Many of us love our cars so much that we spend hundreds or even thousands on customizing them and making them look even better. Many choose aftermarket parts like air dams and spoilers, privacy windows, specialist paintwork, aftermarket exhausts and, of course, different wheels.
There are a huge range of wheels available on the market, and once you get a new set, you can have them repainted to any colour that you like. But if you have a classic car and want to retain the standard steel wheels, but have customised to fit wider wheel arches, you may need to do something with your own wheels, and that is where banded steel wheels can come in.
What are banded steelies?
Banded steel wheels – sometimes called banded steelies - are a modification that allows you to widen the standard wheels and continue to use them, even if you have adjusted the width of your wheel arches. The process means cutting the wheel through its center section, leaving you with two circular half-wheels.
A piece of tubular steel, with an internal diameter just larger than the outer diameter of the wheel center section is then placed between the two, wheel outers and fixed in place by welding. Now, you have the regular wheel form, but just wider than it was. You now have wheels that fit onto your hubs, but are wide enough to fit your new wheel arches properly.
How are banded steel wheels made?
Key to this process is precision cutting and welding since the finished wheel has to fit a specific tyre size, so have to be made using steel inserts of certain well-defined sizes. Steel wheel banding usually starts with the four wheels (five if you want a spare wheel done too) being removed from the car and sent to a specialist wheel banding company for the work to be completed. The company will mount each wheel in turn in a lathe and use a parting tool to cut through the middle section of the wheel so that it is cut in half.
A rolled steel ‘band’ is then inserted between the two parts, to overlap the two sections of wheel and welded in place using a rotary welder so that there is no part of the joint where air can leak out when the tyre is fitted. The now wider, deeper-dished wheel is smoothed off, painted and pressure tested to check for leaks.
Potential issues with wider wheels
Of course, the width of the new wheel is crucial since it has to fit a new tyre width well and without air leakage, so the wheel has to be welded together with the highest possible tolerances so that the tyre fits. This also means that you have to know the tyre size that you want as your wheel will be set to fit these.
The other critical dimension is the hub-mounting bolt holes to the rear of the tyre, as if this is wrong the rear face of the tyre could rub against bodywork and end up wearing through either the tyre or the car shell. Either way, that may be very unsafe, so you need to ensure that your measurements are right.
Wheels for all vehicles
It is usual to find banded steel wheels on trucks and commercial vehicles, where a wider tyre may be advantageous but standard wheels don’t give the widths needed. These vehicles rely on a great deal of strength in the wheels as sprung weights are obviously significantly larger than with cars, so if these vehicles can run this kind of system safely, then there should be no problem on cars.
Banded steel wheels offer a significant strength advantage over magnesium and aluminium alloys, making them a robust and reliable choice, especially for 4×4 and off-road vehicles. Banded steel wheels also offer a relatively inexpensive, stylish and usually exclusive change to aluminium alloy wheels. This process only works with steel wheels however; it is not practical to section and insert a new part into aluminium alloy wheels, but these are available in a range of widths anyway, so you should always be able to find a set to fit your car.
If you have a classic car with vintage car tyres you won’t want to ruin their looks by having aluminium alloy wheels, so banded steel wheels become the obvious way of retaining your car's original appearance.