Wire Wheels: Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What are the differences between stainless steel spokes and nipples and chrome steel spokes and nipples?
A: Stainless steel spokes and nipples do not rust while chrome-plated steel does. Stainless steel, depending upon the type used, is also stronger than chrome steel and is better suited for heavier cars or where the horsepower and handling of the automobile have been improved. Sadly, without expert polishing, stainless steel is not as shiny as chrome-steel and has a satin-type patina to it that some owners find objectionable.
For owners who are not able to keep the spokes and nipples as dry as possible or who live in a high humidity locale, stainless steel is worth your consideration. However, the rest of the wheel cannot be ignored simply because stainless steel spokes and nipples, are in-place. It does little good to have rust-free spokes if the other chrome-plated surfaces are rusting away. The wheels will still demand attention and the need for drying away water and keeping the surfaces clean. The nipples will trap water and are generally the first place for rust to take root. Stainless steel nipples will prevent rust.
Please be aware that in all applications, the wheel hub and outer rim are still chrome steel and must be maintained to avoid rust or corrosion. Please click here to view the differences between stainless steel and chrome plated steel surfaces.
Q: What is the difference between lip-lace, standard and reverse-style wire wheel spoke patterns?
A: Please click here to see photos of the three styles. The obvious differences in appearance are shown in the photos below. Starting with the "lip-lace" or "bead-lace" style, this type of wheel features spokes that are installed very close to the front edge of the wire wheel. These wheels are typically used on classic Thunderbirds and other automobiles where a high backspace or positive off-set is required to either properly fit a wheel well or clear certain disc brakes. Lip-lace wire wheels require the use of inner-tubes. This is due to the manner of their construction.
The standard style of wire wheel finds the hub section of the wheel installed near the middle of the outer rim. There is generally equal distance or nearly equal spacing of the hub, between the front edge of the wheel and the back edge of the wheel. The standard style is the most common style and fits most automobiles. Inner-tubes are normally not necessary with the standard style of wheel unless the tires selected require them.
The reverse style of wheel features the hub section of the wheel installed as close to the back edge of the wheel as possible. By doing this, a "deep-dish" look is presented. Although the reverse style of wheel is quite attractive, it is the most difficult to fit onto a car without sufficient space in the wheel wells. Further, large drum brakes or disc brakes may not fit inside the wheel as they would with a standard pattern wire wheel. Inner-tubes are normally not necessary with style of wheel unless the tires selected require them. It is more difficult to fit a reverse style wheel onto a car that is equipped with fender skirts.
Before deciding which style you prefer for your car, it is suggested that you take careful measurements of your wheel wells and brakes. Please click on this link to download a copy of our measuring guide. We are always happy to provide further information about the styles of wheels we offer.
Please click here to see photos of the three styles. Wheel number one is a standard style wire wheel. Please notice how the hub of the wheel is located near the middle of the outer rim. Wheel number two is a reverse style wheel ("Deep-Dish). The hub is installed very close to the back edge of the rim, creating a "deep-dish" type look. (Please click on the pictures for a larger image.)
Wheel number three is a "lip-lace" or "bead-lace" type wheel. The spokes are installed nearly at the front edge of the wheel. This is necessary for proper fitment in small wheel wells or to fit large disc brake calipers. This style of wheel is often used where fender skirts are used and there is not sufficient space for the wheel and tire.
Q: How can I find an installer for my wire wheels?
A: Wire wheels are not quite like conventional stock, steel or aluminum wheels. The wheels that we offer are made the same way they were made over 70 years ago....by hand. They do not have the same level of precision that stock, steel or aluminum wheels may currently have. Sadly, most tire shops we have encountered do not have technicians with sufficient experience or knowledge to know how to understand the proper methods and procedures to mount wire wheels or they may have incorrect equipment for the job.
Most of the "Big-box" type tire stores do not have the experience, time or desire to give the extra care mounting a wire wheel may require. We have had numerous problems where an inexperienced or "rushed" installer will not properly mount the wheels and tires, improperly balance them and in even worse cases, scratch, bend or damage the wire wheel. The most important thing in selecting an installer is to find one who HAS EXPERIENCE with wire wheels. We would rather have an installer who has wire wheel experience do the job than an inexperienced installer who has the world's best installation equipment. Experience trumps equipment. Always ask the installer if they have installed wire wheels before. Some of the wire wheels we offer require inner-tubes. We have found that some shops just flat-out will not mount wheels with inner-tubes. Determine from your technician if installing inner-tubes will be a problem for them.
Generally, the wheel and tire shops that cater to hot rodders, customizers, high-end wheel owners and Jaguar owners will have the most experience. We favor "mom and pop" type shops where the installer has a gray beard and bald head!
Regarding equipment, familiarize yourself with our mounting instructions and try to have the installer use "Lug-Centric" type equipment such as a finger attachment or flange plates. It the technician attempts to balance a wire wheel using a "cone" in the front of the wheel instead of finger attachments or flange plates, the wheel and tire will wobble from side to side. This is due to the use of a cone instead of balancing in the proper manner.
Better yet, if you can find an installer who can balance your wheels and tires on your car, you will obtain a more precision balance. What we are typically experiencing is that installation shops that use modern, high-tech type balancers that are not calibrated or set-up for wire wheels which have much different tolerances than modern wheels simply cannot properly perform a proper job of balancing your wheels and tires. An inexperienced or un-informed installer will not recognize this difference in wheel architecture and conclude that the wire wheel is "out of round" or defective and not attempt to properly balance the wheel. This situation is aggravated if the installer makes no attempt to rotate the tire on the rim or match the high and low spots of the wheel and tire to maximize the balancing results. Wire wheels, especially when mounted with whitewall tires can call for large amounts of weight, sometimes over 5 to 6 ounces of weight. This is normal. A responsible installer will take steps to re-balance the wheel and tire to minimize the required weight while others won't spend the time or will misinform the customer that something is wrong with the wheels and tires. The wheel and tire balancing machine must always be set on STATIC balance, never dynamic. Dynamic balancing will not work on wire wheels. Please be certain that the technician is mindful of this. Suggest to them that they review our instructions prior to beginning their work.
An additional concern to be aware of is that some tires, especially older or worn tires, will make it difficult to obtain a precision balance when matched with wire wheels. We recommend making sure your tires are less than 7 years of age and in good condition. If you take your wheels and tires off of your car, be certain that you re-install them in the same location. If your wheel and tire came off the left front of the car, please return the wheel and tire to that position. This is very important. We are always a phone call away if you have any questions. Let us help you obtain the best possible balancing for your new wheels. Finally, consider purchasing a wheel and tire package from us that has the correct tire properly mounted on your wheel. You will have a much smoother installation doing it this way and probably will end up saving money and time. Please click here to see our instructions.
Q: Do wire wheels require a lot of maintenance?
A: Wire wheels will require more maintenance than a conventional steel or mag wheel. They are not as easy to clean as the aforementioned styles. It is not as easy to clean in-between the spokes to remove any dirt or debris. If your car is in daily service as opposed to a weekend driver or trailer-queen, you can expect to have to clean your wheels frequently if you want to keep them as attractive as possible. Some enthusiasts have no problem with this task and consider it part of the overall detailing demands of owning a collector car, while other owners are less tolerant with the task and may even consider it a burden. You should not consider purchasing wire wheels if you are not prepared to perform regular maintenance. We also caution owners to not consider wire wheels if the car is not garage-kept. Moisture and dirt can be very harsh on chrome and lead to rusting conditions. Over time, if you keep your wheels relatively clean, it will hardly seem like it is taking that long at all to keep them like new. In our view, no other form of wheels looks as great as wire wheels. The effort is worth it.
Q: Do you have any advice on how to mount tires on wire wheels
A: It is best to find an installer who has experience with wire wheels. Having experience mounting wheels by the thousands and for decades does not necessarily mean that the technician knows how to properly mount and balance wire wheels. It is a fact that wire wheels are not as easy to mount tires on, as a common steel wheel and do require the utmost of care. Find an installer that uses a "touchless" type mounting system where no metal comes in direct contact with the rim itself. Our wheels are built as "lug-centric" and must be balanced from the wheel stud holes or on the car. An experienced tire installer should have one or the requisite equipment available or significant experience moutning and balancing wire wheels to compensate for the lack of proper equipment. Most quality tire shops have "finger" attachments or flange plates, that enable balancing from the wheel stud holes. Balancing by the center hole instead of by the wheel bolt holes will result in a poor job of balancing.
Sadly, far too many tire shops have little or no experience mounting and balancing wire wheels and may not realize that wire wheels have very small amounts of movement or wobbling compared to a modern CNC'd or billet aluminum wheel. Aggravating the situation even further, is when the installer attempts to balance wire wheels from the center hole using a cone for centering, an incorrect method. Do not let an installer balance your wheel from the center hole of the wheel unless they have substantial wire wheel experience. Try to locate an installer with the proper equipment and knowledge. Don't let an inexperienced installer tell you that your wheels are bad or defective when the installer doesn't have the equipment or knowledge to make such a statement. It is not unusual to have as much as 5 to 7 ounces of weight required to balance a whitewall tire and wire wheel combination. The whitewall tire may require 3 to 5 ounces of weight alone without considering the wheel. The proof of the pudding is how your wheels perform on your car. Please call or email us for technical support if any situations or problems as described above occur. Put our experience to work for you.
For cosmetic reasons, the balancing weights should be attached on the backside of the wheel, not on the front side of the rim. Clipping or taping weights to the front of your wheel will spoil their appearance. We favor the glue-on or stick-on type weights over the clip-on style which can harm your chrome if the weights scratch your chrome finish. Inspect your wheels carefully before and after to make sure there are no scratches or dents left on the rims by the installer. An experienced and responsible installer should not damage your finish. We have seen dents, scratches and other marks left by careless installers or by their use of out-of-date equipment. Any questions regarding balancing should be referred to us for friendly advice.
Q: Can I use my current tires on the new wire wheels or must I buy new tires?
A: It is perfectly O.K. to run your current tires if they are the correct size for your new wheels and less than seven (7) years old. It is important to make sure that you return the tires to their original position on your car once mounted on the new wheels. In other words, if you take a tire off the left front wheel, you should return the same tire to this location. Also, we recommend checking your alignment once the new wheels are installed and realigning your car if necessary.
Please carefully follow our balancing instructions for maximum performance of your new wheels. Read all instructions carefully before installing.
Q: Is it true that wire wheels are prone to rusting out?
A: Due to the architecture and design of wire wheels, they tend to trap water. Our wire wheels use a style of chrome plating that is of a very high standard but permitting water or moisture to accumulate or remain on the chrome surfaces can eventually lead to a surprisingly rapid appearance of rust or corrosion. This is true with nearly all chrome wheels, not just our own brands. The extra effort in drying off your wheels as described below will result in years, even multiple decades of rust-free use. We have seen wheels built by our company in 1974 that are rust-free, thanks to the diligent care their owners have given them.
When considering the purchase of wire wheels, you should be mindful that if your wheels get wet, you must take steps as soon as reasonably possible to dry off your wheels. If you wash your car, start by driving it around the block a few times to get water out of and off the surfaces and then dry the wheels thoroughly. If you have an air hose, shop-vac or even a garden blower, you should use this to remove any remaining water. Some owners will also apply a thin coat of WD40 or other rust inhibitor on their wheels, especially if the vehicle is going into winter storage. We do not recommend that your car not be stored outdoors. The natural elements may be too harsh on chrome surfaces.
Please feel free to call or email us to discuss wire wheel maintenance. We want you to be happy with your wire wheels.
Q: How can I keep my wheels looking show quality?
A: This is a question we feel confident we can answer because our wheels are used by many owners of Show Car and Concours automobiles. We have received many thank you cards, emails and phone calls from our show-winning customers. We recommend using soap and water to keep your wheels clean. A dish-washing liquid detergent is sufficient. Even though our chrome plating is very sturdy, harsh detergents and especially abrasive products that contain bleach can cause serious harm to your chrome surfaces. This may not occur all-at-once, but rather, over time. Harsh cleaning agents will eventually spoil your chrome. If you insist upon using a cleaner, we recommend Dawn dish washing soap or Simple Green. Between cleanings, spraying on a very thin coat of WD40 may help to minimize any chance of rust or corrosion, especially during winter storage. Please click here to view our cleaning products.
Q: When it comes to tires, which is better, bias-ply or steel belted radials?
A: The advantages of bias-ply tires are: 1) Most authentic, period-correct look for a vintage car. 2) Less expense generally. 3) In most cases, wider whitewalls and more choices of brands and whitewall sizes and appearances. 4) The most notable appearance features are the straight up and down or vertical side walls, the attractive "pie-crust" edges of the tires that resemble scallops and the period-correct looking tread patterns. A good example of a bias-ply tire with a wide four inch tire can be seen on this link: BIAS-PLY TIRE. The disadvantages of bias-ply tires are that they do not ride as nice as steel belted radials will nor perform as well on cornering or in wet conditions. Bias-Plys tend to follow cracks or seams in the pavement and they will "flat-spot" if they sit too long without use, although in most cases, the tires will smooth out after driving for a given distance. If you are running bias-ply tires presently that are over 6 years of age, they are probably in need of replacement and new bias-plys will probably perform much better than outdated rubber will. Bias-ply tires probably will not have as long of an estimated tread life as radial tires do and may not have a high enough speed rating if you have a need for speed.
The advantages of steel-belted radial tires are: 1) Superior ride and performance. 2) Attractive design. 3) Period-correct appearance and whitewall stripes for more modern cars. 4) Longer tread-life and 5) Speed rated for higher speed driving. The disadvantages are: 1) Higher cost. 2) Can cause cracking or harm to antiquated wheels. 3) May detract from a vintage presentation on an older car. 4) In tight quarters, a steel belted radial may be wider than needed and could rub or make contact with a fender skirt or body panel. Please click here to see a fine example of steel belted radials on a collector car: STEEL BELTED RADIALS.
To discuss the correct choice for your car, please feel free to call or email us with your questions.
Q: I own a set of wire wheels already and I am thinking of restoring them. Does it make more sense to just purchase new wire wheels or restore the ones that I have?
A: We are one of the few wire wheels companies that can offer restoration and also sales of new wire wheels. For a general explanation of our restoration services, please click on this link: RESTORATION SERVICES. In most cases restoration costs will exceed the cost of purchasing new wire wheels. However, a show-quality restoration can be justified for the following reasons: A) The wheels are unique to the car and originality is required. B) Sentimental reasons (for example, the wheels belonged to the owner's late father). C) The wheels have unusual hubs, spoke counts, offsets that cannot be duplicated. D) The restored wheels will add great value to the car and can be restored to a higher standard than purchasing new wheels. E) The hubcaps or center emblems are not available anywhere else.
Restorations can take from eight to twelve weeks or more, depending upon the nature of the services required and materials specified by the owner such as stainless steel spokes or copper plating.
Purchasing new wheels has its advantages because new wheels may be much stronger and safer than even old, restored wheels. Thicker metals, more spokes, stronger outer rims and better suited off-sets are available in new rims. Most styles are available off-the-shelf or can be prepared within a few days or weeks.
Q: I own a late model automobile. Can I put your Collector Style wire wheels on my car?
A: We discourage using our Collector wheels on post 80's or 90's automobiles. Our wheels are made by hand and although they are precision-built, the tolerances and specifications we use may not be adequate for more modern cars where modern construction techniques result in much higher levels of precision. Also, some modern cars have tire pressure monitoring systems which our wheels do not have. We currently have no front wheel drive wheels in production. We are able to serve some later model automobiles such as the rear wheel drive, Cadillac Fleetwood Broughams made up until 1996. If you have any questions, please contact us for more information about your car.
Q: During the balancing of my new wheels, I saw the front lip of the wheel weaving up and down very slightly, as though the edge is not straight. Is my wheel out of round or defective?
A: Before any wheels leave the factory, the wheels are triple gauge-tested for accuracy and run-out. No wheel is ever intentionally shipped by us that isn't within our exacting specifications. However, the front edge of our wheels are not perfectly flat and smooth like a billet aluminum rim would be. These outer rims are formed in the same manner as the original outer rims were in the '50's and 60's, and in most instances have slight rises in them that can appear to look like a wobble upon rotation. If your wheel was not damaged during shipment or during mounting, the most probable cause of this condition is the edge of the wheel not being perfectly straight. This does not affect performance and in most cases is concealed by the mounted tire. Tire installers who are not familiar with wire wheels and this type of outer rim will often report the wheel to be "out-of-round" or to be wobbling, when in fact it is not. The outer rims are made by the same people who make Cragar wheels in California and are of the highest quality. If you aren't certain about this, please feel free to call us for technical support. Don't be surprised to see weights attached in the amount of 5-6 ounces or even more. If higher amounts are called for, ask the installer to rotate your tire 180 degrees and re-balance. To view our installation instructions, please click on this link.
Q: Where can I purchase new tires, especially whitewalls at discount prices?
A: Please visit our discount tire website at: tiresandwires.com for the best selection and prices on the web. We also offer wheel and tire packages at attractive prices that are a convenient way to purchase wheels and tires.
Q: My wire wheels need repair. Can they be fixed?
A: Yes. There are shops that can repair wire wheels. Our company only restores wire wheels. We believe repairing a wire wheel can be risky, especially if the wheel is a vintage wheel. When one or more spokes start breaking or nipples failing, the rest of the parts are generally not far behind. Outer rims and hubs can also become brittle over their lifetime and under decades of mileage and use
Q: Do you think it is a good idea to purchase used wire wheels?
A: Unless you intend to have used wheels restored immediately or you collect old wheels, we would recommend against it. Most used wheels we have seen have unknown histories. They could be 10, 20, 30 years old or even older. Sadly, the spokes could have small cracks or defects in them that are hardly visible. Rust can be hiding like a cancer eating away at the spokes which could lead to a serious failure. The wheels could leak from dried out or damaged inner liners resulting in costly towing bills. We have seen cases of wheels that have suffered catastrophic spoke failures which could lead to a loss of control of the automobile. You just can't be sure enough to risk your safety on used rims.
Q: Is it a good idea to run inner-tubes in my new wire wheels?
A: With inner-tubes, there are strong arguments to be made for and against having tubes. A lot of people think that an inner-tube by itself is a dirty-word or taboo. We respectfully disagree. The wheels we sell are "tube-friendly". The wheels are specially prepared to accept inner-tubes and there are no sharp edges in our wheels that could harm a tube. Despite our best efforts and the best efforts of the technician who you may choose to install your tires, the sad fact is that leaks can happen when an owner elects to go tubeless. An inner-tube can prevent this and also solve a leakage problem no matter who or what caused it. Additionally, since we restore wheels, we frequently receive wire wheels that are 50 years old or more. Surprisingly, the wheels that used inner-tubes have much less or even, no rust on the interior as opposed to wheels that are run tubeless. The top photo on the below shows a 57 year old Kelsey Hayes wheel that ran inner-tubes. No rust is visible. Below the Kelsey Hayes wheel is a 3-year old wire wheel that ran without tubes. The water content and moisture in the air has caused rust in the bead area of the wheel. An inner-tube would have probably prevented this. Most wire wheel owners run collector type tires like those found on our whitewall tire website (Coker, BFGoodrich, Goodyear and Firestone). These tires work well with inner-tubes which are not discouraged by the manufacturers. It is a matter of safe practice to carefully inspect the inside of your tires to find and remove any inspection tags or mold marks and sharp edges that could cause a hole in your inner-tube if you choose to use tubes. Inner-tubes also hold the shape of the tire better and safely secure the tire on the rim with vintage wire wheels that do not have a safety-bead. With inner-tubes, the disadvantage is that if the tube should be punctured, the air will escape rapidly which could cause poor handling or even loss of control of the vehicle. A puncture to a tubeless tire will only cause air to escape from the point that the puncture occurred and leakage will most likely occur at a slower rate. You could probably limp to a tire shop if you ran a tubeless tire while a tube-type installation would put you on the sidelines. All lip-lace or bead-lace wheels we sell require inner-tubes and cannot be run as tubeless.
Q: My wire wheel is leaking. How can I repair the leak myself?
A: The easiest method is to simply install an inner tube. If you choose to do this, it is critical that you make certain that there are no inspection tags inside your tire. We have found as many as 8 of these small, paper tags inside of one tire. Remove every one of them. Even leaving one in can cause your inner tube to fail.
If you decide to repair the leaking wheel yourself, start by inflating the tire and either submerging the wheel and tire in a tank or spraying Windex or a soapy solution on the rim to find the spot or spots where a leak has occurred. Once you do identify the leak, mark the rim where the leak has been discovered. In most cases, the cause of the leak is that the liner material inside the wheel has failed. The most frequent cause is that during installation, the liner material may have been harmed by installer error, such as cutting the liner or using too much air pressure to inflate the tire and seat the beads.
Clean the inside of the wheel thoroughly using Acetone. We want the area where the silicone is to be applied to be as clean as possible. Don't pull off all the existing sealer, just clean it. After identifying the area where the leak has occurred on the inside of the wheel, apply GE or Dow Corning brand 100% pure silicone. Make certain the material you purchase says it is "Non-corrosive". We prefer you use clear silicone so that you can see if you have covered up the area involved and that you have it thick enough, but not too thick. You can purchase this material at Home Depot stores. You will only repair the area involved not the entire sealer area. It is not necessary to lay a coat of silicone over the entire sealer area.
Lay down a thin coat of silicone over the involved area and smooth it flat with a putty knife. You can apply the new silicone material directly over the old sealer. Smooth the silicone out evenly so that there is no area available for air to leak out through the sealer material.
Be careful that you do not allow the silicone to get close to the lip or bead of the rim. Material stacking up on the bead area may prevent your tire from seating or beading-up properly. If you accidentally get some silicone in this area, clean it off as soon as possible or wait until it drys and then remove it.
Allow the silicone to dry for 5 days before mounting your tire. The silicone takes a few days to set-up and fully dry. With these steps performed correctly, you should not have any further problems. Make certain that the coat you apply is thin and not too tall or it may interfere with the installation of your tire or inner tube if you use one. If the wheel continues to leak, it may need to be repaired by a professional. Please contact us in that case.
If you should have any questions, please feel free to email or call us. Thank you.