Are replica wheels really as safe as OEM ones? Should you buy them for your car?
Based on our research, there are some myths and misconceptions on the topic.
Read on to learn more about the differences between replica and fake wheels.
With the internet, customers are faced with an unprecedented number of choices and can more easily compare products to find the lowest price. When it comes to our vehicles, we have more options now thanks to the rise of online shopping. While visiting your local dealership and/or parts store for your vehicle needs is still one of the best ways to go, many have taken to online retailers because of convenience and cost.
Amazon Expands Into Auto Parts
Approximately three years ago, Amazon struck deals with the largest auto parts suppliers in the United States to sell parts on its platform. This is a direct response to the burgeoning e-commerce aftermarket auto parts industry valued at $7.4 billion in 2016, which represents a 16 percent growth compared to 2015. With a market revenue of $68 billion in 2015, the U.S. auto parts scene is ripe with choices for consumers, and wheels and tires are still among the most popular accessories for enthusiasts.
While more choices and lower prices do benefit consumers, the vastness of the internet means less-than-reputable sellers can set up shop. In a recent study by the Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy (a division of the International Chamber of Commerce), the global economic value of counterfeiting and piracy is expected to reach $2.3 trillion by 2022. Check out our guide to buying car parts on Amazon.
Auto parts – and wheels especially – are no exception.
OEM Versus Fake Wheels
OEM brands like Mercedes-Benz are working to educate consumers, encouraging them to stay true to factory parts. For example, Mercedes-Benz joined forces with the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) to prove that cheaper replacement wheels are dangerous.
Mercedes-Benz representatives, along with the FCAI, conducted and filmed a road experiment to highlight the dangers of not buying factory parts. The video ultimately concludes that cheaper alternatives to Mercedes-Benz parts are downright dangerous. The test driver runs over a pothole on an unidentified aftermarket wheel styled to look like a genuine Mercedes-Benz part. It is referred to by the representative as a fake.
The camera captures the unidentified wheel shattering in slow motion as it runs over a pothole. Then, tasked with the same feat, the genuine Mercedes-Benz wheel drives over the pothole unscathed. The segment again highlights the dangers of not buying parts built by Mercedes Benz. Although this test seems more like a PR segment than a truly independent examination, it does raise an important question.
Are Aftermarket & Replica Wheels Safe?
If these wheels were regularly coming apart on drivers, we assume a trail of lawsuits would ensue. However, local and federal court databases failed to reveal any litigation targeting reputable aftermarket manufacturers. The most recent class action lawsuit we could find involves an OEM directly: The Corvette Rim Defect Class Action Lawsuit; Lupis v. General Motors LLC, Case No. 1:19-cv-11582-DPW, U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.
During our research, we learned the term “fake wheels” is kind of misleading. Unlike fraudsters hawking knockoff Gucci wallets, there aren’t any sellers offering “fake wheels” per se. Replica wheels, by comparison, are a legitimate replacement part that functions and looks similar to the original product it’s intended to replace. U.S. antitrust laws allow these wheel makers to enter the market.
But you still might be wondering, are these replica wheels really as safe as the OEM part they’re replacing? Will replica wheels break?
Based on our findings, here are three myths about replica wheels that our research dispelled, plus five signs your wheels might be dangerous and need to be replaced.
Myth #1: OEM Wheels Are More Durable Than Replica Wheels
Fact: Replica Wheels Are Equally Durable
This statement isn’t as much myth as it is misleading. There are several ways a wheel can be manufactured and the process of manufacturing is what ultimately determines wheel quality. Both factory and replica wheels vary in their production process, so the question of OEM versus replica wheels is only a question of the manufacturing process involved in each.
Some replica wheels are forged with precision detail while other OEM factory wheels are produced with simple casting. In summary, the quality of a wheel depends on how it was made, not necessarily who made it.
How Are Replica Wheels Made?
Cast aluminum wheels are the most popular type on the road today. When hot molten aluminum is poured into a mold, it creates a cast wheel. Aluminum wheels are lightweight, inexpensive to produce, and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Then there are forged wheels, a dense piece of solid aluminum, stretched by thousands of pounds of pressure. This creates a much stronger and lighter wheel yet than casting but it’s also much more expensive.
Multi-piece wheels are popular for custom orders. It involves combining two or three pieces of aluminum into one assembly using special screws or rivets. And finally, steel wheels, which are known for durability and being easy to fix. These wheels are commonly used on commercial trucks and consist of two pieces, the center and the outer barrel.
Replica Wheels Are Safe But Do Your Research
Factory and replica wheels must meet stringent standards and carry a stamp on the back that details the load rating in kilograms. Since replica wheels are designed to replace factory ones, they usually meet the same load rating as a factory wheel for the designated vehicle.
“There has never been an issue with any aftermarket or replica wheel that I have ever seen,” said Frank Blue, Vice President of Sales, UsaRim. “I have been doing this for 30 years and there has never been a structural problem with any of them.”
One concern seems to be if a car has replica wheels, then it is worth less than if it had the original, OEM wheels. Interestingly enough, some of the nicest pre-owned cars on dealer lots may have replica wheels on them.
“We have dealers as customers and they will sell some of their used cars with replica wheels on them for better curb appeal,” Blue said. “From a distance or to a layman you will probably never know the difference.”
Miles, condition, market demands, and seasonal trends will impact a vehicle’s resale value more than anything. Other factors, according to U.S. News & World Report, include fuel prices, electric car subsidies, and the number of optional features.
“The dealership I worked at never had anything specific on the trade-in documents as to if the wheels were OEM or replicas; and we never asked a customer that question about their vehicle,” explained Carl Anthony, Automoblog’s Managing Editor and a former Master Certified Sales Consultant at Sioux Falls Ford in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “We would check to make sure the wheels were not scuffed or damaged, but in my experience, miles and condition were the main factors that impacted a vehicle’s resale value.”
Myth #3: Replica Wheels Are The Same As Counterfeit or Fake Wheels
Fact: Replica Wheels Meet Rigorous Standards
Based on our research, counterfeiters have been known to pass off exaggerated stamping in an attempt to look genuine. Furthermore, counterfeit or fake wheel producers are not obligated to any testing protocols and are putting your safety at risk. That said, these products are an inferior choice when compared to replica wheels that have passed validation testing.
“Counterfeit or fake wheels are a copycat of the factory wheel and nothing more,” Blue explained. “We have to be bonded by the engineering and testing of our wheels.”
UsaRim guarantees all of their wheels are TUV, ISO, and JWL certified. In addition, every wheel sold is subjected to underwater testing for holes and other structural defects; x-ray testing to find cracks and imperfections; radial fatigue testing for structural performance; and spectrometer testing to uncover any unforeseen weak areas in the wheel’s design.
“Each of our replica wheels has been tested to the specifications of the vehicle they are going on,” Blue said. “We manufacture our wheels in several OEM-approved factories, and each wheel endures a vigorous 16-step testing process.”
Some Differences With Replica Wheels
In terms of patents and trademarks, replica wheels have to meet a different standard. Replica wheels can look like a factory wheel for the most part, but there is a slight variance as to not infringe on patents and OEM designs.
According to Blue, this slight difference is not a cause for concern. “Nobody can just make a wheel and then put it on somebody’s car,” he said. “Our replica wheels still go through testing so nobody dies of a structural flaw.”
According to Car Throttle, prices that appear too good to be true on aftermarket wheels are a warning sign. In an article published by them, Car Throttle outlines how some wheel manufacturers skip important testing in the interest of making fast money, which ultimately puts consumers at risk.
4 Signs You May Be Driving On Bad Wheels
Vibration: If you recently purchased new wheels, replica or otherwise, and notice your car is vibrating, it could be caused by a defect. Also, if you recently hit a deep pothole or struck a curb, have a trusted mechanic inspect your wheels and suspension for damage.
Flat Tires: If you are filling your tires up only to see them deflate, a crack in your wheel may be to blame. “It might just be a bead leak, which is an easy fix,” Anthony said. “However, have your mechanic look at it to make sure it is not something more serious.”
Alignment: If your car pulls to one side, a damaged wheel might be the culprit.
Bulging Tire: If you suspect wheel damage but can’t find any visible signs, inspect your tires for bulging or other deformities.
Where To Buy Replica Wheels?
It’s always a good idea to do your research before buying something as important as replacement wheels. Based on our research, we can verify and attest to the following companies. They sell safe, reliable, and quality replica wheels.