A well chosen wheel and tire package can have a considerable impact on the style and handling of your vehicle. Few other changes to the performance characteristics of a vehicle will be fully realized without a wider, stiffer tire contact patch to provide proper grip with the road. The wheel industry has exploded in scope over the past 10-15 years, and it takes some experience to wade through the flood of new choices to make sure you’re buying and owning “quality”.
The basic performance benefit derived from a “plus sized” wheel/tire package has to do with the working combination of a larger diameter wheel and a “low-profile” tire. A larger, wider wheel allows for the fitment of a wider tire. Plus-sized tires are constructed to have a similar overall diameter to the original tire. Consequently a low-profile tire will have a shorter sidewall, (hence the term). Low-profile tires are also available in more aggressive and higher-performing compounds and tread patterns. All of these characteristics combine to ensure that under heavy cornering and acceleration your tire stays planted on the road. Having a wider patch of rubber available to do so in the first place helps.
Alloy wheels offer advantages that come with better brake breathing and heat dissipation, very high strength, often very low weight, and more aggressive sizes and fitments, all of which allow for more spirited performance when compared against older steel wheel designs.
In the U.S., there are no regulatory standards with which to compare or judge the relative quality or strength of an alloy wheel at the Retail level. Fitting larger wheels can have important safety and performance consequences, so it’s very important to make quality choices. Proper load-rating, high-quality alloy, the most advanced manufacturing methods, and hand-finishing and inspection are all critical to building a high-quality wheel design.
Our advice is to shop TÜV-approved wheels first. Because of the demands of the Autobahn, the German government mandates a series of tests that are required when certifying any alloy wheel for road use. These tests are the most stringent in the world. TÜV tests include impact resistance (dropping as much as 1000kg on the lip of a mounted wheel), runout tests, salt-spray tests, Finite Element Analysis testing, impact resistance testing, and flexibility tests which bench-test a wheel’s resistance to bends, distortion, and cracks.
In total, TÜV approval, although not a U.S. requirement, gives us here at Ai another arrow in our quiver to ensure that the wheels we recommend are of the highest quality. We also represent domestic wheel brands, where TÜV approvals do not apply, but for which we have many years of hand-on experience to assure similar results.
To veterans of the Tuning business, it seems that anyone with a pencil and pad these days can make their own wheel design. We applaud the creativity that this trend implies, but we also refuse to recommend products that we have not vetted very carefully to assure proper safety, load-rating, and performance. This is perhaps not as crucial when selecting a shift knob, for example, but it is vitally important when choosing an alloy wheel style for your vehicle. Increased competition and a growing number of choices have pushed even some of the most storied wheel firms into a “Race to the Bottom” of the pricing scale. At Ai we recommend only firms that, in our experience, continue to innovate to maintain the highest quality standards.