One of the great things about pickup trucks is how versatile they are when it comes to customizing their wheels and tires. You can go all out in choosing your own materials, component sizes, custom paint jobs, and parts. But with so much to choose from, finding the right set of wheels for a truck can quickly become a difficult, if not downright confusing, business. There are many factors to consider while shopping for a package, including bolt patterns, wheel measurements, alloy types, and finishing options. So where’s the right place to start?
Whether you’re looking to add that little bit of extra ground clearance for your off-roading adventures, seeking out rims with a flashy finish to turn heads on your daily commute, or even just shopping for a set of sturdy replacement wheels, we’ve got you covered. Picking the right rims and tires for your ride can be simple enough once you get past all the jargon, so we’ve assembled this simple step-by-step guide to help you dodge the confusion and find your new wheels that much faster.
Step 1: Deciding Your Budget
As with any significant vehicle upgrade, your budget is one of the first things you’ll need to decide. A lot of little costs can add up when selecting new wheels and tires, as installation, maintenance, and necessary underbody adjustments can all factor into the overall price.
First up, there’s the price of the wheels, or rims, themselves. There are three main types of rims; steel, cast alloy, and forged alloy. Steel rims can cost anything from $80 to $500 per wheel, while alloys can run anywhere from $150 to $3000 each. The sky is the limit regarding the price of custom wheels for trucks, but generally, you can find a good set of alloys for under $1000.
Tires, meanwhile, will set you back around $100 – $200 each, depending on the type of treads you opt for. If you need a lift kit to make some extra room for your new tires, then you might be looking at an extra $100 – $300 for a body or levelling kit. If you go for a suspension lift kit, you might end up spending anything from $1000 to $5000.
That’s a lot of variance across the board. Ultimately, however, if you’re looking for a standard steel or alloy wheel set with new tires to match, you’re looking at a low-end cost of about $1000 – $2000. Tire maintenance costs could hit the $1000 mark over five years or so, especially if you’re swapping out summer and winter tires like we often do here in Ottawa, Canada. Aside from this, it’s important to note that better-known wheel and tire brands, custom finishes, and bigger lifts will all cost more than stock options.
Step 2: Choosing Your Wheels
One of the most common changes to make when shopping for new wheels for trucks is to trade up to a bigger size. Bigger wheels reduce the tire sidewall height relative to the wheel’s overall diameter, allowing for a striking look and generally increasing the weight of your vehicle, which can be useful in some off-road scenarios. Sizing works typically based on your OE (original equipment) wheel size. For example, if your OE size was 17″, a -1 wheel would have a diameter 1″ smaller than the stock wheel, whereas a +2 wheel would be 2″ bigger.
No matter which size of wheel you go for, you’ll need a tire with a matching diameter. You can often find wheel and tire packages for trucks that come as a set, rather than having to shop for wheels and tires separately. Bigger wheels mean bigger tires, and more tire surface in contact with the road at any given time, so you’ll need your tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) and speedometer checking after a new installation.
On top of this, you’ll need to have your mechanic, or if you’re in the Ottawa area, one of our wheel and tire experts at Sipan make sure that there’s still enough clearance between the wheels and the wheel well itself so as not to impede your turning capability. The bigger the wheel, the more your handling will be affected in general, and going over 22″ in diameter can significantly reduce the quality of your driving experience. It’s also important to note that bigger wheels are heavier, too, adding to your vehicle’s curb weight and reducing hauling capacity.
In some situations, upsizing your wheels might take away the extra room you’d need to fit an off-road tire within your vehicle’s wheel well. That’s where the good old lift kit comes to the rescue. Lift kits are designed to allow you to install bigger wheels and tires on a pickup and give it higher ground clearance overall by elevating the vehicle’s body above its frame. There are several different ways to achieve this effect with levelling, body, and suspension lift kits.
Levelling lift kits add a block between the front end of your vehicle’s chassis and the upper spring. This gets rid of the front-to-rear rake that trucks generally incorporate for the sake of balancing a rear payload, allowing you to add larger wheels at the front of your vehicle. These kits can cost between $200 – $500, and they’re the simplest way to give yourself an extra inch or so of clearance up front.
Body lift kits are similar to levelling kits, but they raise the vehicle’s body from the frame by 1-3 inches across the board. Spacer blocks are added between the body and the frame, and long bolts are used to hold the two together afterward. This raises the vehicle’s centre of gravity somewhat, affecting handling a little, but it doesn’t increase ground clearance as the bumpers remain at the same height on the frame itself. Essentially, it’s just a way to allow for up to 3″ extra space for wheel and tire size upgrades.
Suspension lift kits are the priciest and most complicated type of lift kit you can choose. They use custom suspension components to lift a vehicle’s frame above its axles by anything from just 1″ to a whopping 12″ and beyond. The higher the lift, the more the kit costs, as fitting one also necessitates adjusting underbody components such as the driveshaft and brake lines, owing to the fact that the entire vehicle is raised above the axles. The higher you go, the more your handling and centre of gravity are impacted, but suspension kits are still an excellent way to achieve a high ground clearance, and they make for a bombastic-looking ride to boot.
When you’re shopping for new wheels and tires for trucks, one thing that’s vital to know is your vehicle frame’s existing bolt pattern. The bolt pattern refers to the number of lug bolt holes around your wheel’s hub bore. This is the part of the wheel that lug bolts ultimately connect up to the frame’s wheel hub, so it’s important to get a wheel with the right bolt pattern to match your vehicle.
In order to do so, you’ll need to find out your frame’s bolt pattern by counting the number of bolt holes on one of the hub bores and measuring the distance between opposing holes. This will give you your bolt pattern measurement in the form of two numbers. For example, a hub with six holes, and 5 inches between two of the opposing holes, will have a bolt pattern of 6*5. If you have five holes, meanwhile, you measure from one lug bolt hole to between the two opposite holes in order to account for the asymmetrical design.
Once you know your bolt pattern, it’s as easy as shopping for wheels with a matching pattern. Some rims even come dual-drilled with multiple bolt-hole patterns, making it even easier to find a matching set.
Another key factor to take into account when shopping for new rims is what type of alloy or material you want to use. You’ve got steel rims, cast alloy rims, and forged alloy rims to choose between, so let’s start by taking a look at some of the pros and cons of each.
First up, steel. Steel wheels for trucks are a traditional choice, being a heavy, hard-wearing metal that can take a fair bit of off-road wear and tear. Steel wheels are heavier than alloy wheels, and this is a boon in off-road circumstances when you’re crunching over debris and trying to avoid getting flipped over. Steel rims are also incredibly sturdy and the cheapest option of the three, so they’re easy to get repaired or replaced in the event of unavoidable damage. They’re also less likely to crack than alloy options, making them a durable, reliable pick.
So why choose a cast alloy rim? If you don’t drive off-road that often, cast alloy rims can actually be a better option than steel in some respects. They’re essentially aluminum wheels for trucks, created by melting down an alloy into a liquid and cooling it into a wheel-shaped mould while subjecting it to a vacuum. This creates a dense wheel that’s also very light, making it an excellent pick for highway driving and haulage. Cast alloy wheels will increase the miles per gallon you get from your fuel thanks to their lower weight while also allowing you to raise the maximum payload of your vehicle that much higher. As a result, they’re a popular, affordable pick for commuter usage and hauling.
Last but not least, we have forged alloy rims. These are an excellent option for drivers who spend just as much time off the road as on it. They’re made from solid blocks of metal called billets that have been machined down into wheel shapes, with an unbroken structure that makes them extremely dense and durable. Their density means they’re non-porous and crack-proof while still being a little lighter than steel wheels, making them perfect for both on and off-road usage. The catch, of course, is that their versatility comes at a price – they’re the most expensive material of the three on offer.
As noted, the material you choose for your wheels will have an effect on your maximum payload. A couple of other aspects factor into this as well, including the size of your wheels and your tires, as in both cases a bigger option will increase your vehicle’s overall curb weight.
Your vehicle’s curb weight is the weight of your vehicle without any cargo or passengers inside. To find out your maximum payload, you just need to find the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) noted on your driver’s manual, glove box, or manufacturer’s website and deduct the curb weight from this figure. Your wheels are part of your curb weight, so the heavier they get, the lower your maximum payload will be.
The same goes for hauling. Find out your vehicle’s gross combined weight rating (GCWR), representing the total weight your pickup and trailer can carry together. Then, deduct your truck’s curb weight, and you’ll be left with the amount of cargo that you can safely haul. The same logic applies as before. Heavier wheels mean a heavier truck, a heavier truck means more friction on the road, and more friction means more energy and fuel required for the same amount of movement.
You’ll also need to take your vehicle’s load rating into account when picking out your tires. This is the maximum load your tires can bear without risking a blowout, and it should be higher than your vehicle’s GVWR. You can find out what load rating you need on your tires by checking your driver’s manual or glove box for the tire code. The final set of numerical double digits on the code is your load rating, and you’ll need a tire with a matching rating in order to drive, haul, and tow safely.
Last but not least, it’s time to pick the finish on your rims. After all, what’s the point in splashing out on 20″ wheels if you’re not going to finish them in style?
This is where you can start to have fun, with finish options ranging from simple black powder coats, to shiny PVD and chrome, to clear-coated sealants and translucent paint jobs. If you want a reflective, durable finish, then you might want to get chrome wheels for your truck, as it doesn’t require any extra topcoat to stop corrosion. If you want a set of black wheels for your truck, a dry powder coat is a great option. Powder coats are also good for off-roading, as oven curing is used during the process to give the rim a scratch-proof surface.
If you’re looking for something lighter, PVD is a good choice, with a dense but streamlined finish brought about through electrical bonding in a vacuum chamber. And if you’re really trying to shave off the grams and show off the shine of your wheels, then a stripped-back, bare-polished finish is another eye-pleasing option. Whichever finish you choose, you’ll need to do some basic cleaning and maintenance to keep it looking sharp, while more significant scratches and marks can be repaired at a garage for a low cost.
Step 3: Picking a Set of Tires
Now that you’ve picked out your wheels and figured out what size tires you need, all that’s left is to determine which type of tires to choose.
When shopping for tires for pickup trucks, the options are simple. You’ve essentially got street tires, all-terrain tires, and mud tires, with a variety of subcategories scattered between them. Street tires are, of course, designed for driving on flat streets, with treads that include horizontal cuts, or siping, designed to wick rainwater away when driving on smooth surfaces. Street tires are engineered specifically for use on paved roads, so if you’re a regular commuter or largely driving on concrete and asphalt, they’re the best pick in terms of fuel economy, durability, traction, and pressure loss over time.
If you’re driving off-road, however, you’ll need something a little more sturdy. All-terrain tires are an excellent option for drivers that take their pick-up trucks on and off the road. They incorporate chunky tread blocks into the tire tread itself, with reinforced sidewalls for an increased carrying capacity. They give great traction on mixed terrains like gravel roads and muddy trails, and they can be used in both summer and winter on regular roads. They do have a shorter tread life than street tires, with lower fuel efficiency and a bit of road noise to boot, but they’re a good compromise between these and mud tires, lasting 20% – 50% longer than the latter on average.
If you are driving primarily off-road, mud tires are still a great choice, and they’re actually sometimes cheaper than all-terrain tires, thanks to their specific uses and limits. Mud tires have huge tread blocks that even wrap around their sidewalls, allowing them to handle sand, mud, rocks, and woodland debris with ease. Scalloped treads help to push mud and muck away from the wheels, and they also lend mud tires a striking look. Still, bear in mind that they’re not comfortable for driving on paved roads, with a very bumpy ride and a much lower lifespan than all-terrain and street-only tires.