Wheels can have a huge impact on the appearance of a vehicle, and like any valuable investment, they need to be cleaned and cared for in order to preserve their worth. Well maintained wheels can look brand new and continue to turn heads for years. However, wheels are most often the dirtiest part of your car because they are continually exposed to elements such as corrosive brake dust, ocean or road salt, stones, and road dirt.
Damage caused by prolonged exposure to these factors will void your wheel finish warranty and leave you with crummy looking wheels. If done on a consistent basis, properly caring for your wheels is neither difficult nor time consuming and will keep your wheels in great shape.
First, Know Your Wheel
It is extremely important to know what type of wheels you have in order to provide them with the proper care. Most likely if you have factory alloy wheels, they have a layer of clear coat. This will allow you to use a variety of wheel cleaners without worrying about oxidizing your wheels’ finish. However, if you have aftermarket wheels that have a polished, painted, chrome or machined finish, they need to be treated carefully in order to prevent potential oxidation, pitting and damage.
Wash, Polish & Protect
In order to protect your wheels’ finish, the best way to clean them is by washing them every 1-2 weeks with a mild soap and water solution and a dedicated wash mitt or soft cloth. If you choose to use an automotive shampoo, it is critical to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. Before you lather up, make sure your wheels are completely cool, you are preferably in a shady area in order to avoid water marks and then use the full strength of your hose to rinse away all loose dirt.
With your soapy solution, wash mitt and detail brush made of very soft or natural fibers, remove the contaminants from your wheel. Start with the inner barrels and your detail brush first, as dirt and dust will be transferred to the face of the wheel when you clean them (no sense cleaning the face twice). Next, use your wash mitt and suds up the face of the wheel removing all the grime.
Once the wash is complete, rinse the entire wheel thoroughly with water. Most of the time this is enough “cleaning muscle” but sometimes stubborn build ups require a pH balanced (neutral) wheel cleaner that can be used on any type of wheel finish (again, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines). Acidic wheel cleaners are highly effective but they can easily oxidize or tarnish polished wheels and other sensitive wheel finishes.
You can increase the shine of your wheels and prevent brake dust adhesion by polishing your wheels on a regular basis. Apply a thin layer of protection with a polishing product like carnauba based auto wax, immediately after you wash your car. Follow the directions on the container and remember to always test the polish the first time on an inconspicuous area before you apply it to the entire wheel.
There is one more step to keeping your wheels looking like new and that is to use a protectant or sealant. Several products on the market are designed to provide a slick wheel surface so brake dust easily slides off and makes future cleaning more manageable. They can also help enhance the glossy appearance of the wheel.
There are a few details to be mindful of when cleaning your wheels:
- Never use abrasive cleaners, steel wool pads or polishing compounds.
- Never steam clean your wheels and tires as this can dull the finish on your wheels.
- Be careful of automatic car washes since you never know which ones use acid cleaners or harsh brushes which could ultimately damage your wheels’ finish.
- Be wary of harsh chemical cleaners and products that say “just spray on and rinse off”. They most likely contain ingredients that can harm the finish on your wheels.
- Always follow the manufacturer guidelines on your product’s container.
Aftermarket wheels generally come with a warranty on the finish. However, if you don’t maintain your wheels, don’t expect the wheel company to take them back and exchange them for a new set. It is the buyer’s responsibility to care for their investment with regular cleaning and upkeep. When wheels are properly maintained, they will hold their beauty and grab attention for years to come.