How to buy Used Alloy Wheels - A Buyer's Guide

The Complete Guide to Buying Second Hand Alloy Wheels

In terms of the history of the motor car, it was until only relatively recently that most wheels on cars would be fitted with what are widely known as ‘steel wheels’. Steel wheels do come with some advantages. They are resilient, withstand the elements and are not prone to damage easily. They are also cheap to fit.

However, where steel wheels gain in practicality and reliability, they lose on aesthetics. Steel wheels are nearly always less attractive in appearance than alloy wheels. Not only do they tend to be heavier and smaller in width and diameter.

But, it’s no surprise that many people have looked to find an alternative to steel wheels for years. Of course, that alternative is alloy wheels! As with anything, unless you an expert on something, looking to buy a product you don’t know an awful lot of about can be a bit bewildering – even intimidating. Everybody else seems to know everything and you don’t. You might have questions to ask, but feel silly asking them.

Well, this is what this Buyer’s Guide is all about. The guide sets out to give you helpful guidance and advice about what to look for with used alloy wheels. It gives you useful information and answers to frequently asked question.

Let’s start with the term itself, alloy wheels.

The term is typically used to describe wheels that have been cast from a mixture of aluminium and other metals. The use of aluminium is key – it is lightweight and dissipates heat really effectively. Usually, the aluminium is mixed with smaller amounts of rigid metals. The inclusion of such metals adds to the strength and rigidity and helps to prevent cracks appearing.

● What are the benefits of fitting Alloy Wheels to your car?

There are a few key aspects of appeal about having alloy wheels fitted to your car. Of course, alloys are better at dissipating brake heat than conventional steel wheels. Not only this, alloys and lighter too. Overall, though it is their look – generally far more attractive than the typical steel wheel alternative – that is the key attraction. Finally, as alloys are usually supplied in standardised sizes, this means that the market is wide and competitive, giving consumers plenty of choice.

But there are performance benefits too. It tends to be case that the un-sprung weight of vehicle will be reduced if you have alloy wheels fitted. This essentially means the amount of rotating mass is cut on all the suspension components. The result of this is an improved braking response time and a general boost to the feel of the steering.

● Some key terms explained


What does offset mean? The offset is simply the distance between the wheel’s centre or centreline and the hub mounting face that can be found at the back of the wheel.
Typically, the offset is either engraved or stamped into the wheel. All offset distances are measured in millimetres of what is known as ‘ET’ – an abbreviation of the German term einspresstiefe. The literal definition of the word is ‘insertion depth’.
It is typical for positive offset wheels to have their mounting face on the front face of the wheel. You will find that the vast majority of front-wheel drive vehicles come with positive offset ET wheels.
In comparison, zero offset wheel have their mounting face level with the centreline of the wheel. By definition, such wheels are categorised as ET 0.
Finally, negative offset wheels have their mounting facing towards the rear of the wheel. This is why rear-wheel drive vehicles often have negative offset wheels.

Pitch Circle Diameter

Pitch Circle Diameter or PCD is the diameter of a circle that is drawn through the centre of the bolt holes of a wheel. Pitch circle diameter is measured in millimetres and the figure given also tells you the number of studs or bolts that the wheel will have.


The centrebore of an alloy is the size of the hole at the back of the wheel which allows the hub to be placed into it. If the wheels are to sit properly, the size of the hole must be an exact match of the hub size.
Most modern wheels are now 'hub-centric'. When wheels are hub-centric it means that it protrudes away from your vehicle to ‘mate’ with the equivalent-sized hole that can be found at the back of your wheel. It makes the hub load-bearing, and means that all the bolts and studs do is hold the wheel onto the hub.
However, if your wheels are ‘lug-centric’, the condition of your studs or bolts becomes critically important. In fact, you should ensure that you replace studs or bolts from time to time and tighten the wheels to an extent which means that they are centred.

● Buying Tips

Buying alloy wheels for your car is somewhat like fashion, styles come in and styles go out, 5 thick spokes are the 'big thing' before it changes to a multi spoke with polished edge. Once you look into buying new alloy wheels you will soon realise that they can cost upwards of £1000 (a set of 4 complete tyres).

Now buying used alloy wheels is fast becoming the way to get a slick set of alloys for your car, without bashing your bank balance to much. If you own any post 2000 registration car, the chances are they are fitted with alloy wheels from the factory, but will mostly be 15" or 16". Upgrading these wheels to 17" or even 18" improves the appearance of your vehicle but also the road handling, meaning that more rubber is in contact with the road.

Now the internet is full of used alloy wheels and most of them are accurately described. However there are some which do seem to be good to be true, and most of the time they are.

Follow these simple tips to make sure you get great value for money on your next used alloy wheel purchase.

Genuine or Replica?

Since late 2001, the UK was flooded with replica Audi, BMW, Mercedes, VW, Ford alloy wheels. Most of these were of very poor quality, poor paint finish and not tested to approved EU standards. The cost of a set of these wheels was often the cost of 1 single original wheel, hence why people went for replica wheels.

So, how do I tell the difference? Well firstly, the finish of a replica wheel is very poor compared to that of an original wheel, the paint feels rough and there maybe dust spots under the lacquer but the main difference is the lack of part numbers and other details on the back of the wheel. Looking at the picture below, this is the back of one of the spokes on a genuine 20" Audi S8 alloy wheel. The part number is clearly visible, 4EO 601 025 AP. The other bits of information shown are the rim size (9Jx20") and the offset (ET45):

Part Numbers on Genuine Audi Alloy Wheel



An alloy wheel has to be completely 'round' for it to not to cause vibrations once on a car. Minor buckles, coupled with good quality tyres, can be balanced out without any problems. Wheels with severe buckles are a little more tricky to deal with, the wheels can be straightened but there will always be a slight buckle that remains.

Buckled Wheel

Ask the seller if any of the wheels are buckled. If the price of the set seems to be to good to be true or the seller asks you if want to purchase over the phone or in person, be wary. All honest sellers will put in their descriptions whether wheels are buckled, but best practice is to email them and ask for pictures of the back of the wheels.


Cracked wheels CAN be repaired. It is done on a case by case basis, but modern welding techniques are very advanced now that any weld that is carried out is more than strong enough to be fitted onto a vehicle.

Cracked Alloy Wheel

Damaged wheels are also assessed on a case by case basis, wheels that have chunks missing from the face of the wheel cannot and should not be repaired as the structure of the wheel will be weakened. Ask the seller if they are damaged and if not ask them if they have ever been repaired.

Scratches, chips and dents can be repaired with a process called Alloy Wheel Refurbishment. The wheel is stripped back to bare metal, repainted, re-lacquered and baked in an oven, the same process the wheel went through when it was new. View our Refurbished Alloy Wheels.

To sum up, if you ask sellers if the wheels are genuine (if they are being advertised as genuine), are they buckled and are they damaged/cracked you will cover yourself against making a big mistake. Be prepared to NOT bid on wheels if they don't sound right, better to be safe than sorry.


Plus-Sizing (also known as Up-Stepping) is the term given for when you increase the diameter of your wheels, whilst at the same time reducing the tyre profile – this ensuring that the overall rolling radius remains the same. The benefits of up-stepping are obvious – improved handling of your vehicle. Essentially, each step will cut of amount of flexible tyre wall that there is to rigid alloy. The effect of this is that you get an improved response and it really helps to keep the tread of the tyre square to the road. As long, as you follow all the guidance to plus-sizing carefully, speedometer accuracy will be maintained and the overall look of the car will look better.

But before you think up-stepping is a win-win situation, there are some potential disadvantages to consider. Tyre inches tend to be lighter than wheel inches in most configurations. Up-Stepping makes the overall wheel and tyre load heavier overall. Furthermore, if you reduce the tyre profile, you simultaneously reduce the dampening deflection of a vehicle – effectively meaning that the overall quality of the ride experience is lessened.

● Fitting Alloy Wheels

The first thing you need to do before you do anything else is to check that you have the correct bolts and studs for the job in hand. Studs and bolts have a variety of seating measurements, diameters and threads. Obviously, it is important that you get this. Most wheel suppliers will be able to advise you on this – and there is plenty of information to be found on manufacturers’ websites. You should also check that you have 4 plastic spingot rings – these are a real help to the interface between the hub and the wheel itself.

The next step is to jack your car up. Make sure that you use proper axle stands to do this. Make sure that the chock wheels are still in contact with the ground and then apply the parking brake.
Check that the bolt holes line up and that the wheel sits on the hub correctly by offering a wheel up to the car. You also need to check that there is sufficient clearance on the wheel arch, suspension strut and brake callipers.

The wheel bolts or nuts should be tightened according to the manufacturer’s recommended torque specifications. It is also important that you re-torque periodically – typically every 100 miles or so. This is because they will gradually compress slightly. You should tighten them progressively in order that that are three-quarters’ tight.

Before you allow the wheel to be put back on the ground, you should check that the wheel freely rotates without any obstruction. This is the time to check the bolts are a good fit. If they are too long they could catch on the drum of the brakes or on the hub. Obviously, this needs to be avoided.

● Caring for your alloys

It is crucial that you keep alloys wheel clean. Dirt on alloy shows up much more than it does on conventional steel wheels. You won’t be short of cleaning products to help you give your rims a real sparkle. Most specialist wheel cleaning products have bold claims attached to them, and the cheapest budget lines are probably best avoided. With specialist wheel cleaners, it is a case of you get what you pay for.

But the real secret to successful cleaning is good old-fashioned hard work.

Before fitting your wheels, you should apply several coats of a good quality car polish to the front and back. This will give them a good amount of protection against all the things that cause damage when on the road, such as salt, brake dust and dirt and debris.

It is important that you treat the surface of your alloys as well. Indeed, this should be done with great care as your alloys need it more than the paintwork needs.

The other key secret to success is the regularity of the cleaning. Don’t wait until everything is filthy and dirty before cleaning. At regular intervals, hose down to remove all the loose grit and abrasive substances that accumulate, and follow this by washing with soapy water. It is vital for the condition of your alloys that you never use abrasive cleaners or wire wool pads. These will cause lots of scratches to the surface, and seriously damage the look of your

If you opt for specific looks, such as deep-dish wheels or the likes of diamond-turned rims, you might find that they do not have a lacquer coat. If this is the case, you will need to use a considerable amount of polish and a significant amount of elbow grease will be necessary to achieve a good and eye-catching look.

One thing to remember if you often use your car in fast road conditions, or a track, that the heat that the wheels reach can cause problems. Because of the close proximity (and direct connection) to the braking system or the car, the high temperature and heat transfer cam cause the paint colour of wheels to irreversibly change. Even more concerning is the fact that the heat can cause the wheels to expand so much that the centre caps can no longer be held in place, and centre caps can be expensive to replace.

● Conclusion

Buying used alloy wheels can save you plenty of money. At the same time, you can achieve a stunning and individualised look for your car – and improve performance at the same time.

To ensure that you meet these three objectives and reap all the benefits of buying used alloy wheels, follow the advice given in this Buyer's Guide. This will put you on track to find the ideal second hand alloy wheels for your particular needs and personal tastes.

Research the products you are interested in before you begin your search. This will save you time and money, ultimately, and ensure that you focus your search from the off.

Use this Buyer’s Guide as a checklist and reference guide. If you want more specific information about the different types of alloys and individual manufacturers, check out the guides that can be found on the other pages on the website.

We wish you well in your search to find used alloy wheels that give your vehicle a stunning look!