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Aftermarket Wheels: The Coolest Looks and Brands

DIY, Guides, Wheels & Tires  /   /  By Daniel Gray

There’s no faster way to dramatically change the appearance of a vehicle than bolting on a set of aftermarket wheels. It’s all about individuality. While auto manufacturers offer an increasing number of wheel options straight from the factory, they mostly take a cookie-cutter approach. The chances of seeing your car’s doppelgänger are high. On the other hand, aftermarket wheels offer an infinite number of styles and colors to set your ride apart from the crowd.

Whether you pilot a coupe, sedan, SUV, or pickup, the perfect set of alloy wheels is only a few clicks away. We recommend sticking with well-known brands that provide a comprehensive warranty and factory support. See our five faves below.

While you’re shopping, keep this in mind: Wheel weight is super important. When it comes to handling, light is good and heavy is not. A lighter set of wheels can improve handling by reducing unsprung weight. Yet, lightweight wheels can be notoriously fragile, so you need to take road conditions into consideration. It’s wise to avoid the most spindly designs for street applications.

Choosing a style solely for appearance can have its consequences. Heavier wheels might look cool, but the added weight has negative effects on fuel efficiency and performance. A series of tests by Car & Driver showed that fuel economy dropped by 10 percent and 0-60 MPH time suffered when switching from a 15-inch wheel to a heavier 19-inch wheel. Deviations from the stock wheel-and-tire combo weight have additional effects. Car and Driver found that the heaviest 19-inch wheels “suffered from the most impact harshness and seemed to tax the suspension the most” while the smallest wheels “showed a propensity for understeer on the skidpad but provided a more controlled and supple ride.”

Here are five time-honored wheel-makers to consider:

Enkei

enkei-2-800

A set of RPF1 racing wheels

Enkei is the world’s largest aluminum-wheel manufacturer. While best known for its lightweight alloy aftermarket wheels, the company primarily supplies wheels to Japanese auto manufacturers, as well as General Motors. Enkei’s Most Advanced Technology (M.A.T.) merges a cast wheel with a spinning process and rim-rolling technology to improve wheel strength. The RPF1 racing wheel is one of Enkei’s most popular lightweight wheels for modern sports cars and its throwback 92s deliver a distinctive look for classic 1970s Japanese resto-mods.

American Racing Torq Thrust

American Racing

American Racing Equipment has been around since 1956. It’s the most iconic brand in the WheelPros portfolio, which also includes Motegi, ATX, and KMC. Want to set your modern muscle car apart from the crowd? American Racing Torq Thrust wheels add a classic look to Mustangs, Camaros, and Challengers. If you’re building a wicked-cool hot rod, you’ll want to check out American Racing’s Heritage line, which includes Ansen Sprints, Smoothies, and Salt Flat Specials.

Konig

Konig Hypergram

Konig Hypergram

Konig is one of the most popular aftermarket wheel brands for tuners and sport compact cars. It has decades of experience producing affordable alloys in a wide range of styles. The Hypergram and Rennform are the latest additions to Konig’s Flow Formed line and are designed to clear oversized brake components in high-performance applications. You’ll find Konig wheels on top Formula Drift rides, like Nate Hamilton’s Nissan S13 and Pat Mordaunt’s Nissan 370Z.

O.Z. Racing

ultralegga-1-400

O.C. Racing’s Ultraleggera

O.Z. Racing has roots that run deep in automotive competition, with a history in stage rally, Formula 1, and Indy car racing. The company found early success in rally with Mini Cooper and won the F1 championship in 1993 with Alain Prost piloting the Williams-Renault Elf. The O.Z. is known for its wide range of hues. The luscious Ultraleggera HLT is available in nine colors, with three concave versions. O.Z. also manufacturers an attractively priced line for Sparco.

Dick Cepek Wheels

Dick Cepek DC Terrain

Dick Cepek DC Terrain

When it comes to 4×4, Jeep, and truck wheels, Dick Cepek wheels and its competition history stands out from the crowd—starting with a second-place finish in the inaugural Baja 1000 in 1966. Cepek wheels are built to tackle the tough stuff with a lifetime limited warranty for structural defects, in addition to a one-year finish warranty. If you’re a fan of totally blacked-out 4×4 wheels, you’ll want to check out the DC Terrain, DC Matrix, and aptly named DC Blackout designs. The EC Torque pairs a blacked-out eight-spoke center with an edgy machined rim.

A Last Word About Fitment

Deciding which wheel and tire size to use is a matter of personal taste and requirements. The easiest path is to use the Original Equipment (OE) diameter and offset. This will ensure that the wheel and tire combo will fit under the wheel wells with no issues. While you can go up an inch or two (aka +1 or +2), the safest bet is to stick with the optional sizes offered by the manufacturer—and comb vehicle forums to find other owners that have chosen a similar fitment to see how it worked out.

About the Author

Daniel Gray is a best-selling tech author and video maker. He is also the road-test editor at Autobytel and the creative force behind MPGomatic.com. Dan has had the good fortune to own a string of notable Hondas, including a CRX Si and a trio of S2000s. His legendary beater 1999 Civic HX coupe, a.k.a. “Slambo,” is a rolling experiment in hardware-store aerodynamics.

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