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Wheel Care

No matter what kind of vehicle you have, then it is almost a certain fact that you have questioned your method in wheel and tire care. Are you using something too harsh? Not strong enough? Is your process effective at cleaning and protecting your wheels while not causing damage?  They are questions that we have all had at one point or another.  I know I have.  What I have to offer here is just my own advice on wheel care.  Obviously you should always consult your ownerís manual for any specific instructions on your factory wheels or consult the wheel manufacturer, but I believe that much of this advice can be applied if you are informed on what type of products you are dealing with. 

Make a call to your local manufacturer dealership and ask them about the cost of factory replacement wheels.  You may be shocked how much the cost. Many aftermarket wheels are even more.  I have personally detailed wheels worth $2000 apiece. It is amazing what kind of value and investment you have tied up in something that is absolutely essential to the function of your car. Everybody sees your wheels.  No matter where you go people will see them spinning. They take 100% of the punishment of driving. Everything from plowing through snow drifts to diving through puddles of greasy water. They can reach temperatures that would blister the paint off your car and they can also be frozen in blocks of ice. They take impact after impact from potholes and speed bumps.  They have to be well manufactured or your safety the safety of others would be at risk constantly.  Now, with that being said, the appearance of such a functional piece of the car is not something that many people thing much about. Wheels are wheels. I remember when I used to roll my eyes at people who would spend money on alloy wheels instead of just getting steel wheels with hubcaps. My opinion has changed greatly since then, however, I still donít seem to see others taking better care of these more expensive and flashier wheels. Hopefully this guide will give you a better understanding of wheel care and you wonít neglect your investment any longer.

Many wheels may start to look like this after a long period of abuse:

Sadly, this wheel isnít an example of years of neglect.  BMWs are notorious for having really bad brake dust problems.  You can see how orange even the tire is getting.  This brake dust is highly corrosive and damaging to the rubber on your tires as well as the finish on your wheels.  This wheel can be restored to factory perfect with very little effort, but it is a process that must be duplicated on a weekly basis if the owner wants to keep them looking good. That is just the way BMW and other high dusting car owners have had to learn to live.

Here is another example of bad brake dust problems on painted wheels. The Nissan 350Z is another vehicle that needs serious cleaning on a weekly basis.  Those wheels are not gunmetal or gray. They are supposed to be bright silver and not looking like this. Weekly care is necessary for these wheels if the driver wants to preserve them.  Sadly, this particular driver doesnít care about their wheels and I see them in this condition often. After months of neglect there are large stains and irreversible damage done. This is damage that could have been prevented if some care had been shown.

Unfortunately for most BMW, Nissan 350Z, and many other car model owners, wheels this dirty are a very common problem. If you are noticing that your wheels get far dirtier than the average car in the parking lot, then your problem may lie in your break pads.  Switching to ceramic pads could help lessen the amount of dust from the brakes, but the problem may not end there. You would think that if the problem is that simple then auto manufacturers would just include them on all their cars as standard pads. I donít know why some cars have heavier brake dust problems than others, but I do know that if you donít clean that stuff off then it can bake onto the wheel and eventually ruin your very expensive wheels.  You can still fix extensively damaged wheels, but it will require more than a simple wheel cleaner.  Refinishing your wheels can cost a couple hundred dollars per wheel depending on the damage. Brake dust is just one of a thousand harmful things that gets on your wheels and can harm them over time.

There are many different types of wheels.  The first thing you need to do before choosing a process or a product is to determine what kind you have. Obviously everybody knows what chrome wheels look like, but does everybody know the difference between painted and clear coated?  Those are some of the types of wheels I am going to discuss right now.

Chrome plated alloy wheels are the type of wheels you have if you have factory chromed wheels most likely. It doesnít matter if they are chrome plated alloy or chrome plated steel because the care of the chrome is the same.  You can care for those wheels with a mild detergent and water.  Not all wheel issues need a strong wheel cleaner.  Never underestimate soap and water. Here is an example of chrome plated wheels:

Itís the mirror finish that gives them away. Polished and Painted wheels donít look anywhere near that shiny.  The care for most wheels is the same no matter how they look. You can never go wrong with mild soap and water.  With chrome wheels you can expect them to rust and become pitted if you donít care for them. Using something like a quick detailer and a microfiber towel is a great way to finish off any wheel, but it is especially useful on chrome.  They seem to do nothing but drip and streak.  Finishing them off with a towel and some quick detailer takes care of the streaks and drips and leaves them looking like mirrors.

Polished rims are still shiny, but not mirror shiny like chrome.  They usually just have a polished surface on part of the wheel and the rest is textured, but sometimes the whole wheel is polished.  Here is an example of my polished Integra wheels,  The inside of the spokes are textured and not polished.

Unless there is a large area like on that Mercedes wheel, there isnít much point in chroming spoked wheels.  You donít get the reflection effect on chromed spokes.  Those are just easier to polish.  The other downside is that chrome is really heavy. They are for show and not Ďgoí.  However, with polished wheels you do need to keep them clean.  If you donít properly maintain them then they are going to dull gradually. Something that is great for all wheels is to protect them with something when you are done.  You can use regular car wax if you want to, but that wonít last long with the type of heat that your wheels are exposed to.  A good sealant is what you need on the wheels.  A sealant will help repel dust and keep the wheels clean. On polished wheels it will help protect them and keep the shine. Remember, the finish on factory polished or chromed wheels is not covered under any warranty.  Protect them the best way you can.

Aluminum wheels that arenít painted or chrome look sort of dull and arenít going to be especially shiny. Something very important to remember when working with aluminum wheels is that you can ruin them if you use the wrong products. I have seen people absolutely wreck their wheels by using engine degreaser as wheel cleaner. That is way too harsh for wheels.  Use mild soaps to clean your wheels unless you are sure that what you are using is designed for wheels and is safe for aluminum rims.

These are a good example of aluminum wheels.  Youíll find that a lot of the deep dish truck wheels you see are probably aluminum. The big thin to remember about cleaning aluminum wheels is to never ever ever no matter what you do you never use engine degreaser or any other strong degreasing agent like that. You will quickly cloud the aluminum and destroy the shine. Actually, that is good advice for all wheels. Donít use engine degreaser anywhere near your wheels. Especially if they are aluminum.

Painted or powder coated wheels are all kinds of colors.  You will most likely find them in bronze, silver, or gunmetal. Those are the popular colors right now.  Powdercoating is a very popular way of treating things that you want to be bright and durably colored.  Things like valve covers, wheels, and even brake calipers are often powder coated. Its a great way to give something a long lasting color treatment. Powder coated wheels and painted wheels are often not easy to tell the difference between.  

Treat painted wheels with great care if they look like they werenít originally painted.  Many times people will have stock wheels painted to better compliment the color of the car. While it is possible to have them professionally painted and still look great, its often not as durable as if the wheel originally came painted.  You donít want to risk removing the paint. There really isnít a whole lot of risk in peeling the paint off, but if the wheel has already been damaged by neglect then it is very possible to accelerate the problem by using something too harsh. Always evaluate the condition of the wheel before you choose your cleaning product.

These are an example of what powder coated wheels look like.  Typically I have found that most Ďtwo tonedí wheels are powder coated.  That may not always be true though. This is a good example of a powder coated multi piece wheel with a high polished deep dish lip.  These are my favorite type of rim. Those rivets can be a pain to clean around, but they really add something to the look of the wheel.

One of the easiest ways to shine up a mirror finish like that polished lip has is to use basic glass cleaner. After you have cleaned the wheel and you just want to clean up waterspots or something, it is a great and easy way to get some shine.

As far as cleaners go, there are many different types. I donít want this article to be about pimping products.  I really want you to evaluate your wheel situation and what kind of cleaner would be best.  Try soap and water first.  You can use the same soap you use to wash your car. There are several great wheel brushes you can use to clean the grime off.  If it has been awhile since you cleaned your wheels then you will probably want to do it this way first so you can evaluate the type of damage that has been done. Just remember to always read the label and make sure that the product says it is safe for the type of wheels that you are working on.

So to sum it up, wheels require care to maintain their factory finish. Typical road soils trap moisture which can cause corrosion over a period of time. Brake dust, caused by friction of your car's braking system, is itself corrosive and can cause pitting of the wheels finish. These soils must be removed regularly, preferably weekly, depending on your driving habits. Your wheels finish should be treated as you would treat the finish of your car. Mild dish soap and water is all you need to properly clean your wheels. Other household cleaning agents are too harsh for the finish on your wheels and must be avoided. There are also a vast number of commercially available wheel cleaners on the market today, but we urge extreme caution regarding their use, since they tend to be acid or lye based.

ADDITIONAL TIPS - Never clean wheels when they are hot. Never spray cold water on extremely hot wheels. Always allow time to cool before cleaning with soap and water. To prevent scratching of the wheels' finish, never clean your wheels with scouring pads. If you use automatic car washes, tell them not to use steam cleaners or strong chemicals to clean your wheels. They can cause permanent staining or corrosion. Use caution when cleaning tires with steel wool or a bristle brush. These types of abrasive materials must not come in contact with the wheels. Never allow any harsh chemicals or tire cleaner to come in contact with the wheels, as they can damage the appearance of the wheel permanently. Also, this guide is not a replacement for your manufacturers suggestions on wheel care.  Always inquire with the wheel manufacturer if you are unsure if a product will be safe.  Its always better to be safe than sorry.

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