Wooden Wheels To Alloy Wheels; What’s The Real Story? Part VII



In the US, wheel repair, specifically severely damaged wheels, started as a direct result of the insurance business. The first companies offering repairs did so from machine shops where they utilized welding and tracer lathes. Polished and painted wheels were then re-polished and re-painted to make the job complete. This repair process is referred to as re-manufacturing. Today’s shops, however, utilize sophisticated CNC lathes and, like the OEMs, they powder coat versus wet paint. Two of the early companies that provided re-manufacturing services have grown into multi-million dollar businesses and account for over 100 million USD in annual sales. Their specialty is core exchange programs –purchasing damaged cores from salvage yards and re-manufacturing them. Over the years they have accumulated tremendous inventories exchanging wheels held in inventory for damaged cores. Several hundred smaller companies around North America account for an additional 400 million USD in annual gross revenue.

Early pioneers offered on-the-car repairs, a process including sanding and crude paint matching on damages up to the tire wall. Early repair processes were slow and often neglected damage to the wheel’s interior. PDR technicians emerged as a mobile alternative to shop- based providers and “on-the-car” repair services. The mobile wheel repair industry was born and with it came created technologies that deliver shop- based quality cosmetic wheel repair in a mobile environment.

Just as the wheel has evolved, so will the concept of wheel repair. Complex designs and materials in alloy wheels are sure to continue, and so is the development of the tools and methods design to repair them. As a PDR Technician, you have the golden opportunity to make your own history. Heck, you may be the guy that comes up with the next great alloy wheel repair that will change the way we work with and look at alloy. While it’s said that the wheel industry has completely spun out and there is no more room or technology that would or could develop the next great wheel, I think if you want to, you can decide to do anything you want. Dare to dream.

Wooden Wheels To Alloy Wheels; What’s The Real Story? Part VI



Race cars use alloy wheels because they are lighter weight, cause less tire stress, and have much better balance; all of which tends to be beneficial for increased speed. The biggest concern that people have with alloy wheels, though, is the cost. Steel wheels are definitely less expensive to manufacture, so they are of course more affordable. In the long run however, the price you pay is offset by the fact that you are getting more for your money.

In today’s auto market, alloy wheels are an attractive selling feature in new and pre-owned vehicles. Whether it’s a set of 22” inch chrome aftermarket mags, or 17” OEM wheels apart of a luxury trim package, alloy wheels seem to be more popular than ever before. On the surface, the characteristics of alloy wheels seem largely cosmetic in nature, underlying features including improved handling and suspension, reduction of road mass and fuel consumption, and improved braking do add to vehicle safety and performance standards thereby becoming considerably more common in economy and subcompact vehicles.

The use of alloy wheels began in the mid-90s as a means to dress up high-end European cars. As these expensive wheels became more popular, the concept was duplicated by aftermarket specialty manufacturers offering wheels that were not only stylized, but looked sexy and sleek, too! Demand for their supply increased. Within five years, domestic and Japanese manufacturers had also begun installing alloys on their high-cars. Today, alloy wheels are the manufacturers’ wheel of choice. The price of aluminum and its lighter weight, as well as its good looks, provides a very reasonable alternative to outdated steel wheels and hubcaps. Unfortunately, with poor road conditions, debris, and increased traffic and accidents increased the damage or bends to alloys leading to costly wheel replacement. The need for wheel repair was born.

Wooden Wheels To Alloy Wheels; What’s The Real Story? Part V



Since that first wooden wheel changed the world, man has been improving upon the concept with many different materials and ideas. History shows us that the first successful wheels were not actually solid, but were made from boards, fastened together and then the edges were rounded. The theory is that a solid wheel was just not strong enough to support any real weight, for long distances, over difficult ground. Many millennia later, someone dreamed of the incredible spoked wheel, which is essentially the basis for every wheel invented since.

Wrapping It Up

The improvements engineered for tires, as well as for rims has continued through the years, with the inventions and enhancements of nylon, cord, rubber, and other materials tried out for different types of tires. The actual rim or wheel has been experimented with and altered in design and material as the world discovered steel, iron, and aluminum, and variations of these metals, and also different types of plastics. Though for the record, plastics are not yet considered suitable for structure of a rim, but mostly for cosmetic purpose, to cover the rim and improve the appearance.

The most popular choice of wheels today, is the alloy wheel or the aluminum rim if you’d rather. And not only because they are so much prettier than steel rims, though they really are. However, the real reason that alloy is so much more popular, is because it is so much lighter, and structurally stronger. Steel wheels and hubcaps are heavy, and when riding in a car that has them, you feel every bump in the road. Aluminum wheels make for a much smoother ride; actually, it can feel like gliding over the road. That is why most luxury automobiles have them now.

Wooden Wheels To Alloy Wheels; What’s The Real Story? Part IV



Though we won’t get too technical about the differences between steel and alloy wheels, we will say that the latter are lighter and better heat conductors. As a result, cars fitted with alloy wheels sport improved steering and handling and prolong the life of the brakes. They are also more visually appealing, but that’s another story. On the other hand, alloy wheels are considerably more expensive to make than steel ones, which raises the overall price of the car.

Future of the Wheel

As the traditional wheel design is close to exhausting any possible development, companies are looking at more and more exotic prototypes to replace it. Among these, Michelin is probably the most active in the field of research with two recent innovative concepts, the Tweel and the Active Wheel System.


Announced in 2006, the Tweel returns to the first designs by using a non-pneumatic solution instead of the traditional tire and wheel combination. The rolling surface consists of a rubber tread, which is bonded to the hub via flexible spokes. The flexible spokes are fused with a deformable wheel that absorbs shocks and rebounds. Michelin claims that even without the air needed in conventional tires, the Tweel still delivers pneumatic-like load-carrying capacity, ride comfort and resistance to road hazards.

Though it offers many advantages, the Tweel is marred by a big problem: vibration at speeds over 50 mph (80 km/h), which only makes suitable for construction and personal mobility vehicles. 

Active Wheel System

The concept is probably the most revolutionary of them all as it incorporates all of the car’s key components into the wheel itself. While only suitable for electric cars, the Active Wheel System houses the engine, the suspension, the gearbox and the transmission shaft.

Wooden Wheels To Alloy Wheels; What’s The Real Story? Part III



There was, however, a big difference between those tires and the ones we used today. Made of white carbonless rubber, the tire had a life expectancy of around 2000 miles. A tire only lasted for around 30 or 40 miles before it needed repairs. Common problems included: the tire coming off the wheel, punctures and the tube being pinched.

Paradoxically, the next step in wheel evolution was the disc one, which bears more resemblance to the initial solid designs. As with many other things in our history, the change was prompted by lower costs as the steel disc wheels were cheaper to make. The rim could be rolled out of a straight strip of metal, and the disc itself could be stamped from sheet metal in one easy motion. The two components were welded or riveted together, and the resulting wheel was one that was relatively light, stiff, resistant to damage, easily produced in mass quantities, and most important, cheaply produced. 

Perhaps now would be a good time to talk about the difference between rims and wheels. Though most people refer nowadays to wheels, especially alloy ones as rims, the term actually means the outer portion of the wheel where the tire is mounted.

Coming back to our story, today there are basically two types of wheels for automotive use, steel and alloy, both of which have benefited from the technological advancements. As a result, the massive, heavy wheels of the early automobile days have become lightweight, strong spoked units. It’s worth noting that just as the first solid wheels turned to the spoked design in the relatively early stages of humanity, so did in the 20th century.

Wooden Wheels To Alloy Wheels; What’s The Real Story? Part II



The Egyptians, in their infinite wisdom, are credited for the first implementation of a spoked wheel on their model 2000 BC chariots. They were able to narrow it by carving both sides to shape, but it was the Greeks that first introduced the cross-bar, or H-type wheel.

The first iron rims around the wheel were seen on Celtic chariots in 1000 BC. The spoked wheel remained pretty much the same until 1802, when G.F. Bauer registered a patent for the first wire tension spoke. This wire spoke consisted of a length of wire threaded through the rim of the wheel and secured at both ends to the hub. Over the next few years, this wire spoke evolved into the round tension spoke we see on bicycles today.

Another major invention that came about the same with the wire tension spoke was the pneumatic tire, which was first patented in 1845 by R.W. Thompson. His idea was further improved in 1888 by John Dunlop, a Scottish veterinarian, who also patented it. Thanks to the smooth ride, Dunlop’s tire replaced the hard rubber used by all bicycles at that time. 

Automobile Wheels

It’s fair to start talking about automobile wheels starting with Karl Benz’s 1885 Benz Patent Motorwagen. The three-wheel vehicle used bicycle-like wire wheels, which were fitted with hard rubber. 

Speaking of rubber, the first people who thought about using it for automobile purposes were André and Edouard Michelin, who later founded the famous tire company. In 1910, the B.F. Goodrich Company invented longer life tires by adding carbon to the rubber. 

Overseas, Ford’s Model T used wooden artillery wheels, which were followed in 1926 and 1927 by steel welded-spoke wheels. Unlike Karl Benz’s first vehicle, the car that “put America on wheels” had pneumatic tires invented by Mr. Dunlop.


Wooden Wheels To Alloy Wheels; What’s The Real Story? Part I


From the very early designs used for pottery purposes to the most advanced contraptions known to mankind, the wheel has been continuously driving our civilization like a catalyst in a chemical reaction. We thought it would be a good idea to take a stroll through the many stages of the wheel evolution and see where it’s heading to now.

The Beginning

After a very long tracking and charting the history of a wheel, researches agree that 3500 BC is the year when the wheel was invented. This of course is not an exact date but more of a ballpark guess. The place is Mesopotamia, the area now occupied by war-ravaged Iraq. The first wheel for transportation purposes is approximated to 3200 BC, its purpose, of course, was to move the Mesopotamian chariots.

I’m sure some of you are thinking that this wasn’t the very first time a wheel appeared. You would be right, the very, very beginning of the wheel goes back to the Paleolithic era (15,000 to 750,000 years ago).

Back in this time, humans used logs to move large loads around. The main problem with this method of transportation was that many rollers were required, and care was required to insure that the rollers stayed true to their course. One theory as to how this obstacle was overcome suggests a platform, or sledge, was built with cross-bars fitted to the underside, thereby preventing the rollers from slipping out from under the load. Two rollers would be utilized, with two cross-bars for each roller, one fore and the other aft to the roller.

It took another 1,500 years before our ancestors thought of the next step in the wheel evolution, the spoke. What stemmed this technological breakthrough was the need for faster transportation and the idea of using less material began to evolve.