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Custom wheels are one of the most common ways in which automobile enthusiasts customize their vehicles. Competition-oriented enthusiasts typically switch to lighter, stronger, or larger wheels, while appearance-oriented enthusiasts more often choose larger and more visually distinctive wheels.
The most-desirable characteristics of custom wheels vary with owner's goals:
|Activity||Primary characteristics considered|
|Drag racing||Width (for traction)|
|Street driving||Visual appeal, weight (gas mileage)|
|Touring car racing and autocrossing||Weight, width (less tire flex for better cornering performance)|
|Multi-purpose||Strength, visual appeal, weight, width, achieved by maintaining multiple sets of wheels|
Custom wheels are increasing in popularity year after year. Nearly one-third of all new-vehicle buyers customize their vehicles with custom wheels.
Custom wheels come in many different finishes. The most common custom wheel finishes are Chrome, Polished and Painted. Chrome wheels consist of traditional chrome plating as well as the new process of PVD (Physical Vapor Deposition) Chrome. PVD chrome wheels are protected with a clear coat and are now being introduced by several wheel companies. Polished wheels are simply aluminum wheels that have been polished to a shine. Polished wheels may or may not be protected by a clear coat. Polished wheels that do not have a clear coat are prone to oxidation and may require periodic polishing to maintain its finish. Painted wheels come in many different colors and may also have a machined surface incorporated into it. Silver and black painted wheels are the most common painted finishes. Painted wheels are protected with a clear coat.
At some point, the performance advantage of larger wheels and reduced-profile tires meets the performance disadvantage of increased inertia and increased unsprung weight. This point varies depending on the vehicle, style of wheel, and driving style; however, most vehicles do not see a performance increase when rims are more than two sizes larger than original-equipment specifications. Appearance-oriented enthusiasts may feel that decreased performance and an increased risk of road damage from the use of oversized rims is a worthwhile price to pay for the look they want.
Newer aftermarket rims may be worth thousands of dollars. Owners use special lug nuts, called wheel locks, to secure them, although it renders the vehicle difficult to service, and there are doubts as to how well the locks thwart determined thieves.