If you're buying wheels for your track car from a company that says things like "they're at home on the boulevard or on the racetrack" then it's reasonable to assume that the track is one of the expected places you'll be using those wheels. That means if the center of the wheel busts out while driving, you wouldn't expect the company to deny your warranty claim because "our products are designed for street use."
But that's exactly what one Mustang owner says happened.
Today over at the North American GT-R Owners' Forum (NAGTROC), member Tay posted a sad tale about a wheel. Specifically, a very expensive wheel made by Cor that decided to bagelize (the center of the wheel broke out) itself while the owner was receiving some track driving instruction in his Mustang.
His post caught my attention because the same thing happened to me while I was driving in the 2008 24 Hours Of LeMons race. There are some key differences, however. The biggest of which is that I was racing on the cheapest racing steelies bad checks could buy and this guy's Cor wheels cost over $4,500.
Here's how the owner describes the event:
I attended a track day on May 6th 2012 at Auto Club Speedway with my good friends at HG Motorsports. This was just a track day and by no means, a competitive event. I had run a few sessions on the course and I decided have a go with an instructor in my passenger seat. When I came in to turn 16 of the "Sports Car" layout, instead of turning, the car proceeded to skid to the ground and I went straight off of the course. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw my wheel rolling out behind me. I knew that all of my wheels had been torqued properly, as the instructor did it himself. From the way that the car had ended up, I immediately had a feeling that the front passenger side wheel had broken. Sure enough, as you can see from the pictures, that was the case. Keep in my mind that I was also riding on a brand new set of Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires. Because the wheel had come off, the car rode the 14.25" inch disc of the AP Racing 6 piston front brake kit. In addition, the wheel and tire had bounced around in the front fender, inside the wheel well, causing severe body damage.
He says the wheels were purchased new in mid-2011 and that he had their centers painted gold about a week before the incident by a reputable shop that he says has experience working with race cars.
The owner says he contacted Cor to have the wheel replaced under warranty. According to him, Cor requested the wheels be returned for analysis (I'm imagining the wheel on the couch sobbing because its mom-wheel never really held it) and then they responded with this letter:
We have received the wheels returned for warranty consideration. I have personally inspected the wheels and they conform to their design specification. The wheels were in fact repainted as your letter states and I am concerned about possible effects of the 3rd party paint process may have had on the wheels. Some processes have been known to adversely affect the aluminum material, which could lead to a failure of this kind. As mentioned, I will be having a sample of the failed wheel tested. In the meantime, I have had a chance to familiarize myself with the details surrounding this incident and I would like to point out that our products are designed for street use. The loads and the duration of the loads presented in a track environment are far greater than those experienced in day to day driving. I am sympathetic to your client's unfortunate experience but I feel it is unreasonable to expect our company to be held solely responsible for the damages when the product was clearly not being used in the manner for which it was intended. As your letter states and the photographs provided clearly indicate, the vehicle was at a race track and the client was at an "instructional driving event", not simply a car show. On this basis, we would have to deny the claim for warranty consideration.
If you would like to further discuss this matter, I would be more than happy to make myself available for a telephone conversation next week.
After receiving the letter, Cor seemed to have updated their Warranty information on their website to include a statement saying the warranty was void if the wheel was used in "competitive events." This is counter to previous statements, including Cor's own blog posts where they state Cor wheels can "gain unmatched performance on and off the racetrack" and one where a specially-prepped GT-R with Cor wheels is described as "every bit at home on the track as it is on the boulevard."
It doesn't really seem like Cor wasn't promoting their wheels for track use. Hell, the first sentence on their "about" page reads "COR International was founded by a team of veteran wheel enthusiasts with a commitment to produce the very finest street and competition wheels."
As far as the claim that the painting somehow weakened the materials of the wheel, I'm slightly skeptical of that. I haven't done a comprehensive metallurgical analysis, and I don't know if the paint was based on acidic alien blood, but from past experiences I can't think of a situation where normal automotive paint degraded cast aluminum. Perhaps the wheels were heated in the painting process?
From the information available now, it seems like Cor's image of a track-friendly company doesn't match up with how they actually support owners. If they want to just be showy street wheels, that's fine. But if they're going to repeatedly suggest their wheels' prowess on the track, they need to just suck it up and replace warrantied wheels when they break. It's just a wheel, guys. You build them.
UPDATE: as pointed out below, the company's limited warranty does mention track use, although in a way that seems to contradict their image:
Important: This limited warranty is void when COR Wheels have been subjected to misuse, abuse, Track use, competitive events, 3rd party repair/assembly or disassembly, re-straightening, non-COR applied chrome plating, re-drilling, or have not been mounted with COR International, LLC supplied or recommended hardware.
It should be noted that the owner says this was added after his claim, and has screenshots to back this up on his post.