Car rims have always been a part that added visual drama to the vehicle. That is not surprising – it is the wheels that revolutionized transport, not the car itself. Two wheels on a shaft is an ingenious system that changed the landscape for our species and continues to do so even today. Imagine not having a car today!
But today's wheels are more than just a means of converting rotational movement into forward motion. People spend thousands of dollars to have the shiniest and most attractive rims, although in most cases, they don't add much to the performance of the car. Still, considering they are so expensive, a cracked rim can cause a lot of headaches for the owner.
It also brings the question – should you repair the crack or just buy a new rim? The choice is far from simple, as it hinges on factors like safety, vehicle performance, and budgetary constraints. Most people opt for the repair option because it's cheaper. However, I strongly recommend putting safety in context as well, as it should be the most important factor when considering any repair to your vehicle.
And as far as safety is concerned, the rims are some of the most important parts of your car, as they hold the tire into place. Thus, a cracked rim could potentially result in a sudden pressure loss, which can be dangerous if it happens at higher speeds.
So, what should you do if you have a cracked rim? Can a cracked rim be repaired, or should you splurge the cash and replace it with an all-new rim? You are just at the right place to find out everything there is to know about repairing cracked rims, so let's start answering your lingering questions!
- The Anatomy of a Rim
- Causes of Cracked Rims
- Repair or Replace? A Comprehensive Analysis
- The Art of Rim Repair: Techniques and Limitations
- Finding the Right Repair Specialist
- Rim Replacement
- Prevention is Key: Tips for Rim Longevity
The Anatomy of a Rim
Before we delve into specifics, let me first clarify some things. Today, most people refer to the whole wheel when talking about a rim today. Actually, the rim is only the outer part of the wheel, i.e., the ring on which the tires sit.
The whole wheel also includes the hub, bearings, and spokes, which allow it to attach to the vehicle, rotate, and have structural integrity. In this text, when I refer to the rim, I will use the word "rim" while using the word "wheel" for the whole assembly.
With that said, today's wheels are made from various materials. The cheapest wheels are made from steel. They are sturdy and durable but heavy and not exactly attractive. Still, since they mostly come in configurations with tires with meaty sidewalls, you will rarely see cracked steel rims.
Today, though, a much more popular alternative is aluminum and alloy wheels. Aluminum rims are lighter and offer better heat dissipation, which can improve braking performance. They are more expensive than steel rims but are often preferred for their appearance and performance characteristics.
Furthermore, alloy wheels are an improvement over regular aluminum wheels. These have aluminum, but in combination with other metals for an even lighter and stiffer setup. A particularly good option is forged alloy wheels, which are the stiffest and lightest option, thanks to the production process.
Although only used in exotic cars, super-light magnesium, and carbon-fiber wheels also emerged recently. These are even lighter and stiffer than forged alloy wheels, which can significantly improve the performance of the vehicle.
Some manufacturers use a combination of different materials for the spokes and rim, though most of the time, they are made from the same metal. Still, the design and arrangement of the spokes play a big role in how stiff the wheel is and also its weight distribution.
The reason I told you all these different materials used in today's wheels is that each one reacts differently to impacts. For instance, steel is the most durable material when it comes to surface pressure and the least likely to scratch, dent, or crack.
On top of that, it is also the easiest to repair, as it is very easy to weld using MIG welding, stick welding, and TIG welding. A steel weld is also generally more durable, and the whole wheel will retain its structural integrity almost 100%. In that sense, you will almost certainly be able to repair a cracked steel wheel.
Meanwhile, aluminum and alloy wheels are harder to repair, as welding them requires some more exotic welding processes, like GTAW and laser welding. Besides, the equipment for welding aluminum alloys is more specialized and requires a very skillful welder. Therefore, you can only weld aluminum and alloy spokes and rims at a few specialized places, and you will pay more for the job.
Magnesium wheels are even harder to weld and require special preparation since magnesium is a flammable metal. These wheels also crack and dent more easily than steel wheels and are very expensive.
Lastly, carbon-fiber wheels react very badly to impacts, as they easily scratch and crack. Sure, the material is stiff and lightweight, but hit it with something, and it could easily be damaged. The worse thing about these wheels is that they are usually not repairable – you can't weld carbon fiber. Not to mention, it is easier to detect damage on metals than carbon fiber, meaning it can be inspected and repaired more easily.
Causes of Cracked Rims
There could be numerous causes of cracked rims, but most of the time, it's a combination of some of them that lead to bigger damage.
1. Potholes and Road Hazards
In my experience in the tire shop, the most cracked rims I encountered were caused by deep potholes. These road imperfections form due to the expansion and contraction of the pavement in response to temperature changes, combined with the wear and tear caused by traffic.
Municipal authorities can mitigate potholes by regularly taking care of the roads, but we know that in most places in the world, they simply don't do that. And potholes aren't only causing cracked rims – they could also destabilize a vehicle and lead to serious accidents.
But let's move away from my rant, as much as I want to talk about potholes. When a vehicle's wheel encounters a pothole, the sudden impact can cause the rim to bend or crack, especially if the tire is underinflated or the pothole is particularly deep or severe.
Other road imperfections can also cause rim cracks and bends, though to a smaller degree. Still, various road debris, like large rocks, can also damage the rim. This is especially true if you drive on hardpacked surfaces, like dirt and gravel, where your wheels will encounter large rocks quite frequently.
2. Impact with Curbs and Other Obstacles
Although the modern city is designed around cars, it also needs to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians. Enter curbs, one of the biggest enemies of the wheels of your car. Though a sound wheel and a properly inflated tire do give some leeway, hitting a curb hard will almost certainly result in some damage – be it on the tire or the rim.
This is largely because of the force of impact that is concentrated on a very small area of the tire/rim. Thus, it can cause the metal to bend or fracture, especially if the collision occurs at high speed or the rim material is more brittle, like in cheaper aluminum or alloy wheels.
This, of course, means that you should always approach curbs and other sharp obstacles in the city very carefully. Going slowly is the key here, but also be smooth when applying more power to overcome the obstacle. Just be gentle, remember to keep your tires inflated, and your rims should be fine.
3. Manufacturing Defects
Some wheels will crack more easily than others, and it all comes down to the quality of materials used and the manufacturing process. For example, forged wheels are stiffer and more resistant to cracks, yet also lighter.
Usually, more expensive wheels from reputable manufacturers will be very resistant to cracking. So, whenever you see a good-looking shiny rim that costs a third of the price of a premium wheel, now you know what caused the price disparity.
However, in some extreme cases, cracked rims can result from manufacturing defects or poor-quality materials. These defects are again more common in cheap aluminum wheels. In fact, most cracks I encounter at the shop are on wheels from low-grade manufacturers.
4. Environmental Factors and Driving Habits
Big temperature changes could lead to small cracks in the rim, especially if it's made from cheap aluminum alloys. This is a rare occurrence, but it could still happen on cheaper wheels.
However, your driving habits can also lead to cracks on the rim or wheel spokes. Unnecessarily aggressive driving, such as speeding, rapid acceleration, or hard cornering, can put additional stress on rims and increase the likelihood of cracks.
You can also damage your car's wheels if you carry heavy loads – higher than the manufacturer recommended. Towing also puts more stress on the tires and wheels and could increase the chances of the rim bending or cracking, especially when you encounter uneven roads.
5. Underinflated Tires
Even if you drive on relatively smooth roads without many potholes, the rims on your car could crack if you don't keep the tires properly inflated. Underinflated tires won't carry the weight of your vehicle as successfully and could transmit some of the forces caused by the uneven road on the rim, thus causing bents or cracks.
Underinflated tires can also lead to a phenomenon known as "tire pinch," which occurs when the tire is compressed between the rim and a road hazard, causing the rim to bend or crack. This is especially true when the vehicle encounters a sharp-edged object or a deep pothole at high speeds.
And on top of that, underinflated tires could also cause uneven weight distribution on the rim, which may lead to additional stress. True, uneven won't crack any rim instantly, but it could lead to cracks forming over time, especially if you are not inflating your tires regularly.
Repair or Replace? A Comprehensive Analysis
Unlike issues with your tires, like tread separation and bulges, rim cracks can sometimes be repaired. Still, this depends on numerous factors, like the severity of the crack, the location of the crack, the material in question, and the overall condition of the wheel. Of course, cost plays a big role here as well – in some circumstances, buying a new wheel could cost similarly to repairing the old one.
1. Crack Size and Location
The severity of the crack, i.e., how long and deep it goes, can play a significant role in determining whether you can repair it or not. For instance, hairline surface cracks could be repaired more easily, while larger cracks will require a more skillful worker and better equipment. In some cases, multiple cracks or a combination of cracks and bends can make repair difficult or unsafe.
Similarly, the location of the crack plays a crucial role here. As a rule of thumb, cracks located near the bead set (the part where the tire sits on the rim) are not repairable, meaning you should buy a new wheel.
Still, it is crucial to inspect the cracks thoroughly to see whether they can be repaired or not. Thus, I strongly recommend bringing your vehicle to a professional tire/wheel technician – this is much safer than reading an article online and acting yourself.
2. Rim Material and Condition
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned all the different materials wheels are made of to give you a clearer picture of what you can expect when a crack occurs on your wheel. Generally, steel rims can be straightened and welded more easily, and the result will be a wheel with almost the same structural rigidity as the original.
However, aluminum and alloy rims may be more challenging to repair due to their sensitivity to heat and the potential for weakening during the repair process. In other words, you will pay more for the job, and the result might still not be perfect.
3. Safety and Performance
Safety should be your primary consideration whenever you gauge whether to repair the crack or buy a new rim. See, while repairing a crack could make your wheel functional again, it won't guarantee the same level of safety and performance as a new rim. In many cases, repairing a crack could weaken the rim, making it more prone to future damage or failure, which could even happen while you are driving.
A repaired rim also won't have an ideal weight distribution, meaning it will be harder to balance. As a result, your car's handling might be less stable, especially at higher speeds, which also hurts safety. Not to mention, a poor weld could also lead to a pressure loss or a blowout, as the rim won't be able to hold pressure.
4. Repair and Replacement Costs
Repairing a cracked rim is cheaper on average than buying a new wheel. However, that is only true if it is performed by a skilled technician – a poor weld job could result in further expenses down the line, canceling the initial cost savings. Still, in some circumstances, repairing a cracked rim might prove to be more expensive. Larger cracks will require more hours from the technician, resulting in a much higher labor fee.
5. Longevity and Warranty
You will almost never get a warranty on a repaired rim, as opposed to a new rim, which will come with one. Warranty not only gives you peace of mind, but it will also save you from further expenses down the line. Also, there is no question that a brand-new wheel will last longer than a repaired one.
The Art of Rim Repair: Techniques and Limitations
Rim repair is a specialized skill that not many technicians can tackle. Moreover, not many tire shops have the required welding tools to get the job done because they are expensive and require extensive training.
In most circumstances, a technician will repair your cracked wheels by hot welding. The type of welding chosen greatly depends on the material, i.e., steel, aluminum, or alloy. The process generally involves cleaning and prepping the area, aligning the crack, and then applying heat to melt the metal, effectively sealing the crack.
Hot welding can repair most cracks, but not without consequences. Namely, the intense heat can cause the metal to weaken or warp, potentially affecting the structural integrity of the rim. Furthermore, welding may not be suitable for repairing complex or extensive cracks or those located near the bead seat.
Meanwhile, cold metal transfer (CMT) welding reduces the warping caused by the application of extreme heat. Thus, it is generally used on aluminum and alloy wheels, which don't react very well to big temperature fluctuations. Overall, CMT welding allows for more precise control of the welding process, resulting in a stronger and more reliable repair.
Tire and wheel shops can also repair any bent wheel using hydraulics straightening. This process involves a hydraulic press that applies pressure to the bent area, thus reshaping it to its original form. Straightening has its limitations, though, as it can only be used for smaller bents. Namely, if used on a severely bent rim, it could weaken the wheel and make it more susceptible to future damage.
Finally, surface hairline cracks can be repaired without welding. Instead, the technician would use filling, sanding, or refinishing to restore the surface's smoothness. Re-surfacing works on all wheels made from metal, though it's not useful on carbon-fiber wheels.
Finding the Right Repair Specialist
Although repairing a cracked wheel is a finicky job, too many inexperienced mechanics will still be happy to tackle it for you just to get your money. However, I strongly oppose repairing wheels by "jerry-rig" technicians because they might do more harm than good.
Instead, you should look for wheel repair specialists that already have a proven record of repairing cracked rims. You can use social media and online reviews to gauge the experience and quality of the work these technicians have done over the years. Happy customers, in this case, almost always equal high-quality jobs.
Also, since repairing wheels requires special welding tools, be free to ask the technicians what they use and their preferred repair methods for your specific rim material and damage type. Oh, and technicians that stand by their job will usually give you a warranty on the cracked rim repair.
If your cracked rim can't be repaired and you don't have any other choice than buying a new wheel, don't fret – there are some benefits to this decision as well. For instance, a new rim will ensure your vehicle always performs at its peak performance while also keeping your tires from wearing faster.
You can also use this opportunity to sell the healthy three wheels you have and buy a set of four new wheels of a higher quality. You can take advantage of improved aesthetics, better performance, or increased durability with a new rim. Not to mention, you will also have a warranty on all four wheels, so there will be nothing that will keep you awake at night.
Prevention is Key: Tips for Rim Longevity
It goes without saying, but you can prevent rim cracks from happening by following some of the pieces of advice I'll give you below. This depends on the person, of course – most people I know don't mind checking their tire pressure or driving on very bad roads. Still, preventing cracks from happening will save you money, so read on!
1. Maintain Proper Tire Pressure
Regularly checking and maintaining the proper tire pressure on your vehicle will greatly mitigate cracks. However, properly inflated tires will also ensure balanced handling, lower fuel consumption, better performance, and a longer tire wear life.
I recommend checking the tire pressure at least once a month or more often if there is a big temperature drop/increase. Moreover, check the tire pressure before you go on long road trips, especially if they include driving at higher speeds.
2. Avoid Potholes and Curbs
I am a very cautious driver when it comes to avoiding potholes, much to the indisposition of other passengers (my wife usually). However, I have never cracked a rim in my life, and I have driven many vehicles with low-profile tires.
Meanwhile, many of my friends just don't care and simply go through any pothole at high speeds, and then they complain about tire and wheel damage. If you want to prevent rim cracks, don't be that type of person and always be concentrated on the road.
Similarly, drive carefully over curbs. You won't save any precious time if you hit the curb harder, yet it could damage the rim, tire, or suspension components. Smoothness is key here!
3. Drive More Carefully and Smoothly
On that "smoothness" note, driving aggressively can also take its toll and damage the wheel, tires, and suspension components. So, if you care about the health of your vehicle, refrain from cornering very hard constantly and accelerating with a burnout at each traffic light. You won't be any faster, trust me – smooth driving is always faster than recklessly bashing your car.
4. Inspect and Maintain Your Tires and Wheels Regularly
Much like you inspect your tires for wear, you can do the same for your rims and look for signs of damage, wear, or corrosion. If you find any damage, address it promptly, as it could lead to more expensive repairs down the line. Also, keep your wheels clean from debris, especially in the winter, because salt will gnaw the surface of the metal.
I hope that this article helps you decide whether to repair the cracked rim or buy an entirely new rim. Still, don't just use this text as a guide, as determining whether a crack can be repaired requires on-site visual inspection. So, consult a wheel specialist on what you should do and never decide on the action yourself – it is a safety issue, after all!
I’m Ivo Gievski, the content writer for Tireer. We built our website with over 15 years of experience and extensive research in the automotive and technology sectors. My dedication to delivering high-quality content is unwavering, and I strive to continuously hone my skills to stay ahead of industry trends and provide readers with informative, engaging, and valuable insights.