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Symbol on car wheels is for certification in Japan

Here’s a little mystery I’m hoping you gurus can solve. We’ve had a lot of Hondas and Toyotas in our family over the years. Whenever I’ve washed the cars’ factory alloy wheels, I’ve noticed a little symbol forged into them. My curiosity was piqued again last week when I noticed the same symbol on a Subaru’s wheels. Could one company be making all these different cars’ wheels? The symbol looks sort of like a stylized “JW.” Whenever I’ve tried to Google something about the symbol, all I’ve found is stuff about religion.

— Nick, Medford

Your Japanese car wheels are wholly unaffiliated with the folks who’d like to hand you a copy of the Watchtower.

The “JWL” word mark is derived from “Japan light alloy wheel,” and signifies that the wheel has passed a variety of strength and safety tests set by the Japan Light Alloy Automotive Wheel Testing Council, or JWTC, and required by Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, according to the JWTC’s English language website.

The strength tests include impact tests applied to the outer rim — including near the wheel’s valve stem — to ensure that the wheel won’t crack or break under pressure. Other inspections test the wheel’s performance at speed and cornering, and makes sure the wheel stays properly mounted even under twice its official load rating.

The organization was established in April of 1972, and the JWTC has a board consisting of members of multiple Japanese industry associations that include the Japan Aluminum Association, the Nippon Auto Parts Aftermarket Committee’s Japan Light Alloy Wheel Association or JAWA, and Japan’s Vehicle Inspection Association or VIA.

You’ll often see the symbol on cars imported in the U.S. because they’re considered an industry standard. In the U.S., federal regulations require wheels that don’t crack or break, and bolt holes that don’t lose roundness, but otherwise leave it up to the manufacturer to meet the standard, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s website. It’s up to manufacturers to recall any wheels that don’t meet the standard.

European cars are certified by TUV, which is the German abbreviation for the Technical Inspection Association. The German business performs a variety of bending, impact and corrosion tests to ensure the wheel complies with European and international regulations.

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