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The Basics of Choosing Between Aluminum Alloy or Steel Wheels



When choosing between an aluminum alloy or steel wheels, it is essential to keep in mind how the characteristics of the materials will affect everything, from how your vehicle looks to how efficiently it uses fuel and even how easy it is to maintain. You can find a wider variety of styles, finishes and colors with aluminum wheels, but steel ones are generally cheaper, so keep your needs in mind as you search.


Materials and Aesthetics

Both steel and aluminum alloy wheels are made from metal combinations. Steel is ferrous, meaning it contains iron, and aluminum is not. Each alloy will have different types of strengths and weaknesses. For instance, steel, an alloy of iron and carbon, is heavier than an aluminum-nickel alloy, which can reduce fuel economy. Still, it is more durable and easier to repair than the lightweight and brittle aluminum alloy. Choosing ferrous vs non ferrous materials for your wheels can mean limiting the styles you can choose from because aluminum alloy wheels can be cast in a wide variety of designs.


Strength and Durability

The strength of your vehicle's wheels depends on how well it can maintain its shape under pressure and how robust the manufacturing methods are. Since steel wheels are made from separate inside spokes and outside rims, they can bend more easily when hitting a curb or pothole in the road than aluminum alloy wheels cast as one piece. The lighter-weight aluminum alloy is also more brittle and more likely to crack or break from impact damage.

Durability is not always the same as strength, so it is crucial to consider both when choosing your vehicle's wheels. These wheels are usually finished with rust-resistant compounds and can resist road chemicals and debris damage better than aluminum alloy wheels. Steel is susceptible to rust because it contains iron, meaning that exposure to moisture will degrade unfinished or chipped steel over time.


Maintenance and Repairs

For both types of wheels, regular cleaning will keep the finishes looking their best and help you spot any cracks or chips which need addressing. Aluminum alloy wheels will require more frequent cleaning than steel ones because the finishes are more susceptible to road chemicals and debris impacts.

Repairs are easier with steel wheels than with aluminum alloy ones because they can usually be reshaped without recasting. Steel wheels can also be welded back together if the center and rim become separated.


Weight and Performance

Steel is heavier than an aluminum and nickel alloy, which can make your vehicle weigh more and use more fuel than if you choose aluminum wheels. This difference is negligible for the average driver but is one of the main reasons racing teams avoid steel wheels. For how the weight of your wheels can impact your driving, you will want to look at performance issues such as ride quality, steering and acceleration, all of which are improved with lighter aluminum alloy wheels. Off-roading, however, will need the heavier durability of steel wheels for better traction.



The cost difference between aluminum alloy and steel wheels is significant for many car owners. Steel wheels are often less expensive than their aluminum counterparts, but when you factor in the smoothness of the ride and improved steering, the aluminum alloy may be worth the cost. Some vehicle owners will have more than one set of wheels, use the lighter-weight ones for the summer months, and use the heavier ones for snow tires.


Final Thoughts

In all, choosing between different styles and materials for your tires depends mainly on your primary use for the vehicle. Steel is a good bet if you want a sturdy tire with better traction and damage resistance. However, if you want a smoother ride in a lighter vehicle with better steering in the corners, then an aluminum-nickel alloy is better.


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