Wheel Buyer's Guide - Reinventing The Wheel

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The wheel has come a long way since it first rolled onto the scene. Construction materials have changed from stone and wood to stamped steel, forged aluminum and CNC-machined metals. The precision with which it is manufactured has increased tenfold, and is ever so important as modern vehicles exceed speeds never dreamed of by our Neanderthal relatives.

No other single modification offers the dramatic change that aftermarket wheels can, and their relatively inexpensive price-at least when compared to a paint job and/or aftermarket body mods-is one of the reasons why so many people opt for a new set of rims.

They can set a car apart from the rest of the grocery getters, allowing one to express his/her personality, something American automobile owners spend an enormous amount of cash on.

When choosing a certain look or style, keep in mind that shape, size and design should complement your vehicle's exterior, and not draw attention away from its lines. With regard to wheel design and construction, one should also consider ease of maintenance. Wheels made from billet aluminum or those that are chrome-plated may need frequent polishing to keep them looking their best, whereas a painted or clearcoated rim just needs washing and an occasional waxing.

Ride quality plays an integral part in wheel choice as well. The level of comfort may drop slightly when using larger diameter rims, as they usually require a lower profile (shorter sidewall height) tire. At the same time, some racing-oriented rims, as well as those wheels that use a low-profile tire, may not take kindly to street abuse, i.e., curbs and potholes. Mistakes in this area can be costly if you're coughing up $300-$500 per wheel.

We won't go into the offsets and back spacings that different automobiles use, as most wheel manufacturers generally have this information for their consumers. But it is important to mention that these measurements should be verified before a wheel purchase, or at the very least before you have tires mounted on them. Otherwise you may be stuck with a wheel that doesn't fit, and a wallet that misses the money you blew on it.

Though the trend seems to lean toward larger wheels and lower profile tires, many people prefer 15- and 16-inch variants for reasons ranging from tire selection and price, to the stance and look of the vehicle once the new rollers are mounted. With the smaller diameter wheels, one must take into consideration the amount of room that the wheel provides for braking systems. Aftermarket kits may require a certain size rim to clear larger calipers and/or rotors. Some companies like Baer Racing offer templates that allow verification of the needed space.

Most importantly, the wheels should make you feel good about the money you spent on them. They should serve your purposes-both aesthetic and performance-and hopefully give your vehicle a different personality, unless you are going for larger stock replacements. Hey, some people like the factory offerings, but if you intend to spend the extra money on an aftermarket wheel, you might as well make the effort to refine your automobile's facade. This way you can gain an edge in performance and look cool at the same time.

Check out these bitchin' wheels. We've pulled them from our GMHTP archives because they represent what we think are some of the hottest trends going. They run the range in price from mild to wild so there's something there for every budget. And one final thought: The wheels make the car more than any other visual item, so if you want to get noticed by our roving cameras, it helps to have some hoops that catch our eye!

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