Steel vs. Alloy Wheels
At a Glance
Alloy wheels are almost always superior to steel wheels when they are available. People prefer the appearance of alloy wheels, and as a result they can enhance a car’s resale value. Alloy wheels are also lighter and result in a slightly better-performing car. In an off-road environment that can cause wheel damage, steel wheels may be superior because they can be repaired easily in most cases.
In almost all cases in the U.S. you will find that a vehicle comes with either steel or alloy wheels. Around fifteen to twenty years ago this was not the case. Steel wheels were far more common and alloy wheels reserved for racing or high performance use. With a reduction in material costs both are now readily available to the public. Which is best for your application though? In this article, we’ll put steel vs. alloy wheels head to head.
First let us have a look at the big difference: how they are made. The steel wheel, as the name suggests, is made of pure steel. Usually it is constructed from a pressed sheet, which forms the face of the wheel, and a turned barrel making up the outer section. These two are commonly welded together, although steel wheels were bolted together in the past. Alloy wheels are made from ferrous metals and usually either cast or forged in one piece. There are two piece versions which, in a similar way to the steel wheels, have a barrel section and face section.
One of the obvious distinguishing features of these two types of wheel is price. Universally, steel wheels are cheaper than their alloy counterpart. This all comes down to the manufacturing process; alloy wheels are more expensive to work with, especially forged alloy wheels which sit at the top of the price structure. If you buy a new car the cheap version will usually be fitted with steel wheels. This can look like a good option but could be a false economy. You must bear in mind that if you plan to resell your vehicle having alloy wheels is a big plus. Alloy wheels as standard can keep the value of your car high and pay off further down the road.
Performance is usually the second consideration of alloy vs. steel wheels. For 90 percent of road cars style is usually the deciding factor. If weight — and by extension performance — is your concern then alloy wheels tend to be the best choice. Alloy wheels, due to their construction and materials, are lighter than steel wheels — sometimes up to and beyond a third less in weight. This mean they will accelerate and “brake” better than steel wheels. Reducing the weight of the car overall also increases performance. The only situation when the opposite may be true is with large off-road vehicles. Here simple, robust steel wheels may be preferable due to the safety factors involved.
In general alloy wheels are stronger and more effective than steel wheels. They will not bend as easily. For most applications this is beneficial but realistically, you will never test these limits with normal road driving. If, as mentioned above, you are planning extended off-road trips then steel has a few benefits. Steel wheels are very durable and most importantly can be repaired easily when damaged by being bent back into their original shape. An alloy wheel that cracks will likely shatter, requiring replacement.
Both alloy and steel wheels have their uses. Your decision will probably be based on aesthetic choices and potential resale value of your car. Steel wheels are a prefect cheap alternative but do not match the overall performance of a quality alloy wheel.