Alloy or Steel?
Wheels traditionally are built from two types of material, alloy (aluminium) or steel. Lower-spec passenger vehicles often come with steel wheels and plastic wheel covers fitted as a means of cost cutting, while higher-spec models will almost always be offered with larger, more attractive looking alloy wheels. The choice then seems clear, but there are pros and cons to both construction types which you must consider:
- Cheaper than alloy wheels.
- Will never split or crack.
- May bend on hard impacts, but can be hammered back into shape as an emergency fix.
- Heavier than alloy wheels, decreasing vehicle performance and increasing fuel consumption.
- Available in fewer styles and colours.
- Stronger than steel wheels.
- Available in a wider range of styles, finishes and sizes.
- Lighter than steel wheels, improving vehicle performance and fuel economy.
- May crack or split from very hard impacts, are often non-repairable.
- Are usually more expensive than steel wheels.
So which is best?
With the above points in mind, alloy wheels are almost always the perfect choice for passenger vehicles. Their stronger construction and lighter weight means your vehicle will see improvements in handling, performance and fuel economy, whilst also looking better visually.
For 4WD vehicles the advantages of steel or alloy wheels can be used to the vehicle owner's advantage, enabling drivers to choose a wheel that will best suit their kind of driving. For people who often drive their 4WDs through harsh, remote conditions, the rugged dependability of steel wheels may be an attractive proposition. Their inherent strength and ability to bend (rather than crack) means there's a reduced chance you'd be left stranded in the event of a hard impact.
On the other hand, 4WD owners who live closer to larger rural centres will find alloy wheels a more attractive option. Aside from a larger range of styles and sizes available (which makes selecting a wheel to suit their vehicle much easier), alloy wheels offer a strong but light construction which pay dividends when it comes to vehicle performance and handling.