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Rims vs. Wheels: What’s the Difference?

Rims vs. Wheels

Many people use the terms wheel and rim interchangeably, but the two are not the same. In fact, the rim is one of several parts that make up the wheel. It is the outside edge of the wheel where the tire sits. It does not include the spokes or central wheel disc, which also make up part of the wheel. The term rim is often used to refer to after-market or decorative wheels, such as aluminum alloy wheels.

rim vs wheel
Image Credit: Vladimir Kramin, Shutterstock

What Is a Rim?

A rim is the outer edge of a wheel. It holds the tire in place and is usually U shaped, being deeper in the center than around the edges, because this supports the bead of the tire. The rim is normally made from the same metal or alloy as the rest of the wheel, although an additional layer of Teflon might be added to give extra protection.

What Is a Wheel?

The wheel is the entire metal section that holds the tire. The term “wheel” is often used to describe the entire assembly, including the tire, but this isn’t always the case.

The wheel consists of several parts. The central disc, or hub, replaced spokes that were used on earlier wheels. The hub attaches the wheel to the axle of the car and is attached by lug nuts.

The rim sits around the hub and holds the tire. In steel wheel construction, the rim is usually a single rectangular piece of steel that is curved and folded to fit around the hub. The size of the rim determines the size of tire that can be fitted to your car, although some wheels have tires that are larger or smaller than the rim.

Rim Damage

The rim is the section of the wheel that connects to the tire. As such, it plays an important part in maintaining the safety of your car, and its condition directly affects the handling of your vehicle. Rims can become damaged following impact with the sidewalk or a pothole. Although this is less likely with a steel rim, it does still happen. If your wheel rim has become damaged, you must get it fixed quickly, to prevent blowouts and poor handling.

Signs of a damaged rim include vibration when steering, a sudden change in the car’s handling characteristics, and a tire that keeps deflating. Not all rim damage is noticeable, because it can be covered by the tire and the hub, but there may be visible signs of damage too.

If you fail to remedy damage to the wheel rim, it can cause rubbing against the tire, which leads to blowouts or a constant need to inflate the tires. Less obvious problems include degradation in handling and even loss of control of your vehicle.

rim vs wheel
Photo: Mercedes Benz Rim by tianya1223, Pixabay

Repairing the Rim

The most common type of rim damage is curb rash. This occurs when you rub the wheel of the car against the curb, typically while parking. Tire fitters may also cause damage to this section of the car, when using a prybar to remove the old tire.

Minor damage is repairable using thinner and wheel paint. If the damage is more serious, it may be possible to have the wheel repaired professionally, but in most cases, the damage is terminal and the wheel will need to be fully refurbished.

Rims

More recently, the term “rims” has also been used to describe after-market decorative wheels. Buyers usually opt for alloys over steel wheels because they prefer the look of them. However, one of the problems with aluminum wheels is that they are easier to damage. The rim is one of the areas of the wheel most likely to meet the curb when parking.

Most owners have heard the dreaded scrape as the alloy wheel catches the sidewalk. This can leave a roughened and abrasive edge. With a steel wheel, this damage can lead to rust. With an alloy wheel, it leaves an ugly mark that tends to stand out because the rough damage is in stark contrast to the shiny alloy finish.

Thankfully, this type of damage is unlikely to be terminal: You should be able to get it repaired. You might even be able to fashion the repairs yourself. If you hit a protrusion with any kind of force and the scratch is more of a snap, you should have your wheel inspected as soon as possible or face potentially dangerous tire failure.

Rims vs. Wheels

Although the terms rim and wheel are often used interchangeably, the two words refer to different items. The wheel consists of the hub, spokes, disc, and rim, which holds the tire in place around the wheel.


Featured Image Credit: peterscode, Pixabay

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