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Installing New Aftermarket Wheels

by Bob Lincoln

This article addresses a couple of
pitfalls to watch for when installing aftermarket wheels in place of original equipment.
Contrary to what one might hope, they are not always simply a drop-in fit on
all cars.

I had discovered a
slow leak on one of my tires on my 1993 Dodge Daytona. When I bought it I had transferred my tires and wheels from my 1992
Daytona, which was in the process of being scrapped due to rust. The 14-inch Goodyear
Integrity tires still had half their tread left at 45K miles, whereas the 15-inch
tires that came with the 1993 were obscure brands and in poor shape.

Imagine my surprise when the tire
shop told me that there was no leak at the tire itself, but that the steel
wheel was rusted through, and had two pinhole leaks. While the center insert
was in good shape, the rims were hopelessly rusted. It had never occurred to
me that this would ever be an issue. The photo shows one of the original 1993
rims; the 1992 was far worse, but I neglected to take a picture before
scrapping them. Soapy liquid bubbled
furiously in two places when applied.

Editor's note: some readers have pointed out that the cheaper, generally Chinese wheels usually sold by mail order and the less reputable shops may not last any longer than junkyard wheels - perhaps a year or two. Buy with caution and thinking " long term investment," not "what's absolutely cheapest?" - as Bob did.

I had several options. Since
the slightly "better" rims were 15-inch, I could not save the good 14-inch
tires to use on them. I didn't trust the 15-inch rims long-term, and did not want to prowl junkyards and get rims that would themselves fail in the
near future.

I could buy new 14-inch rims and have the good used tires swapped
over for $25 each, plus balancing. But the tires would only last a year or
two. Instead, I opted to buy new alloy wheels and tires, the most expensive
option, but the least maintenance required at a time when my plate was too full
to have this ever be a problem again. I also have always hated dealing with
removing and installing the plastic hubcaps that these cars came with, and now they
are a thing of the past.

Wheel Alloy wheel Automotive tire Spoke Automotive wheel system
A local tire shop sold me the 15-inch x 6.5
wheels shown at right (their 14-inch selection was limited and poor). These
are painted aluminum alloy, so they may eventually pit slightly, but they are
very unlikely to succumb to the same fate as their predecessors. These were $477
with tax, for all four. Cosmetically, they work well with the Daytona, and
didn't expose so much of the calipers and drums that painting is mandatory
(although it might look even better to do so).

This also gave me the chance to switch tire
brands. While Goodyears came with the 1992 Daytona, and I've used them since,
they are not my first choice. They wear well and have a good ride and
handling, but the Integrity has poor traction in the rain. They break loose at the
slightest touch of the throttle. Instead, I went back to Michelins, which have
always given me superior handling, tread life of 100K miles, and a firm ride.
I chose the Hydroedge model, which is specifically designed for good wet
traction and water channeling. These were $668 for the set of four 205/60R15,
including tax, mounting, balancing, disposal, and RoadHazard warranty.

Finger Thumb Nail Household hardware Silver
The rims came with keyed lug nuts, which are
both for dress and anti-theft. I was not thrilled with this, as it requires a
socket to remove them. I went to my usual tire shop for the Michelins, and the
mechanic there offered his opinion that the thin-walled socket is guaranteed to
fracture early. We agreed that I should shop around for standard chromed lug
nuts that do not require a socket. The thread for these, by the way, is
M12-1.5, and the hex head is 19mm.

An important part of this installation is what
is known as "hub centric rings". These are hard plastic spacers that
fill the gap between the car's axle diameter and the new wheel's inner
diameter. Since the wheel is sold into an unlimited selection of vehicles, and
axles are all different, these adapters are necessary for a proper fit.
Without them, the wheel is only centered by the lugs, which allow some slop and
a possible offset to the wheel, leading to vibration and tire wear. They did
not have the rings in stock at the time I bought the wheels, so I drove for two
weeks without them. Vibration was slight but noticeable.

Automotive wheel system Alloy wheel Rim White Spoke
The other problem is that the dust caps on the
rear drums extend too far to install the decorative cap in the center of the
wheel. The mechanic suggested hammering the dust cap in to make it fit, but it
needs to go in at least ¼", and there is almost no clearance between the dust
cap and the end of the spindle. Instead, I need to explore a spacer ring that
will push the rear wheels out slightly - or live with it.

Machine Clutch part Circle Space Metal
Once I installed the hub centric rings, the
vibration went away, and the ride was smoother than before (although the
Michelins are definitely harsher than the Goodyears on secondary roads). The
shop at which I bought the rims downplayed the importance of the rings; my regular tire shop expressed more concern and
seemed far more knowledgeable.

Having driven with and without them, I'm
convinced that it's mandatory to use them. For the Daytona, the inner diameter
was 57.1 mm and the outer diameter 73.6 mm. The wheel shop should research and
order the proper fit for your vehicle. These were included in the price of the

Tire Wheel Automotive tire Alloy wheel Automotive wheel system
Proper lug nut torque is important
not only to secure the wheel, but to avoid rotor warpage. For this car, 95-115
ft-lbs is the proper torque. For the aluminum wheels, I opted to go for the
lower range of the spec.

Always snug the lug nuts, then lower the car and
perform the final torque with the car on the ground, so you don't pull the car
off the jack or support device. I use a torque wrench whenever I remove and
install wheels on my cars. I've never had warped rotors or wrestled with stuck
lug nuts as a result.

Vince Spinelli added:

Blue Product Technology Electric blue Azure

There are two types of wheel setups out there - "hub-centric" and "lug-nut-centric." The difference is explained by the names: hub-centric setups rely upon the hole in the middle of the wheel to slide perfectly onto the protruding ridge from the wheel bearing assembly. In this setup, the lug-nuts serve only the purpose of holding the wheel against the bearing assembly; they do not keep it centered in any way.

Tire Wheel Land vehicle Vehicle Automotive tire
Lug-nut-centric setups will typically not have a protruding ridge from the wheel bearing assembly, and will use different wheel-studs (the studs that the lug-nuts actually screw onto). Wheel-studs for lug-nut-centric setups are typically a shoulder style; which is to say that they have a smooth rounded (not threaded) section near where the stud sticks out of the bearing assembly. Wheels for this setup have a very tight tolerance on the lug-nut hole size and position, and must fit very nice and snug on the smooth portion of the wheel stud. The lug-nut then holds the wheel against the bearing assembly, while the shoulder style studs keep it centered.

You must be especially careful with this when purchasing and installing wheel-spacers (to bump your wheels out further). Putting lug-centric spacers onto a hub-centric bearing assembly / wheel combination is a recipe for disaster; as is putting hub-centric equipment onto a lug-centric bearing assembly if the bearing assembly does not have a machined ridge to accept hub-centric equipment.

The wheel will ride out of round, and you'll blow the bearing - and hopefully not be involved in a fatal accident as the wheel goes rolling down the road (sans your vehicle).

Most wheel spacers are (as you mentioned about rims) Chinese garbage. Aluminum spacers are fine, but the aluminum studs they use are frightening - SAE Grade 5 (ISO grade 8) or SAE Grade 8 (ISO Grade 10) studs should be just common sense; OEM studs are typically 5s, but a lot of aftermarket stuff (the reputable aftermarket stuff) is overkill at 8, especially for off roading (Jeeps / Trucks / etc.) which is fine.

It is critical to use the correct taper lug-nuts with lug-centric wheel setups, as the seating of the wheel cannot be guaranteed otherwise.

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