Wheels and Tires: Understanding the Numbers on the Sides of Tires Might Lead to Longer Life Tires and Improved Driving Safety

By Ritz, John M. | The Technology Teacher, April 2005 | Go to article overview

Wheels and Tires: Understanding the Numbers on the Sides of Tires Might Lead to Longer Life Tires and Improved Driving Safety


Ritz, John M., The Technology Teacher


Automobile wheels (rims and hubcaps) have been catching the eyes of car enthusiasts for years. Designers have used their creativity to make better products both structurally and aesthetically. Hubcaps were one of the early aesthetic accessories added to wheels to hide the nuts used to fasten the wheels onto the vehicle. Later, MAG wheels (originally made of magnesium alloys to take on a spoke effect) were developed to increase the strength and sporty appearance of the wheels. Both are found in the current market; many are replaced with fads held by automotive enthusiasts. Some believe that the wheels and tires are the most visible styling statement beyond the automobile's color and shape. This Resources in Technology will look at automotive wheels and tires.

Humans learned early that simple tools could make their work easier. Heavy objects, e.g., rocks, trees, boats, could be rolled by wedging small logs under them and pushing or pulling. No doubt this is where the concept of the wheel developed. History has shown that early wheels were more easily made by fastening planks together instead of using one piece of heavy wood. Later, spoke systems were developed to lighten the weight of the wheels while maintaining strength. Tires were added to the wheels to increase useful life and to make the ride less bumpy.

Today's vehicles that ride on land, roadways, and railways, are all developments or extensions of the early two-wheeled cart. The structure or propulsion of the vehicles has changed, but the basic concepts of moving a load or people have stuck to the basic vehicle concept. Today, no vehicle is more of a necessity than the automobile. Driving is a rite of passage for teenagers in developed countries.

Automotive Wheels

Early automotive wheels were no more than bicycle wheels. These spoked wheels had metal tires or rims to increase their life. Because of durability and automobile weight, solid rims were designed. These were forged and welded together.

Today, wheels are either made of steel or other metallic alloys. Traditional steel rims are forged and welded together. Alloy wheel construction is undertaken in three manufacturing methods. Forged wheels, thought to be the best manufacturing technique, are made by taking an alloy billet (solid piece of material) and compressing it through heat and pressure. This produces a very strong, lightweight wheel. Low pressure cast wheels are made by pouring molten metal into a mold that is the shape of the desired wheel. Counter pressure casting, the third way to produce automotive wheels, uses a vacuum to pull the hot metal into the mold. This method reduces the presence of air voids in the formed metal.

Specialty wheels are everywhere in the automotive market. Storefront, magazine, and newspaper ads show how wheels can change the looks of your automotive product. Many try to personalize their vehicle with a new set of wheels. Spinners are a current fad and catch your eyes when they continue to spin after the vehicle comes to a stop. If you are in the market for new wheels or tires, some knowledge and research can prove to be helpful in buying products that not only look good, but also increase the performance of your ride.

Manufacturers recommend that replacement wheels and tires on automotive products be matched with those from the original design specifications. With the increased concentration on looks and performance, people want to make their vehicles look special. Some are plus- or minus-sizing their wheels and tires to enhance looks and performance. It is common to see larger diameter wheels placed on customized cars with low profile tires. Trucks are adding all-terrain and mud tires for off-road performance. Experts in the after-market wheel and tire business recommend that the overall size of replacement wheels should not exceed three percent of the manufacturer-specified wheels and tires. If this size is exceeded, problems can occur with proper transmission shifting, which will decrease fuel efficiency. …

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