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Custom Wheels

A car owner may choose custom wheels for performance purposes or personal taste.

Chrome rims are popular choices for custom wheels. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Chrome rims are popular choices for custom wheels.

Custom Wheels

Custom wheels are wheels for cars, trucks and motorcycles that are not factory standard, meaning they are different from those installed by the manufacturer on the standard model. Custom wheels are bought either for their enhanced functionality or for their aesthetic appeal.

Custom wheels can be purchased from car dealers and from a variety of specialty shops that manufacture wheels and wheel accessories. Some car owners also like to install racing or other types of specialty tires on their cars.

While custom wheels can improve the look of an automobile, they are also valuable and may increase the likelihood that a car will be stolen or vandalized. Some custom wheels may cost thousands of dollars, especially those with rare metals and other customizations.

What is a Custom Wheel?

The wheel is a circular metal disk holding a tire. Some cars have simple wheels covered by hubcaps, which are pieces of metal or plastic shielding the exposed part of the wheel on the side of the car. The rim is the edge of the wheel that holds the tire in place.

Car manufacturers eventually began leaving the hubcaps off their cars and focusing on constructing more attractive wheels that don't need to be covered by hubcaps. When a car does not have hubcaps, the spokes of the wheels are visible.

Custom wheels may differ from the factory models in size, appearance or both. Many car owners choose custom wheels because they are attractive, even if they do not enhance the function of the car.

Custom wheels may differ from standard wheels in a number of ways, including:

  • Diameter of the wheel
  • Width of the rim
  • Types of metal or other materials used in the spokes or the rim
  • Surface treatment, which includes polishing or plating in precious metals, such as gold

How to Install Custom Wheels

Some car manufacturers offer custom wheel additions to some car models, but many consumers purchase custom wheels from specialty vendors. Consumers may choose to install custom wheels themselves or they may have the wheels installed at an auto repair shop.

To install new wheels, the car must be lifted with a jack, and the old wheels must be removed. Removing a wheel requires some familiarity with the machinery involved in the wheel and also some basic tools. Once the new wheels are installed, tires must be fitted and balanced on the wheels. Depending on the type of custom wheel, the original tires may not fit and the car owner might need to purchase new tires.

What Types of Custom Wheels are Available?

Many custom wheels are technically very similar to a car's standard wheels and differ only in appearance. Custom wheels may have polished or engraved spokes. The spokes are one of the most visually stunning parts of the wheel and are the essential component for car owners who install wheels for their visual appeal. Other custom wheel enthusiasts choose their wheels based on the size, appearance and thickness of the outer edge of the wheel, the part visible just inside the tire.

Steel or Alloy Wheels

Some wheels are designed to improve a cars function. For instance, lightweight wheels, usually made from aluminum or magnesium alloy, make the car lighter, and some drivers believe that lighter wheels make the car easier to handle. Steel wheels, by contrast, are often thought of as stronger and more durable.

Wheel Diameter

Car owners may also install larger wheels, which are used with low profile tires. While some car owners simply like the look of wider rims, some drivers also believe that the thinner, low-profile tiers improve handling. Rims range in size from approximately 10 inches on small cars to more than 30 inches for trucks and other large vehicles.

Before installing wheels larger than the factory standard, owners should consult a mechanic or a customization guide to determine whether their car will be compatible with larger rims. If a car owner wants to install 20-inch rims on a compact car, for instance, he or she might need to make modifications to the cars suspension to ensure that the car functions correctly with the larger, or smaller, rims.

Decorative Rims

Many rims are chosen simply for their visual appeal, rather than safety or performance. There are a variety of options for drivers wishing to enhance their cars appearance by installing new rims. Rims may differ according to whether the surface metal is polished or left rough. Similarly, some companies offer rims that have been colored or plated with gold or silver.

Spinners or spinning rims are a special kind of decorative rim that features a plate with spokes or other decorative elements, mounted on the outside of the wheel. Spinners continue to spin even when the car is not moving. Spinners have become a popular aftermarket addition in the custom car industry.

Where to Buy Custom Wheels

Some automobile manufacturers offer custom wheels as options for car buyers. Car manufacturer BMW offers double spoke alloy wheels in a choice of diameters as an optional accessory for some of their car models. Car manufacturer MINI also offers options in terms of wheel size, width and material.

While many car manufacturers offer custom wheel options for more divergent designs, car owners may seek out the assistance of specialty shops offering custom wheels and other tire and wheel accessories. Most cities have specialty shops that can help car owners choose the best custom wheels and also offer installation services.

Online vendors are another source for custom wheels and other accessories. To help car owners make the best choice for their particular car, some online vendors will consult with car owners over the phone or via e-mail, and some offer programs that allow potential customers to preview what new wheel designs will look like on their car.

There are hundreds of online vendors for customs wheels, including:

Custom Wheel
American Racing
Custom Wheels Direct
Big Wheels

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