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What Are the Different Types of Wheels? Alloy, Steel, Chrome & Mags

By Tire Agent Staff

August 04, 2023


Guide to 4 Types of Rims: Steel, Aluminum Alloy, Chrome, and Magnesium

(Original post date: March 14, 2022)

There are many different types and styles of wheels, all of which fall into two basic types: aluminum alloy wheels and steel wheels. In this guide, we explain the differences between alloy vs steel wheels, as well as what chrome wheels and mag wheels are. 

Most modern wheels are created using either aluminum or steel. Steel wheels are typically heavier than aluminum wheels and are welded together from two pieces. Aluminum, or alloy wheels, are often one-piece but can be multi-piece.

Here's a closer look at the different kinds of wheels.


Alloy wheels/rims

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The word "alloy" refers to a metal that's made by combining two or more metallic elements. For example, when you combine tin and copper you get an alloy called bronze. Aluminum alloy means that the predominant metal is aluminum, which has been combined with other metallic elements. Why? Aluminum alloy wheels are comprised of several metals, but aluminum and magnesium are the most common, making them lighter than steel versions. You might hear them referred to as "mag" wheels, short for magnesium.

Alloy wheels definition: A vehicle wheel that is made from a combination of metallic elements, usually aluminum or magnesium and some other metals. Interestingly, the word "alloy" refers to any combination of metallic elements. So, technically, steel wheels are alloys because steel is a combination of iron and carbon; however, the industry reserves the term "alloy" to refer to aluminum.

Alloy wheels feature unique-looking designs and finishes that can be used to personalize your vehicle. Options include chrome or a painted, machined, or polished finish.

Here are the pros and cons of alloy wheels.

      • Alloy wheels advantages: More appealing and lighter weight than steel wheels. Better fuel efficiency, braking, and tire life.
      • Disadvantages of alloy wheels: More likely to sustain curb rash and other potential damage. More expensive to buy and repair than steel wheels.

Sometimes we get inquiries asking about the difference between alloy wheels vs normal wheels. "Normal wheels" is sometimes used to describe steel wheels because, at one time, steel wheels were the norm. However, today in 2023, aluminum alloys are the norm. The majority of passenger vehicles use OEM aluminum alloy rims.  

Steel wheels/rims


Steel rims were once the standard for automobiles. Wheels made of steel are a cost-effective option that can be more durable than alloy rims. Steel wheels' durability is determined by how much weight they can support.

Steel wheels definition: A vehicle tire rim that is made from an alloy of carbon and iron. They are typically more durable and heavier than aluminum alloys; however, they tend to not look as nice as aluminum alloys.   

Steel wheels are also less prone to damage and perform effectively in all types of weather. If you have a heavy-duty vehicle, steel rims are the best option.

      • Advantages of steel wheels: Steel wheels cost less than alloy wheels, and they are heavier, which can be good for winter driving. Steel wheels offer the strength and durability that trucks and heavy equipment demand.
      • Disadvantages of steel wheels: They are heavier than alloy wheels and, therefore, could be less fuel-efficient. Most experts recommend steel wheels for heavier vehicles.

Chrome wheels/rimstis chrome plated .webp

Chrome wheels are alloy wheels that have been coated in a multi-layer chrome finish. They are perfect for drivers who are looking for something a tad snazzier and will make your vehicle stand out from the crowd. "Chrome" refers to the coating or finish of the wheels, not to the wheel materials themselves. 

      • Advantages of chrome wheels: If you like the shiny polished metal look, chrome wheels have that shiny finish. They're eye grabbers, which is why chrome wheels and rims are commonly used for sport and show cars.
      • Disadvantages of chrome wheels: Unfortunately, chrome is easily damaged, similar to alloy wheels. They're also more challenging to care for. Because chrome plating involves adding layers of metal on top of the wheel, chrome finishes add weight to your wheels.

Magnesium wheels/rims

us mag indy wheels.webp

"Mags" are vehicle rims that use magnesium as the predominant metallic element. They are made by casting or forging, and they tend to be the lightest weight, making them more popular among racing motorsports. Magnesium is more prone to corrosion, which is one reason it is not a top choice for wheel materials. Although there have been rumors that magesium wheels are fire hazards. Pure magnesium is highly flammable, but magnesium alloys are not (; magnesium wheels are not illegal. In fact, they're used in some aviation applications and F1 racing. Although it is the lightest wheel material, mag alloys are not as common because of their susceptibility to corrosion. 

What type of rims do I have?

How do you know what type of rims you have? A household magnet will tell you. Magnets stick to steel, but they don't stick to aluminum.

Bottom Line: Alloy vs Steel, What Is the Best Material for Wheels?


Alloy wheels or steel wheels: Which is better? The answer depends on your vehicle, your budget, your driving habits, and your fuel economy. 

The simplest answer is: If your vehicle came with alloy wheels, stick with alloy, and vice versa if they came with steel wheels.

You'll spend more on alloy wheels, but they are better for fuel-efficiency. They're lightweight, offer better handling, and look better.

For heavy-duty vehicles, steel wheels tend to be better. They are also better for winter conditions. If you want a sharp-looking wheel, go alloy.