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Hot Winter Wheels

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If you’re busy ordering winter tires right now, don’t forget about the wheels. It’s

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July. It’s hot. You’re about to melt, and it’s time to think about winter wheels? That’s right ®“ winter wheel season will be creeping upon us in a few months. So, why not talk about winter wheels now?

Just like winter tires, the lead-time on wheels, in most cases, is about 90 days. So, while you may not have thought about them, it’s time to place those orders with your suppliers. And, if you have a warehouse or multiple stores, you may want to contact some of the wheel manufacturers directly for truckload shipments.

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No, the snowy months aren’t necessarily the time to stock and sell shiny chrome or well-designed cast alloy wheels (though the Christmas selling season is still ahead). But, the late fall/early winter season is a fine time to help your recent performance tire and custom wheel customers protect their investments.

Protecting Investments

Today’s de-icing chemicals and road salts are extremely harsh on wheels. In some areas of the country, permanent damage can occur to expensive wheels. And those UHP tires that look so great on that customer’s 2000 Honda Accord may not perform so well on ice and snow.

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Elsewhere in this issue is a story on winter tires (pg. 40). Here, though, we’ll deal with wheels.

First, a note on customer service: If you want to make fast friends with your performance customers, sell them a set of winter-use tires and wheels ®“ and offer free changeouts before and after each winter. Some tire dealers even offer free storage of takeoffs, freeing up valuable garage space for their loyal customers and creating yet another opportunity to get the customer in the bay.

In terms of winter wheels, probably the easiest and least expensive option for customers is a set of boring old steel wheels. They aren’t very sporty, but they will hold up to winter’s wrath. For some customers, particularly those who don’t have a lot to spend on higher-end custom wheels, steel wheels for winter are the best choice.

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For those customers who still want to look sharp regardless of the weather, there are plenty of options. Here are some of the most popular and least expensive wheels to offer for various types of vehicles. In this case, looks aren’t the issue; rather, it’s durability and ease of maintenance.

The first wheel that will fit most front-wheel-drive cars is the black mod.

These are built in a wide variety of 13- through 16-inch sizes and will fit on most cars and clear the calipers. Dual bolt patterns on these wheels help reduce inventory cost. Remember, always dry fit the wheel to make sure the hub and bolt pattern match.

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An additional opportunity would be to offer the TPMS sensors that work with the OE system, if so equipped. Install them in the new wheels as an add-on sale. Be sure to check with the wheel manufacturer to determine if the specific sensor you need to install will fit in a particular wheel.

Next, we have the basic wheel for pickup trucks and older RWD cars.

These white spoke wheels are staples for winter and off-road use. Powder-coated and cheap, what more can you ask for? For everyday drivers, hook them up with a set of good winter tires. If your customers hunt, mount up a set of mud tires to help them get out to the camp.

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Cater to Pickups

In days gone by, this wheel would fit almost every truck on the road. But now, with the increase in OE wheel diameters and larger brake calipers, this is not the case anymore.

Many newer trucks, like the 1999-to-present GM 1500, require aluminum wheels to clear the calipers. Dodge Ram 1500 trucks started arriving with 17-inch OE wheels a few years ago, and the 2004 F-150 has 17-inchers on certain models. There just aren’t many 17-inch steel wheels to fit these trucks, either.

The solution is to offer an inexpensive aluminum wheel that will fit these newer trucks. The basic aluminum mod is probably the best all-around wheel on the market for this purpose.

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It can be purchased machined or machined with a clearcoat or silver painted finish to meet the needs of your customers. This wheel is built by a number of different companies, such as Ultra and American Racing. Again, check with the manufacturer before installing a TPMS sensor.

Some customers just like the look of their OE wheels. They don’t want to change the look of their vehicle with aftermarket options, but they also don’t want to damage their wheels during winter months. Here’s an alternative: an OE wheel of the same style but with a clearcoat finish.

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Many OE wheels are chrome plated these days, but in many cases a less expensive clearcoat version is readily available. These can be purchased from companies such as Factory Capital Wheels or TransWheel. The big benefit is that you know a TPMS sensor will usually fit these wheels without any problems.

High-End Returns

Last is the high-performance car market. Large diameters and extremely wide wheels ®“ such as those on Corvettes, Mustangs and Porsches ®“ require a little more thought. One company that builds a variety of aluminum wheels in wider widths is ROH.

This wheel, along with other styles, has fitments for these cars and is offered in wide range of sizes, including 17×9 inches. It has a machined face with a clearcoat that helps it withstand a harsh winter climate.

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This assortment of wheels should cover most types of vehicles. If you need to look up any of the companies mentioned here, or others, refer to the Performance Tire & Custom Wheel Guide included with the May issue of Tire Review.

With the right options and a performance attitude, the long, cold winter months don’t mean your custom wheel sales opportunities have to be frozen. In fact, you could use this opportunity to pre-sell new wheel styles (and UHP tires) to customers for spring changeovers.

In fact, a good time to start is after the SEMA Show, when you’re armed with catalogs and brochures showing all the new styles.

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Invite previous customers ®“ and their friends ®“ to come in and peruse the new catalogs, and offer pre-season discounts to those willing to order and make a deposit that day. You might even get supplier reps to come in and show off their latest styles or offer a performance product clinic.

If nothing else, such pre-season events will get prospects thinking about their options for the warmer months and set you up for a red-hot performance summer.

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