Wheels: Before the Rubber Meets the Road

You say you love your new car, but aren't wild about the fact that it looks indistinguishable from the 5 million other Ford Explorers on the road? Adding custom wheels could be the easiest way to give your ride its own personality. The price is all over the map, from around $250 for four painted-steel models to $6,000 and up for a set of big, chrome-plated, aluminum wheels. Installation is included with the cost (although new tires aren't). We asked Bob Hange, president of American Racing, the biggest maker of custom wheels, for tips about choosing the right ones. Try the interactive feature at americanracing.com to see how new wheels can dress up your car.

-- Luxury imports. The no-chrome, no-plastic style of European automobiles calls for simple designs with high-gloss finishes. Take a look at Imola Design's Design 9 model, above, in 20-inch liquid silver on a Mercedes-Benz SL 500 ($655 each).

-- Sport-utilities. Big and flashy is what matters these days, so you'll want chrome wheels that are at least 20 inches in diameter and maybe more. Check out the 2003 GMC Denali with 24-in. Gladiator wheels from the company's Epic line ($1,600 each).

-- Japanese imports. Give your Honda Civic or Mitsubishi Lancer that slammed-down look kids prefer with American's Motegi Racing brand. The trend nowadays is to match the wheel color to the body. Shown: 18-in. MR1 wheels on Toyota's Scion bbX concept car ($183).

-- Sports cars. American Racing designed the Z50 specifically for the Corvette Z06. This wheel is in black chrome with the Corvette logo. Use 17-inchers up front and 18's on the rear ($950 front, $1,000 rear).

By Larry Armstrong

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