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What is the Difference Between Rims and Wheels?

By Erika Peterson
Updated Jan 26, 2024
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When it comes to automobiles, it seems as if there are several terms for each part of a car, and rims and wheels are good examples of that. For many people, wheels can be called rims and rims can be called wheels, but the truth is, they are different. While they have the same basic function, work in the same location, and are usually made of similar materials, rims and wheels are in fact two different parts. Simply put, a rim is the outside edge of a wheel, and the two are usually connected by spokes.


Specifically, a rim is part of a wheel; it is the most outer edge of a wheel, and is the location where a tire is attached. The term rims has also been coined as a slang term for fancy or customized wheels on a car, but a rim does not have to look a certain way to be effective. It is used by car lovers everywhere to describe a specific type of wheel: these wheels are almost always bought as an aftermarket purchase, and they can be custom-made for a specific automobile. When used in the slang sense, rims are usually chrome, alloy, or another shiny and durable material. Not everyone refers to these specific styles as rims; some people choose to call them wheels instead, and sometimes, although technically incorrect, the term rims can be used to describe standard factory wheels on a car, sport utility vehicle, or truck.


Another difference between rims and wheels is how they operate; a wheel is a round device that rotates to allow a vehicle or other heavy equipment to move. In the case of a car wheel, the wheel should include a rim, and a tire. To be able to rotate, wheels are connected in parallel pairs, through their center, by an axle. The rotating motion moves the vehicle forward or backward, depending on which direction the wheel rotates. In general, wheels come standard on most new cars; usually the only exception is a luxury or high priced automobile, which will usually have chrome rims or alloy wheels.

Rim and Wheel Size

Besides coming in a variety of colors and materials, rims and wheels are also available in a large assortment of sizes. Larger-sized rims are popular on sports cars or sport utility vehicles that have a lot of aftermarket parts, because they make the vehicle appear more expensive and customized; these vehicles are popular for areas with warm climates and nice weather conditions as they tend to stay cleaner and develop less rust in warmer areas. Smaller wheels are usually accompanied by larger tires on vehicles that are used for off-road and winter weather driving conditions because the larger wheels make these vehicles safer to drive and easier to handle in harsh conditions.

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Discussion Comments

By ValleyFiah — On Jun 22, 2011

@cougars- In my experience, the package deals are better for the tire dealer than they are for the customer. Your rims are only as good as the rubber around them. I just want to pose on question for you: Why buy a thousand plus dollar set of rims only to wrap them in shoddy rubber. You will end up paying more in the end. You also might need to fork over insurance money if your tire blows and causes an accident. The Chinese made tiers they sell with most chrome rim and wheel packages will blow out, wear unevenly, or blow a belt within the first 25,000 miles.

Here is a real life example. The other day I was driving on the freeway and a Mercedes two cars in front of me suffered a blow out. The entire tire ripped from the rim and flew over the car in front of me, hitting my truck at 75 miles per hour. The tire damaged my truck so I pulled over and got the person's insurance information. The driver was running cheap tires on her vehicle. In the end, she was out an expensive rim and her insurance had to pay for my rocker panel and door to be fixed.

By cougars — On Jun 20, 2011

Is it better to buy rim and wheel packages or is it better to buy them separately? I know it is cheaper to buy the packages, but the types of tires that are included in the package are limited. I am looking to upgrade my rims and since I am going up a couple of sizes, I will need to replace the tires as well. Does anyone have any recommendations on if I should buy them as a package or separately? The savings are about $200 if I buy them as a package. I have never heard of the brand that is included in the package.

By FrameMaker — On Jun 19, 2011

@GlassAxe- Your local discount rim and wheel store usually does not sell three-piece rims. They are usually custom rims that the customer or installer assembles before installing tires. Three-piece rims consist of the barrel, the lip, and the face. One assembles them by slipping the lip over the barrel, inserting the face, and bolting the face through the barrel. The assembler then seals the rim with silicon sealant to make it airtight.

The benefits of three-piece rims are that you can give them a facelift, and you only need to repair or replace an individual piece if they are damaged. This makes it cheaper to buy and install new faces for your rims instead of replacing the whole rim once you are tired of the look. You will pay more for a set of three-piece rims, but the quality is much better than most single piece rims. I have also heard that they are better for performance cars because they are stronger and lighter than other rims.

By GlassAxe — On Jun 16, 2011

What are three piece wheels and rims? Are three piece wheels and rims better than those cast or forged form a single piece of metal? I would appreciate an explanation of the two types of rims and wheels.

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