How Vehicle Wheel Design Has Changed

October 16th, 2018 by

Car on the road showing the wheel moving

It’s easy to take the wheels on your car, truck or SUV for granted. As long as your tires are in good shape and everything is turning like it should, what is there to think about? Surprisingly, quite a lot. Wheel design and engineering has changed significantly over the years, and certain changes make driving and handling much safer and simpler. Join Thompson Sales for a brief explainer on the development of wheel design.

Bicycle Wheels and Early Cars

The earliest examples of vehicle wheels were a lot more like the wheels of a bicycle than the car or truck wheels we know now. Towards the end of the 1800s, wire wheels equipped with hard rubber tires were used, later followed by a similar design with pneumatic tires developed by Andre Michelin. It wasn’t until the early 1920s that vehicle wheels began to look more like the ones we’re familiar with today, with the development of heavy steel disc wheels.

Early Modern Designs Lacking Durability

As the 1920s went on, manufacturers experimented with a variety of different designs. Steel-welded spoke wheels proved lacking in durability, only lasting around 2000 miles. Steel was overtaken by aluminum by the 1960s thanks to developments in aluminum casting, and aluminum alloy became standard in the early 1970s.

From Alloys to Spinners

The lightweight and more adaptable properties of aluminum alloys made it simpler for manufacturers to cheaply build wheels in different sizes, so wheel sizes increased between the early 1980s up to the mid-90s. As technology improved, so did the kind of customization options available for wheels and hubcaps, like spinners and other unique designs. 


While most consumer cars and trucks come with standard wheels, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing exciting in the future of wheel design. In the last year, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) developed an innovative new wheel that’s able to change shape thanks to its unique design, making it versatile over different surfaces. While this is still only a military development for now, it’s a great example of how simple, effective parts can still be improved.

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Looking for the best in new, used, or certified pre-owned cars? Visit our car dealership in Springfield, MO today. Thompson Sales has been dedicated to providing the best customer service when it comes to cars, trucks and SUVs for many years, and we’ll help you find your perfect car.

Posted in Technology