Busting up a wheel on a major pothole is a memorable experience. Often times it’s also a catalyst for a debate on the virtues of steel rims versus alloy. Which material can stand up to punishment better? The folks at Hydraulic Press Channel on YouTube decided to put both wheel types to the test by laying them out on the table and subjecting them to unrelenting hydraulic force.
Before getting into the meat of this video, a few caveats must be mentioned. There are all kinds of variables involved when it comes to wheel strength, especially with alloy wheels because, well, they’re alloy. Aluminium and magnesium are the most common materials used in an alloy wheel, but alloy by definition is a mixture of materials. Furthermore, variations in the manufacturing process can affect the wheel’s tensile strength. In simple terms, not all alloy wheels are created equal.
Steel wheels can also have some variation in strength, but not to the same extent as you’ll find with alloys. Steelies can also fall victim to rust, which most definitely compromises strength and yes, we do spot a bit of that on the steel wheels used in this video. In other words, watching stuff getting crushed in a massive hydraulic press is cool, but be aware that results can vary.
That said, there are some factors in the steel-versus-alloy world that hold true no matter what. Alloy wheels will typically break apart under hard impacts, whereas steel bends. This video showcases that in dramatic fashion, but the real question is which wheel type withstands the most pressure before either bending or breaking?
To more accurately replicate a real-world situation, inflated tyres were kept on the wheels. Standing up, the alloy wheel peaked at roughly 23 tons of pressure, whereas the steel wheel only reached around 10 tons. However, it’s questionable whether the steel wheel would’ve maintained some kind of functionality for longer, since it deformed instead of suddenly snapping apart.
The biggest surprise comes with a side-load test, where the press crushes the wheels from the centre. A catastrophic blowout occurs as the alloy wheel shatters, while the steel wheel simply gets crushed flat.
Is there a definitive conclusion to be drawn from this clip? We’ll leave that for you to decide.