Albert Einstein once said, "What is popular is not always right, and what is right is not always popular." He was most likely talking about one's morals, but we can still apply his quote to off-road wheels.

Many vehicle owners prefer alloy wheels on their vehicles: They're popular, they're affordable, they're available in many different designs. While alloy wheels can be a great choice for certain applications, off-roading is not one of them. When it comes to off-roading, steel wheels are best. Here's why.

Steel-offroad
Off-roading with a set of steel wheels makes a world of difference. Photo credit: Rudyasho

Durability

Durability is a relative term, especially when we're talking about off-road wheels. Consider forged alloy wheels, for example. Forged alloy wheels are extremely strong - if they're properly constructed, they are very difficult to break or crack. They are vastly superior to cast alloy wheels when it comes to off-road use, as a cast alloy wheel can crack off-road.

But as great as forged alloy wheels are, they're still vulnerable to scuffs, scratches, and dents. This damage is usually only superficial, but it can take a lot away from the wheel. Repairing this damage is usually time intensive, as it often requires refinishing and repainting the wheel's surface.

alloy wheel 

Not to mention, forged alloy rims are often significantly more expensive than steel wheels.

Steel, on the other hand:

  • Can't crack or break the way that allow wheels can
  • If the wheel is seriously damaged, it can be welded and/or bent back into shape
  • Any surface damage can be fixed with a little sanding and some paint

Finally, while it's true that steel wheels weigh more than forged alloy wheels, this can be a good thing. The additional weight in the wheels helps to lower the vehicle's center of gravity.

Wheel Mass Is Good For Off-Roading

One of the biggest knocks on steel wheels is their weight. However, for off-roading, heavy wheels are a good thing.

An ideal off-road vehicle has limited sprung weight and plenty of unsprung weight. The weight of your wheels contributes to your 4x4’s unsprung weight because it doesn't impact the suspension springs. A heavier unsprung weight helps keep your wheels on the ground while navigating obstacles.

While it’s true that a set of heavy wheels slows down your vehicle’s acceleration and agility, this is really only noticeable on paved roads.

Steel Wheels Are Affordable and Easy To Configure

The no-frills nature of simple steel wheels makes them affordable, and a large range of applications makes them easy to add to most vehicles. Alloy wheels are more difficult to manufacture than steel wheels, which limits the number of applications and increases the cost.

 steel wheel

What's more, alloy wheels have specific weight and load ratings. Many of the alloy wheels available to truck and SUV owners are insufficiently strong for off-road use.

Summing Up

If you're a serious off-road enthusiast, it's easy to make a case for steel wheels.

 

 

Alloy Wheels

Steel Wheels

Material

A mixture of alloys mean that some available rims aren't strong enough for off-road use

Steel, which is heavy duty by nature

Performance

Better for on-road use; Better acceleration and on-road agility; Lower unsprung mass makes for a smoother ride

Higher unsprung mass makes can improve traction and control off-road

Longevity

If used off-road, wheels can crack or break; surface damage can make wheel unnattractive

Strength makes damage unlikely; If wheels are damaged, repairs are usually easy

Cost

Ranges from as low as $100 up to several hundred dollars for forged alloy wheels.

Depending on size, can be had for as little as $50 per wheel

 

While there are certainly benefits to forged alloy wheels for off-road use (particularly for off-road racing, where the lighter weight of these wheels increases speed), steel wheels are a strong contender for any off-road enthusiast.

Finally, consider this: many truck and SUV owners have two sets of wheels - a set of steel wheels for off-roading, and a set of allow wheels for on-road use. The on-road wheels can be fitted with tires that maximize fuel economy and minimize road noise, while the off-road wheels can be fitted with aggressive tread tires that would wear down much too quickly on the road.