Alternative OEM Wheels Can Give Your Car an Aftermarket Look

For pennies on the dollar of name-brand alloys, wheels from another model, or manufacturer, can make your car unique.

byJustin Hughes|
Tires photo

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Want a simple way to customize your car? Install a different set of wheels. The problem is this can cost thousands of dollars. But I've given many of my cars a unique look by picking up used OEM wheels from different years, models, or even a manufacturers. Sets of OEM wheels are easy to find on Craigslist or eBay, often for a small fraction of the price of a set of aftermarket alloys. This is a great way to customize your look with a design that was never available on your car from the factory, without spending a lot of money.

The easiest way to do this is with wheels from a different year, as shown above. My 1989 Honda Civic wagon wore alloys from a first generation CRX. Their quirky design worked well with the uniqueness of my wagon, especially with my other customizations such as fog lights and Mini Cooper style hood stripes. This also meant that they shared the same bolt pattern, diameter, width, and offset. Fitment is the main factor you have to consider when mixing and matching wheels to your car. The bolt pattern must be the same. You have some wiggle room on the diameter, as long as you keep the size large enough to not rub on your brakes, and small enough that your tires don't rub on the body or suspension components. I plan to downsize my VW Jetta from its 16-inch Wolfsburg Edition wheels to 15-inch wheels from a lesser model so I can put beefier tires on and make it look tougher after its Ute conversion.

Justin Hughes

Sometimes a splash of paint can also help give factory alloys a new look. For my modified 1996 Saturn SL2, I picked up a set of beat-up wheels from an earlier S Series. The finish was flaking off badly, so I paid practically nothing for them. After sanding off the remaining ugliness and exposing the bare metal, I used some cheap wheel paint to give them a fresh finish. Since I had to paint them anyway, I chose a dark grey instead of the original silver, just to be different. The end result fooled many people into thinking this cheap set of wheels were high dollar aftermarket alloys.

Justin Hughes

Don't feel obligated to stick with the same brand as your car, either. These very same Saturn wheels fit my friend's Toyota MR2 perfectly, so we used her car and my wheels for autocross. These 15-inch wheels were also an upgrade from the MR2's original 14-inch size. Best of all, I already owned these wheels and tires for my Saturn, so this upgrade cost no additional money.

By opening yourself to the options of other OEM wheels, you can still get a custom look and spend far less money than you would on a set of new aftermarket wheels. You need to do your research, or even test fit the wheels on your car before you buy them. But with a little legwork you can get the style you're looking for with enough money left over to buy tires or improve other parts of your car.