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Appeal or performance? Alloy versus steel rims

By Ahmad Muto

Added 5th March 2020 04:27 PM

Rims play a big role in appeal of a car and so distinct – shiny ones in this case – contribute a fraction to a car’s resale value.

Appeal or performance? Alloy versus steel rims

A winter tyre on a car on a used car in a bond in Nakawa. (Photo by Ahmed Muto)

Rims play a big role in appeal of a car and so distinct – shiny ones in this case – contribute a fraction to a car’s resale value.

Vehicles either have steel or alloy rims. The obsession with rims is actually more pronounced among youthful car enthusiast who for reasons subscribe to the high-octane life and so appeal is a key element. 

Rims play a big role in the appeal of a car and so distinct - shiny ones in this case - contribute a fraction to a car's resale value. Brand new cars are with rims are priced differently.

However, both steel and alloy have advantages and shortcomings depending on what a car owner is looking for. But first, wheels and rims are most times used to mean the same thing but they are technically not. A wheel is a part that has the hub and spoke while a rim is an outer part that holds the tyre.


For cars that are to be used for transporting goods, fieldwork and saving fuel and ensuring a tight tyre to rim grip in high speeds, Owere argues that alloy is the ultimate choice.

He notes that the argument that steel rims make cars heavier and so difficult to move is not entirely true unless the size of tyre and the rim have been changed say from 17" to 18".

Therefore, he argues that if the actual size is maintained, there is no effect in the performance of the vehicle.


Many car owners zero on alloy wheels to improve on the appeal of their vehicles, but also, it is a plus when it comes to performance. Owere says it explains why some pickup trucks with alloy wheels move faster than saloon cars with steel wheels.

"It is done for beauty but also performance. When you have a lighter thing that does better work, better go with it. And that is why these pickups are faster than saloons because most of the saloons are still on steel," he explains.

Durability and strength

Aloysious Kawooya, the senior mechanic at Cooper Motor Corporation says alloy is a mixture of metals built to appeal and that's the edge it has over steel rims which are stronger and offer great performance.

He argues that steel is stronger and so more durable compared to alloys that are a mixture of different strong and weak metals that end up giving an average product in the name of the alloy. 

Gerald Owere, a senior mechanic at Mac East Africa Limited agrees with Kawooya and says alloy doesn't rust but steel does unless it is sprayed often.

On strength, he compares the two to modern car bodies. He says they are neither strong nor weak because they are built from composite materials. They pick some little steel and plastic and mix to reduce on weight, add on strength because steel can fold but they create a material that can fold and go back to shape.

On durability, he says there is a safety limit for both steel and alloy. If they said drive below 80km/h and you do 120km/h, the rims can bend if you hit anything.


Alloy rims do well in flooded areas because of the design. Kawooya says the large holes and gaps let water penetrate easily unlike steel which is almost covered and so give resistance. However, he disagrees with the argument that steel makes it easier for a vehicle to manoeuvre through the mud.

He explains that it depends on the tyre - the size of the treads and strength. "That is why tractors get into gardens, dig and get out without getting stuck. Also, the size of the tyre; a bigger one will maneuver easily. Because a small tyre makes many turns and a big tyre makes fewer turns," he explains.

Owere says the most important thing when it comes to wheels is looking at what the operation it is going to be involved in considering for example weight. Steel is heavier compared to alloy. He says alloy wheels are bigger to carry but lighter compared to steel. You save about 60% of the total weight and therefore save on fuel, move faster and carry more load.

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