I'm sure you've seen plenty of different types of hubcaps before in your lifetime including those that are white, chrome, plastic, metal, and even those that spin around and around and never stop even when the car isn't moving right? Great. So what exactly are they used for anyway? Are they only there for decoration? Do they serve any purpose at all other than to cover up the rims of the tire?
In order to get a better understanding of why they are there, it helps to know when hubcaps actually came to be in the wonderful world of automobiles. The earliest form of hubcaps were created to cover up the center portion of the wheel where the steel spokes met what is known as the hub. This was what was used up until about 1932 which is when snap on center hub covers or caps came about which were a bit more decorative than what was previously used. These caps were equipped with a special snap feature that allowed them to be pushed and locked into place for a secure fit. This very system is the foundation of what is still used on hubcaps and wheel covers today.
After the 1930's things started to get a little more fancy as hubcaps were now turning into wheel covers, which are made to cover the entire rim of the wheel except for a tiny portion of the rim closest to the rubber tire. We first started to see the more decorative style hubcaps and wheel covers being introduced in the 1940's, which was about the time when more and more were being made with stainless steel or chrome plated material. If you really wanted to go all out, you purchased a set of wheel covers that had an extra chrome ring on the outer edge in addition to the chrome center hubcaps. These were quite expensive during those times and were typically only purchased by those who could afford them.
The other trend that came about was the manufacturer stamp or logo which was pressed into the center of the hubcaps, for publicity purposes of course. Perhaps the most notable stamp or logo was that of the Cadillac, which undoubtedly became the most popular stamp of all because of Cadillac's highly regard reputation for being the most luxurious brand of car available on the market.
Since then plastic has become the primary material used in the manufacturing of hubcaps of today's vehicles and can be seen primarily on those vehicles that come with more affordable price tags. The plastic material is much more economical and efficient when it comes to manufacturing so auto makers are able to equip their vehicles with more hubcaps made of plastic for far less cost than if they were to use other materials for the same purpose.
By now the answers to the questions above should be quite apparent and you most likely have figured out that hubcaps were created for the simple purpose of covering up the tire rim and nothing more. That was the purpose for which they were created back then, and it will continue to be the purpose for which they are created in the years to come.