Explain to me, the concept of "wheel performance." What is it?

I’ve encountered this expression while reading about aftermarket wheel choices in various forums dedicated to specific cars, Honda Civics, Accords, Subaru’s, etc.—I’ve also heard it on Youtube videos explaining how alloy wheels are made.

I’m trying to understand the concept a bit. It seems to me that when we talk about “performance,” it has to mean that the wheel is structurally sound and able to withstand the daily punishments of driving WITHOUT shattering or bending or slowly deforming out of shape. The wheel obviously has to have been designed and engineered with the right geometry: size, offset, bolt patterns. Beyond that, we want wheels to be as light as possible in almost all cases. We won’t speak of the spoke design or other cosmetic features as that has nothing to do with performance… well I’ve seen “ECO” wheels that are designed with broad thin spokes so as to be more aerodynamic.

Basically, this is it right? The notion of “wheel performance” doesn’t really extend beyond this, am I correct?

Is it mostly a marketing term?

Wheels don’t “perform,” they need to be strong and light. End of Story. Is this correct?

Add in ‘at a given price’ and you’ve pretty well summed it up.

Well, a few extras:

  1. Performance wheels are designed to aid cooling of the brakes. In the old days, folks ran stamped steel wheels that were, essentially, solid discs. Not terribly good for brake fade! A better design can actually flow air through the wheel and cool the brake setup.

  2. Wheel flex makes handling less precise and less predictable. This is one areas where alloy wheels shine: even if not much lighter than steelies, they tend to resist flex under load better. This makes for a better handling car.

Now, all of that said…it’s largely just an asterisk to the MAIN advantage to fancy rims: style. Folks buy wheels because they like the way they look, and all other practical concerns are secondary.

Some buyers do want/need lighter wheels for performance at the track or otherwise but for the daily driver you just need them to be a certain style.

How they withstand the elements without pitting and retain their looks would be a “performance” factor for some. Some might even go so far as to say how they looked in general is important too. Looking like a peformamce enhancement option is as important for some as actually being one. Just looking at some adds for “performance wheels” and more is writing how they look then anything they contribute otherwise. Many buyers just ane’t that interested. For example, some buyers might not know that a higher performance wheel for off road is often the small diameter wheel…has little to do with the construction and more about the size.

For example, according to a local sales manager, a lot of customers bought the Off Road Toyota truck package for their trucks based upon how they looked and not what they could do. Because many customers exchanged the small16 inch rims which are better for off road but don’t look as good as bigger rims, , Toyota just started making the Sport package which doesn’t have the off road optional mechanics but has the decals and “larger” wheels. It was an instant hit. Similar price with fewer actual mechanics but big glitzy wheels and great looking decals…it had “peformamce rims”…sure, just larger.

The main “performance factor” is the ability to turn heads as you drive by.

One of the main reasons some customers wanted the Z51 Package on the C7 Vette was reportedly the wheels and spoiler, this year you can order the ZF1 Package which is mainly the wheels and cosmetic items.

Wheels don’t “perform,” they need to be strong and light. End of Story. Is this correct?

Of course they perform! If they didn’t meet certain performance specifications, they could fail and kill you. Everything we use in life has performance specifications. Most things also have aesthetic specifications where they can be seen and appreciated.

Strong and light ARE performance specifications. The are unverifiable as you’ve stated them. In the product requirements specification, those attributes will be defined in measurable terms that can be tested and verified (e.g. Weight = 10Kg maximum, Deformation force = 250g/m2 applied on axis, etc)

A performance automobile is capable of putting higher stress and loads on a wheel as compared to a econobox grocery getter. The former probably requires a “performance wheel” that is up to the task in comparison…

“Perform” being a verb, I equate it with actively doing something, causing something to happen. Wheels are strictly passive devices. The literally go along for the ride.

A wheel can be a good wheel or a bad wheel, but that’s a description of how well it passively goes along with the forces being applied to it by the vehicle. The wheel itself has no active contribution.

Thus, I don’t think the term “perform” can properly be applied to a wheel.

per·form/pərˈfôrm/ verb
  1. carry out, accomplish, or fulfill (an action, task, or function).

A wheel that doesn’t break is fulfilling its function.

For daily driving, a big factor is the tire the wheel’s carrying. If it’s low profile, say 45 series or less, there’s a good chance of bending a rim on a pothole. Lots of BMW rims damaged that way. Put a 60 series tire on that same rim, no dent.

both of these have been mentioned here ;

The biggest problems I’ve seen with changing to custom rims are that when doing so most are also going to low profile tires and THAT is an issue in its own right. The flex of the tire --IS-- an active part of your suspension. Change that part of the equation and something else must take the punishment. THAT is why you see so many custom rims bent by pot holes !

The other thing is the offset. While it may look cool…it mis-loads your bearings and that new stress will show up in the long run.
Bearings are made to be loaded straight on center with equal load on the inner and outer .

There is definitely a performance issue with the weight of the wheel. At least in rally type driving where there’s a lot of slowing down and speeding up involved. B/c of the need to use engine power to develop the wheel’s rotational inertia, the lighter the wheel (and how the weight is distributed) less engine power is wasted to rotate the wheel, and so there’s more engine power available to move the car forward quickly.

In racing, a wheel can make a difference. On the road, it cannot make any more difference than the plastic spoiler on my '72 Vega. It looked cool.

Either way, it isn’t the wheel that performs better, it’s the car that performs better. As I said before, “perform” is a verb. A verb is a word used to describe an action.

No disrespect to Insightful, but I believe he misapplied the definition in his post. A wheel does not perform a function. It doesn’t “perform” at all. A wheel only “performs” in the mind of a marketing person.

I have to admit that it’s a slick marketing gimmick, but that’s all it is.

One thing lighter wheels provide is less unsprung weight. That in itself affects the performance handling and ride of any car. You could also make the point that matching the wheel to the automobile engineering as close as possible better enhances the car’s overall performance. OEM wheels tend to do this. If you want better performance in some areas, you may have to go outside OEM wheels with different parameters but always at the expense of the intent of the manufacturer.

The steel wheels made for a Tundra, used on my 4 Runner and now transferred 11 years later to snow tire use for a 2015 Tacoma work, but only because they are still the exact same specs as the steel wheels you can buy for one new. Wheels may be inert in appearance but they affect the performance of cars just like the tires do in many subtle ways. Buy wheels that the car maker recommends in specification to maximize overall performance.

@dagosa has it right. Wheel weight is important because the wheel moves 10 to 16 times faster up and down than the car when you hit a bump or pothole. Lightness matters here more than just a 10-60 mph blast up the on-ramp. That is why automakers are using more aluminum for steering knuckles, brake calipers and control arms, 13:1 leverage.

Diameter matters, though, a lot. Those meaty 18, 20 or 22 inch wheels replace air and rubber with aluminum. The cheap cast ones are HEAVY and the weight is farther out from the center which means the wheels are energy sapping flywheels.

“Performance wheel” means so many conflicting things to different applications as to be meaningless marketing hype.

Not only does a lighter wheel reduce the unsprung weight, it also reduces the rotating mass. That helps acceleration… albeit not likely to be noticeable except by Rolex. It also matters how far away from the rotating axis the weight is. The farther away from the axis, the more energy it will take to start and stop the wheel.

I urge you to also recognize that it can be impossible to determine if a wheel will be lighter or not. The November 2013 issue of Top Gear did a comparison of a 1979 MB 450SEL and a 2013 MB S63. One of the things they did was compare the wheels. The '79 wheel was a 14 inch steel rim with a 70-series tire. The 2013 was a 20 inch alloy wheel with a 35-profile tire. The '79 combination was lighter.

The bottom line is that despite marketing hype, a lighter wheel can help the car perform better, but not noticeably on a daily driver. But alloy wheels may not be lighter. They can and often are heavier. But most people think alloy wheels look better… except that as they get old they become stained with brake dust. Nothing, and I’ve tried all the stuff at the part stores, even using a high pressure sprayer with them, can remove brake dust. The only solution I found was to remove the wheels, clean them, prime them (right over the brake dust) with light gray primer, and paint them with “chrome” spray paint (which I discovered actually looks exactly like polished alloy when applied). I did my current wheels two years ago and they look like brand new alloy wheels. I put little cardboard plugs over the flats where the lug nuts go so as not to interfere with the torque values and to keep the pain from gluing the lug nuts to the wheels, but that was probably overkill. I’m prone to overkill.

Personally, I think the Alfa 4c has the best looking wheels,

Car and Driver did a good wheel/tire comparison test in 2010 that showed the effect of wheel size, keeping everything else relatively constant:

Excellent link, my friend, and I thank you.

A wheel does not perform a function.

Then you should be able to remove them without any adverse effect…let us know how it turns out.