Introduction: What are Alloy Wheels
Alloy wheels are made from aluminum or magnesium alloys.
They are lightweight and enhance the look of your car. They have become the new trend among car owners and the new car models are coming equipped with alloy wheels.
These wheels also offer plenty of customization options as they can be cast and molded into a number of different designs.
Due to being lightweight, the alloy wheels provide superior driving experience and comfort. They provide greater acceleration, braking, and maneuverability on the road.
Alloy wheels are becoming the preferred choice for most car owners and driving enthusiasts due to the visual appeal and exceptional handling capabilities they offer.
The market for alloy wheels is also growing at a healthy rate globally.
The penetration of alloy wheels is increasing in most major countries and markets in the world and this trend is expected to continue in the foreseeable future.
What are Steel Wheels
Steel wheels are the traditional wheels made from steel.
These wheels are more durable and last longer than alloy wheels.
They are also more cost-effective than alloy wheels. Steel wheels can take the demands of driving in rugged terrains better as steel is stronger and more durable than alloys used to make the alloy wheels.
However, due to greater unsprung weight, the steel wheels provide an inferior experience in driving and handling of cars.
The acceleration and braking of the car are not the same as in the case of alloy wheels. Steel wheels also do not provide increased visual appeal o your car as the alloy wheels do.
Alloy Wheel Market
The market for alloy wheels has been growing steadily across the globe.
Due to the many benefits they offer, alloy wheels have started to replace the regular steel wheels in most parts of the world.
It is estimated that during the period 2016-2024, the global market size for alloy wheels will grow at a healthy rate of 5.8%.
Increasing disposable income and changing customer preferences are a major driver of the alloy wheel market.
Customers are preferring alloy wheels for enhancing the visual appeal and performance of their car. More car manufacturers are now equipping their vehicles with factory fitted alloy wheels.
Based on the source of procurement, the market for alloy wheels can be segregated into two segments- Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) and the aftermarket segment.
The OEM segment is leading and dominating the alloy wheel markets due to more production and incorporation of alloy wheels directly into the manufactured cars.
Due to the technological advancements, OEMs are now making highly advanced alloy wheels which are corrosion resistant and provide an excellent driving experience.
This leadership and dominance of the OEM segment are expected to continue during the projected period of 2016-2014.
The aftermarket alloy wheel segment is more budget friendly for the customers compared to the OEM segments. The aftermarket segment is a good choice for customers whose cars are not factory fitted with alloy wheels.
The alloy wheel market is also segmented based on the wheel size. It is further divided into compact-sized, mid-sized, and full-size categories.
Of these, the mid-sized category is the most popular and dominant. The mid-sized category consists of alloy wheels sized between 16-inches to 18-inches.
This category is very dominant in the Chinese and European markets, which further boosts the demand for mid-sized alloy wheel category.
Due to the strict regulatory norms on emissions, the OEMs have been downsizing their vehicles from full-size to mid-size, which helps them to comply with these emissions regulations.
This has also been a major driver for the mid-sized alloy wheel category in most global markets.
In the year 2016, alloy wheels accounted for 53% of the global Original Equipment (OE) lightweight automotive market.
The usage of alloy wheels for heavy vehicles like trucks and trailers still remains low at nearly 14%. The U.S. has the highest rate of adoption of alloy wheels with penetration levels of nearly 74% for the lightweight automotive market and 40% for commercial vehicles.
The penetration of alloy wheels in different sub-categories of the automotive market in prominent markets is increasing steadily and this trend is expected to continue further in the near future.
Based on the type of vehicles, the market for alloy wheels is categorized into the passenger vehicle and commercial vehicle segment.
A passenger vehicle is a dominant segment for the adoption of alloy wheels mainly due to greater manufacturing of these type of vehicles compared to commercial vehicles.
The Asia-Pacific region is the fastest growing market in the world for alloy wheels. The major reasons for this include more production of vehicles in the region due to increased demand.
The liberalized government regulations, ease of availability of raw materials and cost-effective labor in the Asia Pacific region is another driver for the alloy wheel industry.
Key Differences Between Alloy and Steel Wheels
There are many differences between alloy and steel wheels.
You must carefully study and understand their differences and assess which one of them is more suited to your driving needs.
Some of the major differences between alloy wheels and steel wheels are discussed below:
Alloy wheels are made from aluminum or magnesium alloys or a blend of both. They are much lighter than steel wheels.
They have a lower unsprung weight which provides excellent driving experience compared to the regular steel wheels.
The amount of aluminum alloy which is required to provide the same strength as a steel wheel is 40% less than steel.
Aluminum weighs much lighter than steel of the same size which is the reason behind the alloy wheels being lighter than the regular steel wheels.
It is important to note that the forged aluminum wheels are much stronger than cast aluminum and also weigh less.
Handling is an important consideration for choosing a particular type of wheel. As already discussed, the alloy wheels are lighter which is a key factor in improving the overall car driving and maneuverability experience.
The lightweight nature of the alloy wheels provides better acceleration and more agile performance on the road.
Alloy wheels also have better heat transmission compared to the steel wheels.
A better and improved heat transmission mechanism ensures that heat is properly dispersed from the brakes.
This provides better braking performance and reduces the chances of braking failure due to heating issues considerably.
Due to the lower unsprung mass of the alloy wheels, the suspension keeps better contact and traction with the terrains, thereby providing improved road grip and better driving experience.
Alloy wheels are generally costlier than the steel wheels. The greater cost is due to the use of lightweight alloy and better features which it offers compared to the steel wheels.
You can consider many different customization options for enhancing the visual aesthetics of your car using an alloy wheel.
Steel wheels, on the other hand, are basic and are good for a basic driving experience at a lower cost.
The additional cost incurred towards buying alloy wheels can be offset against the savings made by improved fuel efficiency.
Alloy wheels are lighter and improve the driving experience and also enhance the fuel efficiency of your car which helps you to save money on fuel.
Durability is often a key deciding factor when selecting car wheels.
Generally, alloy wheels have greater strength compared to the steel wheels due to the use of advanced technology in the process of manufacturing.
Steel wheels have the problem of bending more on potholes than the alloy wheels. Alloy wheels though they bend lesser than steel wheels can break when they bend beyond their threshold.
Once the rim is broken, an alloy wheel is very difficult and nearly impossible to repair.
In such cases, you will more likely have to buy a new set of alloy wheels which can be costly.
Steel wheels, on the other hand, can be easily repaired if the rim breaks and hence are the more cost-effective option.
The alloy wheels are available in different sizes.
The mid-sized category of alloy wheels consists of wheels between 16-inches to 18-inches. The full-size category will consist of alloy wheels in excess of 18-inches.
However, the mid-sized category has become the most commonly used and bought across most global markets. Steel wheels are mostly sized 16-inches.
It will be difficult to find them in 17 or 18 inches of size as it will make the steel wheels heavy and degrade the driving experience and handling of the car.
You may have to resort to downsizing while using steel wheels. However, some cars may not accept downsized wheel size due to bigger brake calipers and other suspension issues.
Pros and Cons of Using Alloy Wheels
Alloy wheels enhance the visual aesthetics of your car which is a key reason for its adoption among customers.
They come with different customization options which you can select from depending on your preferences. These wheels are lightweight as they are made from aluminum or magnesium alloys.
Due to being lightweight, alloy wheels have lower unsprung weight compared to the regular steel wheels which allow better handling and driving experience.
The wheels can have better traction and grip on the road which allows improved acceleration and braking.
Alloy wheels also have better braking heat transmission which allows better heat dissipation and reduces chances of braking failures.
Alloy wheels are lighter which also leads to improvement in fuel efficiency, thereby helping you to save costs on fuel.
The cons of using alloy wheels include an increased cost.
They are costlier than the steel wheels which makes it difficult to keep spare wheels.
Difficulty in repairability is another problem of using alloy wheels. Once the rim breaks, it is very difficult to repair it and you may have to purchase new wheels.
Considering that they are more prone to cracks and dents as the alloy used is less durable than steel, it is a major disadvantage of using alloy wheels.
Pros and Cons of Using Steel Wheels
The biggest advantage of using steel wheels is that it is more durable and is a good choice for basic drivers.
They are fit for driving in rugged terrain as they are highly durable and it is difficult to crack a steel wheel rim.
Steel wheels are also more corrosion and rust-resistant compared to alloy wheels which are prone to galvanic corrosion.
These wheels are highly cost-effective than alloy wheels and it is easier to keep spare wheels due to low cost. It is also very easy and cost-effective to repair a damaged steel wheel in the unlikely case of cracking of its rim.
However, steel wheels come with their share of drawbacks.
They are much heavier than alloy wheels which increases their unsprung weight.
This results in reduced driving and handling experience of the car on different terrains. They have poor heat dissipation mechanism which can cause high heating and lead to problems with braking.
Due to being heavy, they can also reduce the fuel efficiency of your car.
Steel wheels are not as good looking as alloy wheels and they can degrade the entire visual aesthetics of your car.
Steel wheels are mostly available in 16-inch sizes and they cannot be used on all types of vehicles.
Some cards have bigger braking calipers and are specifically designed to run only on alloy wheels.
Verdict: Which One Should You Choose
Both alloy wheels and steel wheels come with their own sets of pros and cons which have been discussed in this article. The final choice lies with you and is largely dependent on your driving aspirations and requirements.
If the price is not a deciding factor with you, and you value the visual appeal of your car highly, then you can opt for alloy wheels for getting better drive quality and overall experience.
However, if you are a price sensitive customer and you are fine with regular looking wheels which are suitable for all terrains, then you should choose steel wheels.
Before buying either of these wheel types, you should take time to do thorough background research for buying the best wheels.