Off-Road: Steel vs. Alloy Wheels

by AJ Deysel

Shopping for a new or another set of wheels, wondering whether steel or alloy is the best for your off-road or overland rig. We have put together a list of the pros and cons of both, to help you decide:

STEEL WHEELS

PROS:

  • Flexible and impact resistant
  • Bends easily, making it harder to crack
  • Inherently strong
  • Can be re-formed, fixed hammered back into shape out on the trail
  • Inexpensive
  • Available everywhere at most wheel & tire shops and auto parts stores

CONS:

  • Edges can bend and distort easily
  • Conducts heat
  • Scratches through paint will rust
  • Heavier than alloy
  • Difficult to balance if not perfectly shaped or slightly distorted
  • Limited designs

ALLOY WHEELS:

PROS:

  • Tough and does not bend or distort easily
  • Strong edges
  • Rustproof even when scratched
  • Balances easily
  • Huge variety of styles and designs
  • Does not conduct heat easily

CONS:

  • Prone to cracking with harsh impacts
  • Not as available in remote areas
  • Not easily repairable
  • More expensive than steel
  • Cracks allow air to leak
  • More appealing to criminals

CONCLUSION

We will in general consider steel wheels as the tougher choice, yet at times, where potential impacts are not harsh, alloy wheels will last longer, and as such less inclined to cause balancing or other problems.

On the flip side, with harsher hits and impacts, alloy wheels are more likely to crack, which can in most cases not be repaired on the trail, renders the wheel unusable further.

Interestingly, steel wheels are more flexible, and although they bend more easily (particularly on their edges), they hardly ever crack. Thus allowing you to hammer or bend them roughly back into shape or usable shape, so you can continue on your expedition.

Normal scratching of paint and finishes from on steel wheels, will begin to rust, where alloy wheels do not rust at all, even when scratched. That rust however, is usually just surface rust and can be easily removed or fixed if caught early on, and will take years to become any real issue.

Generally, steel wheels weigh quite a bit more than alloy, and this may not be enough to cause any fuel consumption or drive-ability issues, it only usually comes into play when handling them or replacing the wheel with the spare out on the trail.

Given the overall outcome that steel wheels are generally stronger and more impervious to total failure than alloy wheels, they are the preferred choice for overlanders and offroaders when durability is a concern. With the advent of much stronger Billet Aluminum wheels now becoming more commonly available and more affordable, the fact that steel wheels are stronger, is not as true anymore. These new billet wheels do however, cost MUCH more than steel wheels, often more than double, which brings the whole cost-vs-benefit argument into play.

Whichever you choose, it is better to get the strongest, and highest load-carrying wheel you can afford for a off-road or overland rig. Here are some awesome choices.

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