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Are Exposed Steel Wheels Officially Over?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro January 2018

Folks, I think it's happened. I think the steel wheel is dead.

To be clear, I am not referring to work vehicles -- pickup trucks, cargo vans, commercial trucks, whatever. Those things will use steel wheels until they're replaced by flying cars that use no wheels, and then they'll use steel wings. Or something. I know nothing about flying vehicles, except that they have wings. Maybe they're steel. Who knows?

But in the car world, the world of vehicles that you and I might purchase today, I believe it has finally happened: The steel wheel has finally died. Or, at least, the naked steel wheel -- the steel wheel with no hubcap over it for style. It appears that virtually every automaker has abandoned the steel wheel in favor of the alloy -- or, in a few remaining cases, the hubcap.

Just a few years ago, this wasn't true. Through 2010, the Honda CR-V was still offering steel wheels, as was the larger Pilot, in their base trim levels. Same for the Toyota RAV4. And the Chevy Camaro famously had steel wheels in its basic trim, except Chevy painted them black to disguise the fact that they were, in fact, steel wheels, which I always loved.

But that's all gone now. The base versions of all those cars now have alloys, and base-level tiny cars like the Nissan Versa and Mitsubishi Mirage, which still use steel wheels, have hubcaps to cover them up. Moreover, you no longer have to graduate to some crazy trim level to get alloy wheels on these cars; Nissan is offering 15-inch alloys on low-level Versa models for just $495 extra.

And so, indeed, the exposed steel wheel seems to be increasingly forgotten; a wonderful way to save money and make cars look ever so basic now seems to be quickly dying. All those base-level cars whose steel wheels were a surefire way to tell they were the bottom trim -- the Chevy Tahoe, the Jeep Cherokee, the Ford Explorer -- now no longer provide people with such a cheap option. And in the few places where the steel wheel still exists, it's often covered like an embarrassment.

Goodbye, steel wheel. We'll miss you.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Are Exposed Steel Wheels Officially Over? - Autotrader