If that thumpa-thumpa at 60 mph means your wheels are dented rather than just out of balance, should you get them straightened — or replaced?
Living in the pothole-plagued Northeast, I’m no stranger to rim dents. When two of my Saab’s original alloy wheels bent, new ones would cost $250 each. Ouch! So I checked into getting them repaired instead, and found that sometimes it’s worth it — and sometimes, it’s better off to buy a new set.
How can you tell if you need to fix your wheels or go for new ones? And how do you know what to look for when fixing wheels? First you’ll have to do a little research:
Avoid dents and cracks when you can. The obvious way to keep your wheels undented is to avoid potholes, curb scrapes, and other abuse — avoiding the sometimes inevitable, in other words. Not so obvious is the need to maintain proper air pressure, especially with low-profile tires. That will not only help protect your wheels but reduce tire wear and fuel consumption and improve the car’s handling and ride: “Your tire is not just a bag of air,” says Matt Edmonds, vice president of The Tire Rack. “It’s part of the suspension.”
Have someone look at it. Even with the best care, wheels get damaged. Most bent and broken wheels are repairable — sometimes, even if a chunk of the rim has fallen off. Wheels that are cracked or fractured, or whose lug-hole areas have been damaged, are usually not fixable, though.
I had mine repaired at
Repairs can run as little as $35 for straightening a steel wheel and $75 for an aluminum one. Welding, refinishing, and such can bring the total per wheel up to $200 for a painted wheel, $320 for a polished wheel, about $480 for a chrome wheel. “When it gets up that high, replacing the wheel instead makes more and more sense,” says WCC’s Kevin Whalen.
The more expensive your wheel, the bigger the saving from repairing it. Most factory-replacement wheels cost $200 to $500 apiece, and wheels for some exotic cars can run as high as $1000.
Think about looks. Whether you replace a wheel or get it repaired and refinished, you may want to refinish your other three wheels to match. That will cost about $120 to $150 for painted wheels, says Whelan, $150 to $200 for polished alloys, and $250 to $350 for chrome wheels.
Check out refurbished wheels, too. I could also have bought refurbished Saab wheels. Wheel shops often have refurbished wheels, for about half the price of new ones, and they’ll often take your old wheels in trade.
Be prepared to wait. Shipping costs vary with the wheel, the distance, and whether you want ground, two-day, or overnight delivery. For best results, box the wheels you send in so they won’t pick up additional dents or scratches. Without tires, most car wheels weigh 15 to 25 pounds plus packaging; big truck wheels are about double that.
Unless you have spare wheels and tires, your car will be off the road while you wait for your wheels to be shipped, fixed, and returned. If you live near a wheel shop, you can often make an appointment to drive in and have the work done while you wait. Fixing a full set of wheels usually takes a few hours.
Make sure your expectations are in line. According to Whalen, “Repaired wheels are exactly as strong as new ones. We have metallurgical research that shows it.” On the other hand, says Matt Edmonds, vice president of The Tire Rack, “an alloy wheel is like an aluminum can — hard to bend the first time but easier to bend in the same spot after you’ve straightened it.” The same is true of steel wheels,
Next time, think about aftermarket wheels. If you live in the Northeast or upper Midwest, where winter weather makes potholes common, you could always upgrade to a smaller wheel and higher-profile tires to add more cushioning between the wheel and road. But check with your car company or an outfit like The Tire Rack, to make sure the result will clear your brake and suspension components. When I replaced my Saab’s low-profile, 50-series, tires, I got 55-series tires, hoping that would help. (The Tire Rack told me that these wouldn’t fit my car, though Saab told me they would. Both were right — the 55s are fine on the road, but rub on the fenders when the steering’s at full lock for parking.
The next time I bent a wheel, I decided against repairing it. This time I bought four new aftermarket wheels instead. My four tires needed replacement by that time, too. Repairing the wheels and having four new tires fitted in place of my old ones would cost nearly $250 more than the tires alone. Four aftermarket wheels, with Pirelli P6000s mounted and balanced, cost only $500 above the tires’ cost. What’s more, my car wouldn’t be off the road except for the hour or two it took my local gas station to mount the new wheels.
Buy an extra or two — and keep the dented ones. Many aftermarket wheels have short production lives, and when I next had rim dents, three years later, my wheels were being closed out. So I bought replacements while I still could, for only $110 each. Even without the closeout incentive, “it makes more sense to replace aftermarket wheels in the $100 to $150 range than to repair them,” says Daryl Robbins, WCC’s president, “But keep the dented ones to send for fixing, if need be, later.” I did just that, packing my old wheels in the new ones’ shipping cartons, and storing them in my garage.