Factory (OEM) vs. Replica wheels: myths and truths!
You may have seen many sellers offering seemingly unbelievable prices on what they call “oem style”, “replica” or “reproduction” wheels. They even go as far, as to claim that these wheels are made to OEM specifications and at an OEM manufacturing plant. There are some myths below that we are going to explain so you can make your buying decision with confidence. By the way, for those of you who wonder what OEM stands for – it means original equipment manufacturer, which is a company that makes parts for the car manufacturer .
When a factory wheel is made, the primary goals the wheel manufacturer has are as follows:
1. durability from road hazards (potholes, etc.).
2. durability from road salts, car wash acids, chemicals, etc.
3. durability in order to minimize warranty claims and/or recalls.
4. ability to properly support the weight of the vehicle and it’s passengers + cargo with a huge safety margin.
5. proper fitment to ensure vehicles suspension and brake systems operate as designed and without vibrations.
They go through millions miles of testing as well as millions of dollars in research and development, in order to make sure that the wheel will withstand the rigors of everyday driving and harsh road / weather conditions.
To compare when a replica wheel is made:
1. ensure the lowest manufacturing cost possible (using cheapest manufacturing methods and materials available).
2. fit a wide variety of models they were not originally designed for (by changing offsets, wheel widths, etc.).
Most of these wheels do not go through any sort of research and development, simply to minimize manufacturing cost, and also because the manufacturer simply does not have the money to perform such research.
Myth: Replica wheels are just as strong as the factory original wheels.
Truth: Replica wheels are made using the cheapest manufacturing method available (gravity casting). This is when molten aluminum is simply poured into a mold and allowed to cool off. This method results in a wheel that has lesser density aluminum, since no pressure is applied (most factory wheels use a what’s called low pressure casting method). What this really means is that the replica wheels are much more likely to get bent or cracked, since they are made from much weaker, more porous material. We have seen this happen over and over again.
Myth: Replica wheels are identical to original factory wheels.
Truth: Replica wheels will always differ slightly from original wheels. When a replica wheel is made, it’s made by copying the design of the original wheel by creating another mold. There are always difference since a wheel mold is very expensive to make properly ($25,000+). You will notice slight differences on the front, and major differences on the back. All of this is not only because the wheel mold is made in the cheapest way possible, but also because it’s virtually impossible to copy the design of the original mold without having super expensive equipment. Furthermore, if a wheel is made exactly the same as the original, manufacturer runs the risk of being sued. This recently happened with BMW issuing cease and desist letters to manufacturers, so you’ll hardly find anymore BMW replica wheels for sale on eBay.
Myth: Replica wheels are made at the same plant where factory wheels are made.
Truth: It’s pretty obvious that the statement above is very misleading. For example, do you think Toyota is going to allow a factory that makes wheels for them also make the same wheels for someone else? Wheel manufacturer making millions of wheels a year for a car manufacturer will not risk their business for a small company making wheels in the hundreds or maybe thousands. Not only that, but they also face the risk of being sued by the manufacturer who owns the rights to the design of that wheel.
Myth: Replica wheels have the same durable finish as a factory wheel.
Truth: Factory wheels are subjected to some of the most stringent road tests available to make sure they stand up to hundreds of thousands miles of abuse, potholes and such. They also go through what is called a salt spray test and many other tests to make sure the finish will stand up to road salts, chemicals and other elements. All of these tests are extremely expensive and virtually no replica wheel manufacturer does any of them. The finish on replica wheels is usually of the cheapest design with no testing done whatsoever so they can be made as cheap as possible.
Myth: Replica wheels will fit your car just as well as a factory wheel.
Truth: Once again, this goes back to making a wheel as cheap as possible. We have seen many replica wheels that are out of round right out of the box. They cause a major vibration on the vehicle or rub on suspension or brake parts since no fitment testing was done before they were made. This does not even address the issue of replica wheels causing a vibration from getting bent, as mentioned above.
In summary: For many reasons, some of which are listed above, original factory wheels are more durable, stronger and perform better on your car. Please keep all these things in mind when making your purchasing decision.