It is said that a man is known by the shoes he wears. Whether that is true or not, you certainly can tell something about the level of care for his car by the condition of its wheels. He can take care of the rest of his car, but if his wheels are dirty, you would never know it. Regular oil changes with the best synthetic products, meticulous applications of wax to preserve the paint and keep it shiny, thorough inspections by a trained technician – each is essential for diligent car care. But dull and dirty wheels throw into question his attention to detail.
It does not take long for your wheels to get dirty. Obviously, they are closest to the ground and susceptible to contaminants like dirt, mud, and road tar. More importantly, they become coated with brake dust, the byproduct of wear to the brake pads and rotors every time you step on the brake pedal.
Years ago, steel wheels were the norm, but today’s vehicles come equipped from the factory with clear-coated aluminum alloy wheels. You may have opted to install custom aftermarket aluminum or magnesium alloy wheels on your car. Some come with a coating, others are polished.
Alloy wheels are particularly prone to showing dirt. (Truth is, those old-school steel wheels got dirty too, but the hubcaps that covered them often hid the mess). Like clothes clinging to your body on a humid afternoon, contaminants stick to the surface of your alloy wheels. Only they do damage to the wheels.
Dirt and sand is abrasive and can scratch your wheels. But brake dust is the real enemy. Brake dust is made up of fragments of friction material from your brake pads: ground-up adhesives mixed with carbon and metal fibers (in the case of semi-metallic brake pads) along with steel shavings from your brake rotors. Mixed with oxygen, moisture, and heat (especially from friction while braking), brake dust becomes a corrosive compound that needs to be removed.
But brake dust and other compounds, such as road tar, are not easy to remove. They do not respond well to standard cleaners like car wash soap. Brake dust can also become embedded in your wheels. So, if you want your wheels to stay clean and protected, you will need some attention to detail. Here are tips to take care of your alloy wheels.
Whether you frequent an automatic drive-through car wash or are in the habit of washing your car yourself, your wheels need extra attention. There is a benefit to selecting “wheel cleaning” as a car wash extra (special car wash chemicals are used to treat contaminants like brake dust), but if you want your wheels thoroughly cleaned (not to mention protected) you will need to do it by hand.
Unfortunately, standard car wash soap (or, heaven forbid, dish soap) is not effective at dissolving brake dust. For that, you need a dedicated alloy wheel cleaner. Such products are non-acidic and protect the finish on your wheels – whether that is a clear coating or a polished surface. Just make sure that the wheel cleaner you choose is safe for use on the type of finish on your wheel.
It is best to clean your wheels before you wash the rest of your car. First, rinse your wheels with a strong stream of water. Then, one at a time, spray each wheel with a wheel cleaner and allow it to sit per the instructions. Use a soft-bristle brush (preferably a wheel brush) or microfiber cloth to agitate the wheel. Take care to prevent scratching with the wire in the brush. And make sure to scrub every surface, nook, and cranny (that is where a cone-shaped wheel brush comes in handy). The wheel cleaner breaks down the brake dust, but it still needs mechanical agitation to come completely clean. Rinse the wheel thoroughly before moving on to the next wheel.
Once your whole car is clean, make sure to dry your wheels so that they do not become spotted with water. Use a dry microfiber towel, one that is dedicated to your wheels. If you notice that they are still dirty, repeat the process. You might even need to use a tar remover if you notice quite a bit of road tar.
(Check out these Mistakes to Avoid When Cleaning Car Wheels)
After you clean your wheels, you might feel a rough or fuzzy texture on the surface. Brake dust tends to not only stick to your wheels but dig its way in. To remove embedded brake dust or other contaminants (such as rail dust or hard water spots) you can use detailing clay.
Detailing clay is just what it sounds like: clay that is refined for use on sensitive surfaces. When you rub the clay on your wheels – or on the glass, paint, etc. – it picks up stuck-on contaminants. To use detailing clay on your wheels, follow these steps:
1. Spray a generous amount of water (clean, soapy water works), quick detailing spray, or clay lubricant on your wheel.
2. Take a piece of clay bar (about a quarter of a bar should work) and flatten it into a pancake.
3. Rub the clay bar on the wheel to remove contaminants, folding frequently as each side gets dirty.
4. Take care not to drop the clay bar on the ground as it will pick up abrasive sand and dirt.
5. Rinse the wheel or use the lubricant to remove any clay residue.
Detailing clay is used by professional detailers for the same purpose on all of the smooth hard surfaces on a vehicle. Extreme care must be exercised to avoid scratching the paint.
Over time, your wheels can lose some of their lusters. To return the gloss, you can polish them with a rubbing compound. Compound is a liquid or paste abrasive, similar to scouring powder only far less aggressive. It helps to remove contaminants and improve shine. Polishing with compound can be done by hand or with a ball-shaped foam polishing pad inserted into a drill.
Either way, the polish you use will depend on whether your wheels are clear-coated or bare. Bare alloy wheels can stand a rubbing compound that is a bit more aggressive, whereas coated wheels need something a bit finer.
To buff your wheels back to an acceptable shine, wipe the polish on the wheel, one at a time. With a microfiber cloth or the polishing ball and drill, spread the polish and work it into the finish. Gradually increase the speed until the polish dries or disappears. When machine polishing, take care not to allow the pad to catch on the edges of the wheel. Finish up with a clean microfiber cloth to remove any residual rubbing compound.
Once your wheels are completely clean (and polished, if necessary), it is time to apply a coating of wax or wheel protectant. Many products are available to preserve the finish on your wheels. Wax is a naturally-occurring substance that holds out water, protects from UV rays, and prevents contaminants from sticking. Polymer sealant is an artificially produced product that does the same thing. You can use the same wax or sealant that you use on your paint, or you can choose one specially designed for use on wheels.
If you maintain a coating of wax or sealant on your wheels, brake dust and other contaminants will be much easier to clean. This is really key if you opt for an automatic car wash.
If you are truly concerned about your car and want to keep it looking new, make sure to ignore your wheels.
Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright
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