Right away we can tell you that this isn't going to be the typical off-road magazine wheel and tire test. We aren't going to bore you with the usual-we mount a set of the newest tires on the hottest new wheels on the market, and then tell you how great they both are.
Instead we wanted to bring you a different kind of test, something you've never seen before. That meant taking three kinds of wheels and basically trying to destroy them by driving on them with no tires at all. This seemed to be the only way to find out if it really matters what your 4x4's wheels are made from. When it was all over, we took the wheels to a local repair shop to find out how much it would cost to undo the damage.
We decided the ultimate wheel test wouldn't be between brands and styles, but rather between materials and designs. We took the three basic kinds of wheels that are sold to the off-road light truck market-forged aluminum, cast aluminum, and steel wheels-and showed them no mercy, the way only 4-Wheel & Off-Road could.
We think you'll agree that the ultimate test of any off-road equipment is its strength and performance. It doesn't matter what it looks like, what color it is, or whose name is on it. If a part breaks off-road, you lose. It's as simple as that. So to test the strength of three sets of wheels in the ultimate real-world torture test we headed for the 4WOR secret test facility. There we beat on new wheels from Weld Racing, Mickey Thompson, and U.S. Wheel (far away from any stress-testing fixtures, load capacity calculations, or anything scientific at all) until they cried uncle.
Along the way we learned some things that surprised us and horrified a few on-lookers, and we thought we destroyed a wheel or two. Turns out that all the wheels did much better than we anticipated, and the only problem we had was convincing the California Highway Patrol that we knew we were driving on just a wheel, and that we wanted it that way.
The ContendersAll the wheels we tested were 16x10s with an 8-on-611/42-inch bolt pattern for our K2500 pickup. Surprisingly, none of the wheel manufacturers even flinched when we told them how we were going to test their wheels. We thought the idea of driving on a wheel with no tire on our front-heavy 31/44-ton truck would horrify them. Makes us wonder just how hard the manufacturers test their own products!
The VerdictWhen people go out to buy a new set of wheels they look for a style that will fit, something they think looks good, and something they can afford. Very rarely does wheel performance or wheel weight figure in to what wheel people choose. Most people think heavy equals strong, and many times it does. But a wheel that has all the strength you need without any extra weight is truly the ideal wheel. Ultimately the best wheel for your rig comes down to what you can afford versus what will work on your application.
If you need an economical wheel that you can beat back into shape with a ball-peen hammer, go with a steel wheel. If you're a mud, sand, and snow guy, or are just looking for a new wheel for your daily driver, then a lightweight cast wheel is the one for you. If you need the strength of steel without the weight penalty, break out the credit card and finance a set of forged aluminum wheels.
U.S. Wheel Corp
Mickey Thompson Tire and Wheel
933 Mulberry St.