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Wheel 101

Understanding the Difference Between Cast, Flow Formed, & Forged Wheels


There are (3) main types of wheels on the market today; One-Piece Cast, Flow Formed, and Forged Wheels.

One-Piece Cast Wheels:

Cast wheels will generally be the more economical choice for those shopping strictly based on cost. However, there are several brands that produce very high end cast wheels that offer performance and cosmetic features previously only found in the Forged lines of wheels. Another common misconception about cast wheels it that they do not fit properly. While cast wheels are pre-made, many companies are now offering aggressive fitments that mirror some of the more prestigious wheel lines on the market.

The One-Piece Cast wheel is the most common type of aluminum wheel. The casting of wheels is the process of getting molten aluminum inside a mold to form a wheel. There are different ways this can be accomplished and although it sounds simple, this is truly an art when done properly.

Gravity Casting

Gravity casting is the most basic process of pouring molten aluminum into a mold utilizing the earth's gravity to fill the mold. Gravity casting offers a very reasonable production cost and is a good method for casting designs that are more visually oriented or when reducing weight is not a primary concern. Since the process relies on gravity to fill the mold, the aluminum is not as densely packed in the mold as some other casting processes. Often gravity cast wheels will have a higher weight to achieve the required strength.

Low Pressure casting

Low pressure casting uses positive pressure to move the molten aluminum into the mold quicker and achieve a finished product that has improved mechanical properties (more dense) over gravity cast wheel. Low-pressure casting has a slightly higher production cost over gravity casting. Low pressure is the most common process approved for aluminum wheels sold to the O.E.M. market. Low-pressure cast wheels offer a good value for the aftermarket as well. Some companies offer wheels that are produced under a higher pressure in special casting equipment to create a wheel that is lighter and stronger than a wheel produced in low pressure. Once again in the quest for lighter weight, there is a higher cost associated with the process.

Flow Form, Rotary Forged, MAT or Spun Flow Technology:

Most commonly referred to as Flow-Forming (Flow Formed), these wheels have become increasingly popular over the past several years. One of the most popular brands to offer a complete Flow Formed line is Forgestar. Forgestar offers several very popular designs with the customization ability usually only available from Forged wheel brands. Flow Formed wheels, such as Forgestar, are typically priced very close to standard cast wheels but offer many of the features of a high end Forged model (e.g. powder coating, custom offsets, custom sizes). Flow Formed wheels are the choice of enthusiasts who are searching for a custom wheel built specifically for their vehicle without the cost.

This specialized process begins with a low pressure type of casting and uses a special machine that spins the initial casting, heats the outer portion of the casting and then uses steel rollers pressed against the rim area to pull the rim to its final width and shape. The combination of the heat, pressure and spinning create a rim area with the strength similar to a forged wheel without the high cost of the forging. Some of the special wheels produced for the O.E.M. high performance or limited production vehicles utilize this type of technology resulting in a light and strong wheel at a reasonable cost.

Forged:

The ultimate in one-piece wheels. Forging is the process of forcing a solid billet of aluminum between the forging dies under an extreme amount of pressure. This creates a finished product that is very dense, very strong and therefore can be very light. The costs of tooling, development, equipment, etc., make this type of wheel very exclusive and usually demand a high price in the aftermarket.

Multi-Piece Wheels

This type of wheel utilizes two or three components assembled together to produce a finished wheel. Multi-piece wheels can use many different methods of manufacturing. Centers can be cast in various methods or forged. The rim sections for 3-piece wheels are normally spun from disks of aluminum. Generally, spun rim sections offer the ability to custom-tailor wheels for special applications that would not be available otherwise. The rim sections are bolted to the center and normally a sealant is applied in or on the assembly area to seal the wheel. This type of 3-piece construction was originally developed for racing in the early 1970s and has been used on cars ever since. The 3-piece wheels are most popular in the 17" and larger diameters.

There are now many options for 2-piece wheels in the market. The 2-piece wheel design does not offer as wide a range of application that a 3-piece wheel allows, however they are more common in the market and the prices start well below the average 3-piece wheel. Some 2-piece wheels have the center bolted into a cast or cast/spun rim section and other manufacturers press centers into spun rim sections and weld the unit together. When BBS developed a new 2-piece wheel to replace the previous 3-piece street wheel, they used the special rim-rolling technology (originally developed for racing wheels) to give the rim section the weight and strength advantages similar to a forged rim. On the high-end of the 2-piece wheel market you can find wheels using forged rims and forged centers. Since these are only sold in small volume and due to the high development and production costs associated with the forging process, they tend to be on the high end of the price scale.

Offset

The offset of a wheel is the distance from its hub mounting surface to the centerline of the wheel. The offset can be one of three types (measured in millimeters).*

Zero Offset

The hub mounting surface is even with the centerline of the wheel.

Positive

The hub mounting surface is toward the front or wheel side of the wheel. Positive offset wheels are generally found on front wheel drive cars and newer rear drive cars.

Negative

The hub mounting surface is toward the back or brake side of the wheels centerline. "Deep dish" wheels are typically a negative offset.If the offset of the wheel is not correct for the car, the handling can be adversely affected. When the width of the wheel changes, the offset also changes numerically. If the offset were to stay the same while you added width, the additional width would be split evenly between the inside and outside. For most cars, this won't work correctly. We have test fitted thousands of different vehicles for proper fitment. Our extensive database allows our sales staff to offer you the perfect fit for your vehicle.

*Backspacing, similar to offset, is the distance from the hub mounting surface to the inside lip of the wheel (measured in inches).

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