When you’re looking for new wheels, you may hear a debate on hubcaps versus rims. For those not as familiar with cars, the first question they ask is, “What’s the difference?” We’ll explain the difference between hubcaps and rims before going into the pros and cons of each.

The Difference between Rims and Hubcaps

Every car has rims, the round metal that the tires go on and connects the tires to the car. Rims at one point were a slang term for wheels, and a car by definition has wheels. The exact definition of a rim is that it is the outer edge of the wheel, while the hub and spokes are inside of it.

Not every car tire has hubcaps. The hubcap is attached to the rim to improve its appearance. It is arguable whether or not they protect the car, such as preventing salt water or mud from splashing up under the vehicle.

The Main Differences between Rims and Hubcaps

Rims are always made of metal, whether this is steel or alloy. Hubcaps may be made of plastic or metal. Rims are always going to be on the outer edge of the wheel, meeting the tire. Hubcaps are added to the wheel. It by definition covers the hub or center of the wheel, but the hubcap can cover the entire wheel. Rims and hubcaps have very different functions. The rim is there to support the tire and hold it firmly to the wheel. The hubcap at best protects the lug nuts from rust or captures them when they fall out. This practical use is why you still find hubcaps on heavy-duty trucks; it keeps out dirty and protects the wheel bearing. A hubcap may be purely decorative, too.

You can change out the hubcaps without changing the wheels. If you want to change out the rims, break out the heavy lifting equipment. This is why decorative hubcaps are so popular – they’re easy for a do-ityourselfer to install and change out as desired.

Why Aren’t Hubcaps More Common?

Hub caps by car manufacturers are less common. They’re being replaced by fancy alloy wheels. Where hubcaps do come with the car, they tend to be cheap plastic instead of the shiny metal hubcaps that came with classic cars. Some people choose to replace these hubcaps because they don’t want to be showing the car maker’s logo on their tires. If they can’t afford good-looking hubcaps, they simply take the plastic molded piece off the tires and expose the tire’s rims.

Another reason why hubcaps are less common is that they’re being supplanted by wheel covers. Wheel covers do the same job as hubcaps but cover more of the wheel than a conventional hubcap. Some people put wheel skins over the wheel to get the look of a wheel cover without the cost or the need to replace these aftermarket parts as often, since aftermarket wheel covers wear out faster than the manufacturer’s rims and hubcaps. A side benefit of wheel covers is that they’re often a universal fit. For comparison, hubcaps and rims only fit the diameter of tire and wheel pattern they’re designed to interface with.

Written by: tamarawilhite