Discussing the quality of a rim can be a difficult business, as different rims are built for different purposes, whether for performance, for looks or for overall toughness. As a repair specialist, I spend the most time thinking about toughness; i.e. resistance to bending and other forms of damage.
Most rims are composed of an aluminum-nickel alloy; less nickel makes for a light and agile rim but one that bends more easily under impact with potholes or other hazards. More nickel makes a heavier, more stable-seeming rim which does not bend easily, but is often brittle and cracks under impacts that will only bend softer wheels. The best rims occupy a middle ground between these two extremes.
While I have plenty of customers who choose rims primarily for performance, or size, or even “bling,” the vast majority of my customers are daily drivers who want good tough rims that won’t cost them huge amounts of money to keep straight and looking right. One of my best markers of toughness is how often I see a particular rim in for repair. Here’s a list of those rims I see least often, followed by three wheel makers to avoid at all costs.
Ronal rims should by all rights be number one on this list. For years we recommended Ronal as the best aftermarket alternative to our customers with softer or more brittle rims, because Ronal makes some of the toughest rims I’ve ever seen. Some Ronals were even built of titanium alloy rather than aluminum. I have almost never needed to repair any of Ronal’s rims, but unfortunately, Ronal stopped selling rims in the US several years ago. If you can find a used set or can somehow get them in Europe, I cannot recommend them too highly.
Like Enkei, Konig simply makes good-looking, no-nonsense rims designed to take impacts well. Konig is a German company that cut its teeth on rims primarily for German cars, but now they make fitments for most cars out there.
Enkei is one of Japan’s more respected wheel makers for a very good reason – they simply make good wheels. Enkei wheels tend to be very good-looking without being flashy, and the understated designs contain many features that we think of as anti-impact technology. For example, Enkei makes spokes that are flush or near-flush with the face of the wheel, which prevents an impact from destroying the rim by folding the outer rim over against a spoke. Enkei tends to have more fitments for Japanese cars, however many American and German cars can now benefit from their wheels.
American Racing has a long and storied history as the quintessential “muscle car” wheels. They are aggressively American in style and toughness, and usually give great performance as well. Many American Racing rims are built with pressure-forged aluminum alloys, which are much stronger and lighter than cast alloy wheels and almost never crack.
With Ronal mainly out of the picture in America, BBS takes the crown as my favorite wheel maker. BBS has long worked hand in glove with BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Volkswagen. In fact most of the standard OEM rims on German performance cars are made by BBS for the manufacturer. What makes BBS great is their ability to achieve the seemingly impossible – very light, very tough rims that are amazingly high performance and look great. This is due to a specialized “counterpressure” casting method, which combines many of the advantages of cast and pressure-forged alloy.
3 Wheels to Avoid At All Costs1. Mille Miglia
Mille Miglia is mercifully out of business now, but many used sets do remain floating dangerously about. Avoid these – at the shop we call them “Milli Vanillias” because they're only pretending to be wheels. Mille Miglias are hands-down the softest alloy wheels I've ever seen, and they bend if you look at them wrong. 2. Sport Edition
Coming in second in the “incredibly soft wheels” division are the Sport Edition brand, which are still sold by Tire Rack and other distributors. Sport Editions are quite inexpensive and moderately good-looking wheels, but I see a set of these nearly every week, most often with all four rims bent. 3. Maya
In addition to being very soft, Maya rims are mostly designed with a curved outer edge that extends beyond the spokes. This outer edge is notorious for cracking under even moderate impacts, and a crack on the front face of a rim is most often fatal. We generally tell our customers that if they must buy Maya rims, they should really buy five so they have a spare if one gets destroyed.