This month, we stopped at True Spoke Wire Company where we met with owners and operators Dave and Linda Adler, who took their time to educate us about wire wheel safety. While budget is always a concern for any would-be Lowrider, we found out from Dave that in some cases, used wheels are always not the best deals.
As a forerunner in the wheel market, the True Spoke company finds themselves answering some frequently asked questions involving used wire wheels. They are a brand that understands that Lowrider owners are great wire wheel aficionados and have their own favorite brands and styles of wire wheels that are the go-to accessories for their projects. The passion and loyalty to one brand or the other has always been strong within the culture and searching for a set of old school or original wires is a fun and very rewarding process. True Spoke wire wheels have been built since 1974 and thousands of sets have been sold to enthusiasts, both here and abroad. It is no wonder, then, that old True Spokes can be found at swap meets, garage sales, eBay, and Craigslist, just to name a few outlets.
It is surprising how little, and at times, how much, people will pay for used wheels without knowing what they are truly buying. We hope that with Dave’s expertise and experiences with used wheels, his advice here may have value to those who are searching for wire wheel treasures. Now follow along, as Dave puts us on the safe track to Lowriding.
1. Wire wheels, particularly True Spokes, can be 35 years old or more. Some Kelsey Hayes style wheels we have restored are over 60 years old and don’t forget, Dayton Wire Wheels have been around since 1916. Since wire wheels can’t speak, the wheels you may discover could be older than you, your parents, or your grandparents! A lot can happen to a wire wheel over its lifetime. Unless the seller of the wheels is a truthful historian, there is no way to tell how many thousands of miles the wheels can have on them. Over time, wire wheels face many hazards from driving and mother nature. Neglect by the owner can cause huge headaches for subsequent purchasers. Water and dirt are natural enemies of wire wheels. They can lead to rust on the chrome surfaces. Rust can weaken the spokes and nipples of the wheel. If you are considering purchasing wire wheels that show some degree of rust on them, you can probably bet there is additional rust in places you can’t see. Even if the wire wheels have stainless steel spokes in them, in most cases, the rest of the wheel is vulnerable to rust.
2. The architecture of wire wheels is such that they trap water, particularly in the nipples. The nipples are the small metal parts that the spokes screw into the rim. The nipples generally will rust out first along with the threads of the spokes that screw into the nipples. Advanced rust can cause the spokes to weaken and eventually fail. If a wheel shows some broken spokes, simply replacing them may cause additional problems. When spokes fail, it is predictable that more spokes will also break as time goes by. By installing new spokes where broken ones have been removed, it will simply shift weight onto the weaker spokes, hastening their demise. Also, if spokes are replaced, the nipples should also be replaced and the wheel re-trued.
3. To remove spokes, it is necessary to gain access through the inner-liner material of the wheel. Once this is done, it is difficult to re-seal the wheel and make it airtight again. It is not easy to re-true a wheel so that it is as round as possible. Without the knowledge and tools, changing out a few spokes can cause the wheel to become warped and not perform properly. If your wheels leak air, consider using inner tubes, but make certain that you use a radial type inner tube with radial tires and a bias-ply type inner tube with bias-ply tires.
4. When considering putting a used wire wheel on your car, it would be helpful to know what the load capacity is of the used wheels. For example, True Spoke sold wheels with 1,100, 1,300 and 1,500 pound load capacities. Some True Spokes had 40, 45, or 50 spokes. The higher the spoke count, generally, the more load the wheel could carry. We have seen people put low load-capacity wheels on quite heavy cars such as Lincoln Towncars or heavyweight Cadillacs. Sadly, most used wheels have no markings on them showing just how much weight the wheel can carry. Compounding the risk of the wheel failing are rust conditions and weakened spokes. We haven’t even begun to talk about jumping or hopping! Some older wire wheels were never designed for modern, grippy steel belted radials. Modern tires apply more force and energy to aging wheels then they were designed for. The higher traction can cause a weak wheel to crack and fail.
5. When buying used wheels, the hubs are very important as they carry the major load of the vehicle. If you see any stress cracks, you know that this wheel or hub is no longer good or salvageable.
6. Some wire wheels, such as True Spokes require the use of spacers, correct length lug nuts and special washers. Often, purchasers of used wire wheels have no way to know what type of spacers and attachment methods are required to safely secure their wheels on their cars. It is not unusual for us to have a worried customer report that his lug nuts became loose on his newly purchased used wires. If you can tell what kind of wheels you have purchased, you should check with the manufacturer or a dealer to find out what type of lug nuts, washers and spacers are required
7. Before installing wire wheels on your car, if you have drum brakes, be careful that if you have any weights on your brake drums that they do not interfere or prevent your wheel from properly sitting on the brake drum. If they do interfere, you should remove them.
8. If you have old, rusty wire wheels, restoration is available but can often cost more than purchasing new wheels. Restoring old wire wheels requires twice as much labor as building a new wheel. Restoration is indicated where the wheels are rare, have special sizes, special hubcaps or have sentimental or collector value, i.e., “these wheels belonged to my late father”.
9. Be careful that you do not use lug nuts that are too long for your wheels. It is very dangerous to have lug nuts that stick out the backside of your hub, preventing the wheel from properly seating on the hub and making the lug nuts “bottom-out” and not tighten properly. Your lug nuts should cover at least ½ inch or more of threads.
10. This is how the lug should bolt down a wheel.
11. Some wheels also require a washer so the lug nuts do not come loose.
12. Good luck hunting for wire wheels and take precautions before mounting them on your car for safety’s sake!