Hubcaps Vs. Rims Differences: Are They Necessary?

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By Douglas Mercer

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Looking right at the wheel, many are confused about the rims vs hubcaps and sometimes wheel covers. So which part is part and parcel and which is optional? How do these parts contribute to your car performance? The answer is right below!

What Are Hubcaps?

A hubcap, commonly made of metal or plastic, is mounted over the central portion of the wheel using screw or clips. Once installed, it conceals the lug nuts, preventing dirt, debris, or debris entry. It also builds a strong protective barrier to keep the inner nut and lug from suddenly falling out when they become loose.


Besides, it offers a seamless appearance and enhances aesthetics. This accessory comes in various designs and finishes, from simple and understated to intricate and eye-catching.

Modern vehicles today are rarely installed with hubcaps due to the birth of closed-wheel hub assembly. However, these things are still favored for their affordability and ease of installation, making them a popular choice among budget-conscious owners of old models.

What Are Rims?

Specialty wheel

A wheel rim, made of metal or alloy, forms the circular edge of a wheel. It provides the structural base on which the tire bead is mounted and contributes to the support and stability of the vehicle. This part consists of several components, including a valve stem, lip, flange, bead rests, drop center, and lug holes.

Rims come in various sizes, styles, finishes, and designs to cater to different vehicle types and personal preferences. But most importantly, their benefits go beyond aesthetics; they determine your vehicle’s performance.

For instance, the rim barrel, also known as the rim well or bed, is the inner portion that holds the tire in place, ensuring a proper fit and providing extra flexibility when fitting the tire onto the rim.

Difference Between Hubcaps And Rims: Are They The Same?

Hubcaps are the covers on the wheel hub for decorating and protecting the lug nuts. Rims are the outer edges of wheels, where tires are mounted, and can withstand the weight of the entire vehicle. While hubcaps can be made of either metal or plastic, rims can only be constructed from metal, like alloy, steel, or aluminum


Most hubcaps on the market are made of inexpensive plastic, with only a few exceptions that may utilize steel or other metals for extra durability. In contrast, most rims are made from hard alloys such as aluminum, magnesium, or steel and even add a chrome finish.

This leads to another fundamental difference in appearance. Hubcaps weigh around 1 pound, while rims weigh ten times more, about 10-25 pounds, depending on the material.


Hubcaps do not have a direct impact on the performance of the vehicle. They primarily serve an aesthetic purpose and provide basic protection over the lugs and nuts.

On the other hand, rims are involved in certain aspects of car operation. For instance, lightweight alloy options can reduce unsprung weight, improving handling and acceleration, or those with better heat dissipation properties aid in brake cooling. Performance-oriented rims may also have specific design features to enhance aerodynamics.


If you want an accessory with a primarily decorative role, hubcaps should come out on top. It improves the aesthetics of your vehicle without changing the wheels. When you no longer feel satisfied with its design, it is easy to disassemble on your own.

Things get more challenging with rims, which require a specific disassembly sequence. It is connected to many vital components, so you must take several steps and be cautious throughout the process to not damage anything.


Rims are an indispensable component of your car, hubcaps are just decorative pieces. Along with the tire, the rim forms the entire wheel to maintain the vehicle’s movement. The tire falls off without a rim while the car moves forward or steers.


Hubcaps have more affordable pricing ranges than rims. They are available at various price points, depending on the material, design, and brand. Rims typically come at a higher cost compared to hubcaps. Alloy options are often more expensive than steel rims due to their lighter weight and enhanced aesthetics.

Consider the distinctive maintenance cost between these two that also play a key role. With regular car wash solutions, hubcaps are relatively easy to care for and require minimal upkeep. However, rims require periodic cleaning, polishing, and protection from corrosion. Additionally, rims with special finishes or coatings need specific care instructions to maintain their appearance.

See more: Best rim brands

Hubcap Vs. Wheel Cover: A Clear Distinction

Wheel covers vs hubcaps are two different terms but are easily confused with each other. The hubcap, as the name implies, only covers the center ( wheel hub), while the other offers more extensive wheel coverage. They protect the center hub and extend further to shield different compartments, for instance, a larger portion of the rim.

Another striking difference between hubcaps and wheel covers is in their materials. The first accessory is often made from plastic, whereas alloy wheel covers are standard, even with budget-friendly options. Hence, wheel covers provide a premium appearance and are generally more visually appealing.

Can You Put Hubcaps On The Rims?

Hubcaps can fit over the central portion of the wheel, covering the hub. They sometimes feature small clips or tabs to attach to the rim lip, which extends to the wheel edge. Unfortunately, not all the hubcaps can perform this task. It is important to ensure compatibility in size and design for a proper fit.

Put Hubcaps On The Rims
Put Hubcaps On The Rims

Below is a general process for installing hubcaps on rims:

  • Choose the appropriate hubcaps that are compatible with your rim size. Also, consider the design, finish, and overall style to complement your vehicle’s aesthetics.
  • Some hubcaps require minor adjustments before installation. You should also clean and dry the rim so the assembly goes smoothly.
  • Position the hubcap over the hub and align it with the valve stem. If it cannot happen naturally, use a rubber mallet to hit and get the hubcaps into place gently.
  • Depending on the design, hubcaps are typically secured using clips, tabs, or a retention system.


How Much Does It Cost To Install Rims And Hubcaps?

Rims vary from $200 to several thousand dollars per set. Hubcaps are generally more affordable, ranging from as low as $10 for basic plastic to around $100 for higher-end models, stylish choices made of metal or with intricate designs.

Why Are Wheels Called Rims?

Due to the prominence of the rim in the design and aesthetics of the wheel, it has become a commonly used term to describe the wheel as a whole. However, these two terms are not technically the same.

See more: Wheels vs tires vs rims

Can Hubcaps Fall Off When Driving?

YES. Hubcaps potentially fall off when driving due to improper installation, rough terrain, fast operating speed, or low hubcap quality.


Hubcaps and rims add a touch of personal style to your vehicle, protect the wheels, and improve their functionality. Still, remember that hubcaps are only an optional accessory, while rims are attached to wheels and must be installed in the vehicle.

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Douglas Mercer

Douglas Mercer

Automotive Service Manager

Douglas Mercer is an automotive service manager with 12-year experience at Stockton Wheel Service, Douglas excels in addressing intricate tire and wheel concerns as plating wheels, straightening bent wheels, widening stock wheels, and precisely correcting offset and back-spacing…

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