating metal to a melted liquid form, and pouring it into the mold. These wheels are then cut to their final shape. Casting is often considered a less precise method and does have design limitations due to fluid movement within the mold.
Billet wheels are on the more expensive side of the market. They involve taking a block of material that was specifically manufactured for purity and cutting the wheel from this block. The material is tightly binding and extremely strong, but it requires expensive and highly time-consuming methods to create a wheel.
Depending on the manufacturing process, you may consider the potential outcome. Cast products often bend easily, but weld repairs will not properly bond. Meanwhile, CnC parts are known for their purity and may be more difficult to repair.
When repairing a part, you’ll need to determine if a wheel will need to be re-coated during your inspection.
When metal bends, it stretches. In many cases, the coating or paint over the top cannot flex at such a rate and will begin to chip or breakaway.
Chrome remains a popular coating for many wheels. Although it’s extremely durable and chip resistant with standard use, a bent wheel could cause flaking. Chroming is an acid-based process that is very timely and quite expensive. A part will need to be stripped to allow an even chroming.
For many years, wheels were painted to match a car. Painted wheels can be sanded down and re-painted to match the originals. Depending on the age and use of the car, the new paint may appear more vibrant compared to the older rims.
Powder coating has risen in popularity due to its cost-effectiveness and resistance to scratches and damage. If a rim is bent and its coating is damaged, the wheel must be sanded down before respraying.
To make the best repair or replacement choice for your vehicle, it’s important to understand the damages.
Bending a metal back and forth will cause it to rip, like a soda tab. With that in mind, you don’t want to fix severe bends because that could lead to other damage.
Cracks will continue to expand over time and should be repaired or replaced immediately. Large cracks could cause small microscopic movements, which will lead to further damage even when repaired.
Surface repairs should be considered when comparing costs. Different coatings may have varying prices in your area. You should reach out to any chroming, painting, or coating shop to create an understanding and bond with the shop owners before your repair.
If you're okay with minor inconsistencies, repairing a wheel may be the best option for you. If you want a like-new appearance, then purchasing a new wheel is your best option.
There is no guarantee a wheel repair will be successful or that you won’t have future damage. If your wheel is losing air due to the damage, you should consider buying a new wheel.
As a buyer, you should always price compare and weigh your pros and cons. If a repair is $180 and your stock steel wheel is $200, are you better off buying a new wheel or having yours repaired? Keep in mind that metal doesn’t simply bend (or bend back).
Coatings often add a hefty price tag to repairs. Ensure your quote from the repair shop either includes the new coating fee or that you have a local shop that‘s willing to do the work for a reasonable fee.
If you plan to replace a wheel with a different sized wheel, always replace all wheels attached to a given axel. For example, if your car has rear-wheel drive, you must replace the right rear wheel if you replace the left rear wheel with a different sized rim. This reduces damage and wear on the differential.
Putting new shoes (AKA, nice wheels) on your car can be quite costly. The idea of a wheel becoming damaged can seem dramatic, but bad road conditions or an unsuspecting curb could lead to a need for repair.
This damage can be a great opportunity to change out your aging wheels for brand new ones.
We know the cost of new wheels can be a major consideration, so Rent A Wheel allows customers to pay for wheels over time. We even offer free shipping, installation, and balancing at our dealer locations. You can online shop for your must-have wheel from the comfort of your home.
Purchasing from a reputable dealer ensures your product will remain in stock in case something happens. While blowout sales sound amazing, if you need a single wheel for replacement, they may no longer be in production. You should consider purchasing a 5th wheel as a spare or purchasing from new stock in these instances.
For many, wheels are about showing off your style and looking good. If you want a perfect outcome, purchasing new wheels may be your best option.