Steel wheels are often used in Winter due to its low cost, however, it is very prone to rust. Why are Stainless Steel wheels, more specifically 316 Stainless Steel not being more popular as the material it is being use in marine environments where corrosion is even higher than salt in Winter?

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    I will guess cost is an issue and how many they will sell of theses. If it was profitable I'm sure someone will have done it. I do not have any facts on that so this is posted as a comment... – Gabriel Mongeon Oct 24 '13 at 13:28

I second Gabriel's comment: Probably cost. Nickel Moly Chromium Stainless (316) is very expensive, this random kitchen sink is just a sheet of stainless stamped into a cube, and it's $500+ retail. Given the price I have to assume it's 316, otherwise it would be even more.

I can only imagine what a single wheel would cost a manufacturer. Even using Powdered metal for casting is still expensive, from this place 45 micron 316 will run you $350 for 2kg, which is only about 4.5 lbs. Not sure how much you need to make a wheel, but you can see where I'm going. Even buying crazy amounts in bulk probably steel (!) wouldn't break the cost-benefit ratio (profit-trouble ratio?).

You may however take a page out of the exhaust manufacturer's book, and coat your wheels with aluminum some sort of way, maybe elctroplating or something. It may not be the most stylish (then again, maybe it might), but it would certainly be cost effective to go the diy route.

Disclosure: I'm not a metallurgist, but I have an intro to metallurgy class this semester, and we just talked about stainless steel the other day, so that and the fact I'm into cars peaked my interest in this question :-)

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    I wouldn't choose to coat them with Al. Al wheels are worse than steel in the Winter as far as corrosion. Salt pitting happens very rapidly. – Brian Knoblauch Oct 24 '13 at 13:50
  • Good Point, I've never owned aluminum wheels, but my wife has them now (haven't corroded yet) so we'll see. – MDMoore313 Oct 24 '13 at 14:04
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    Keep them clean, but don't use any harsh abrasives/chemicals. Factory should have them sealed to prevent pitting, but if you damage that sealing, it's going to go downhill rapidly... – Brian Knoblauch Oct 24 '13 at 22:15
  • Would plastidip on all surfaces of the steel rim help at all? – Criggie Jan 26 '17 at 8:51

Largely because it's unnecessary. Steel wheels are so incredibly cheap compared to stainless that there's no benefit. Steel wheels are heavy enough that it takes way beyond the normal life of a car for them to rust out too (I have a 22 year old car that I drive in the winters on original steel wheels and the wheels are in better shape than the car body). It's also normal to use wheelcovers on steel wheels to hide the unsightly surface rust that does sometimes appear over the years.

  • Pro-tip: some Rustoleum (or similar heat-resistant, rust-busting paint) as a base coat and a high-gloss black to finish protects wheels and drum brakes from rust and makes them look a bit better, especially if you add a wheel cover in a contrasting colour. – Captain Kenpachi Oct 25 '13 at 8:35
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    Wheels mounted on the vehicle rarely rust to the point it is a safety issue. However spares that are mounted under the vehicle (mini vans, pick ups, etc ) can rust to the point they are unusable. The salt spray chips the paint and doesn't get washed off accelerating the rust. – mikes Oct 25 '13 at 11:38
  • @mikes I wonder if a cloth wheel cover would be effective in protecting that under care spare, maybe one with elastic around the opening so it 'wraps around' the spare after it's been mounted. – MDMoore313 Dec 23 '13 at 13:25
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    I would be concerned that moisture would be trapped under the cover accelerating the rust. Covered wheels mounted on the back of an SUV or van are exposed to sunlight where the moisture has a chance to evaporate. – mikes Dec 23 '13 at 15:43

Steel wheels will inevitably rust if significant measures aren't taken, especially if you live in the 'Canadian Rust Belt" - the Maritimes, as do I. I just completed restoring a set of 6 bolt steel wheels that I picked up for my minivan. I have a couple sets of aftermarket steel wheels that are 5 - 6 years old without a speck of rust. They do however require a good annual or bi-annual de-greasing as I spray them several times throughout the winter with a rustproofing spray like Rust Check or Fluid Film. Sometimes I'll spray on old atf as I have gallons of that in my shop. The wheels get quite a build-up of 'grease' on them. Some will claim that the oily substance will attract dirt and moisture and accelerate rust. This has not been my experience. Key, I believe, is to reapply the product fairly regularly.

To refinish my 6-bolt rims, I coarse wire wheeled all the flaking paint off and as much rust as was possible, de-greased, applied phosphoric acid gel a few times for a couple hours each time with wire brushing between coats, washed, sanded, de-greased again, 3 layers of high build primer, scotchbrite scuff, twice alcohol rub and 3 coats of enamel paint. I hope to never see rust on these wheels as I'll spray them throughout the winter with rustproofing spray. Fairly high maintenance, but worth it to me as I loath even the slightest hint of rust anywhere on my vehicles. My vehicle body rustproofing regimen is a whole other story in and of itself.

  • While this is all very interesting and, as you say, a story in itself, it doesn't address the question. – Chenmunka Jul 12 '16 at 7:52

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