Today’s wheels and tires from the vehicle factories are designed to do the right job. They also include that government safety standard feature that becomes very boring or out of style. For most of us, slipping into a set of wire wheels with 5.20s or plus-size chrome, polished, or colored rims with matching low-profile tires is the definitive fashion statement for our rides. The number of wheel and tire choices available these days can also be overwhelming.

For the past few years the aftermarket wheel manufacturers have been trying to reinvent the wheel. Custom wheels have become the ultimate automotive accessory and are really on an entirely different level from the days of sporting humble moon-type hubcaps. Back in the day, your car came with hubcaps that attached to the stock rims, which weren’t very attractive but still looked better than the stock wheel. If wheels were dressed up at all, they were fitted with dog dish-shaped hubcaps and chrome trim rings or maybe, if an owner had a true sense of style, crossbar or spinner wheel covers. Then in the late ’60s came the aftermarket five-spoke mag wheels, and soon after that, the wire wheels broke out. But today, newly designed wheels come off those CNC machines every five minutes. The choices are endless.

The more knowledge you have about the wheels you’re looking for, the better off you’ll be. It’s easy to find basic information about plus-size rim options (17-30 inches) for any vehicle, or even to rolling on smaller wheels like 13s. Don’t be scared to ask about rolling on 13s or 34s when you go to a wheel shop. You should ask as many questions as possible. Wheelwell space has a lot to do with automotive design, once the right sized wheels are applied.

Many retailers both online and in stores should ask for basic information from your vehicle’s year, make, and model to help you find a set of wheels that will fit your ride. Once you give up this information, look for your application of wheels. You see, aftermarket wheels are divided into car and truck/SUV designs. The next question should be: Is your vehicle front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive? Rear-wheel-drive rims tend to have a deep dish or, in technical terms, a zero or negative offset. Front-wheel-drive rims tend to have a very shallow dish or a positive offset to clear the brake calipers and various suspension components. Offset is the distance from the center of a wheel to its mounting surface-the place where it bolts to your vehicle’s axle hub. The lower the offset, the closer the mounting surface is to the inner edge of the wheel. The higher the offset, the more space there is inside the wheel, behind the mounting surface. You also need to know your vehicle’s bolt pattern so you can buy wheels that will bolt right on, instead of using wheel adapters.

Backspacing is the distance between the innermost edge of a wheel and the mounting surface. Backspacing and offset affect whether the wheel will fit within your vehicle’s wheelwell or stick out beyond the fender. It will also affect the bearing load path. In general, you want your wheels to be as far out to the sides as possible, as long as they aren’t rubbing against the wheelwells when your suspension compresses, which is especially important with hydraulics or air ride. Placing the wheels out to the sides gives you a wide stance for improved stability and handling. If the new wheels and tires extend beyond the wheelwells, keep in mind that some states mandate the addition of fender flares or fender extensions to cover the tires, and some states even require the use of mudflaps.

Wheels are available in a variety of finishes, you should pick something that best reflects your needs. They can be plated, polished, anodized, or powdercoated, and some wheels need more maintenance than others. If you like shiny rims, you have a choice between polished and chromed aluminum or steel wheel finishes, including silver or gold plating. Some companies offer their rims in any color you’d like. These wheels are typically powdercoated or painted, but some colors, including matte black and bronze, are available as an anodized finish. Of all the options, polished bare aluminum wheels require the most maintenance because they can become oxidized and require repolishing. That’s why many polished aluminum wheels are finished with clearcoat paint. As a rule, plated, painted, and powdercoated wheels need only regular washing and sometimes a good wheel cleaner to remove built up brake dust.

One important thing is to read the manufacturer’s recommended cleaning instructions. Some wheels can react in a bad way to some of the chemical cleaners that are out in the market today, and they ruin wheels. Don’t ever cut corners by trying to save yourself a buck because it can cost you hundreds of dollars in repairs. Always read the cleaners before spraying them on your wheels. Custom wheels and tires are among some of the most expensive accessories that you’ll buy for your ride. The most important thing is that you should be an informed shopper and not jump into buying a set of wheels without doing a little research.

As far as the tire part of this guide goes, it’s safe to say that it’s getting harder and harder to find a good tire for your wire wheel. Most of our favorite tires are disappearing. The reason being because OEM manufacturers are turning their backs on the smaller tires and are looking at the benefits of the plus sizes. Most of today’s manufacturers are building their cars with stock 15-inch wheels because these wheels improve the handling, making the 13- and 14-inch wheel obsolete. If you love your radials, the way we love our 5.20s, you should probably stock up on a set until the tire industry figures out what they’re going to do with our classic cars, or until somebody steps up to the plate to fill the nation’s void.

So, arm yourself through this guide with as much information as possible before you drop major money for those stylish new wheels. You’ll be less likely to have problems and you’ll be much happier down the road. We hope that these pointers help you out with your wheel shopping selection. Now, let us help you pick the right wheel or tire for your ride with our 2009 Tire and Wheel guide.