All About Wheels: The Best Set of Wheels for You

6th June 2018 BY
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The wheel, considered the most innovative human invention, was first created in 3,500 BC Mesopotamia. It was initially thought to have been a potter’s accessory when eventually it became a chariot’s motive base. Since then, wheels have been an essential part of the drive train of any vehicle. The wheel has evolved continuously from flat wooden discs to spoked discs with inflated rubber around them.

In the modern car, wheels comprise two discrete elements – the rim and the tire. Each of these elements comes in various types and they are blended depending on the primary function of the vehicle.

The rim – outer edge of a wheel that holds the tire

The Rim

Alloy and steel rims are the two main options in a car. The rims determine the handling characteristics of an automobile. Too wide in relation to the tire, they may cause vibration because the sidewalls of the tire have insufficient curvature to flex properly over rough driving surfaces. Oversized rims may cause the tire to rub on the body or suspension components while turning. Overly narrow rims in relation to the tire width may cause poor handling as the tire may distort sideways under fast cornering.

Alloy rims are lighter and provide greater strength. That’s why you are more likely to see them on expensive car models. The earliest alloys were made of magnesium – you may recall the term “mag wheels” – but now, with better treatment technologies, aluminum is the dominant component of alloy rims.

The lighter weight of alloys, compared to most steel rims, can improve handling by reducing unsprung mass, allowing the suspension to follow the terrain more closely and thus improve grip. The reduction in overall vehicle mass can also help to reduce fuel consumption.

Non-ferrous alloys like magnesium and aluminum also conduct heat better, thereby helping to dissipate heat from the brakes, which improves braking performance in more demanding driving conditions and reduces the chance of diminished brake performance or even failure due to overheating.

The Tire

The most important components of the tire are the sidewall and the tread. Some tires come with an inflatable inner tube, but the trend today is towards tubeless tires fortified by steel belts molded into the vulcanized rubber.

The sidewall of a tire provides flexion, which translates into a more comfortable ride over rough terrain. The wider the sidewall, the more “give” it provides.

Depending on the primary use of the vehicle, the sidewall can be narrow or wide. Narrow sidewalls are stiffer, ensuring that the vehicle maintains more of a stable plane, especially when cornering. This is great for performance vehicles, especially when mated to a harder “sport” suspension.

Wider sidewalls allow the tire to flex a little more when it hits a bump. However, the flexing also happens when the vehicle is generating centripetal force on a turn or curve. This results in the inner side of the vehicle becoming lower than the outer side, causing a degree of instability. However, if the primary use of the vehicle is city driving a wider sidewall results in a greater degree of ride comfort.

The pattern and depth of the tread around the outer circumference of a tire also changes – from flat (bald) racing rubber to deeply grooved for construction or off-road use. The primary use of the tread is to deflect water, mud, sand and other material that make decrease the tire’s contact with the road surface, thereby causing the vehicle to skid dangerously.

More than just cosmetic

Clearly, the shape, size, pattern and other aspects of the car wheel are not simply for aesthetic value. Nor can one say that larger wheels are better than smaller ones or that narrow sidewalls are better than wide.

Every single aspect of the wheel is synchronized to produce a ride quality that is in harmony with the use of the vehicle. This is also the reason that people in countries with extreme weather keep a separate set of snow tires. People in extremely hot driving conditions, such as the Middle East, will ensure that their tires are rated for high temperatures.

Ensure that you have the right wheels on, and you will have a much more comfortable – and safer – ride.

WATCH: How Wheels Work – Science Garage

WHEELS | How They Work

What wheels are best for your car?

Posted by Science Garage on Wednesday, 6 June 2018


Read more:

The Smithsonian’s A Salute to the Wheel

Wheel evolution and where it’s heading

Why don’t animals have wheels?

Top 10 inventions that changed the world


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