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Mistakes to Avoid When Cleaning Car Wheels

May 18, 2020

Mistakes to Avoid When Cleaning Car Wheels

If you have ever adventured out for an extended hike, you understand that the most important “tools” you have are your feet, the only things that come in contact with the ground. Every step you take requires that they do their job. If your boots do not fit right, or you have a blister, your time on the trail can be miserable. So, it is essential that you take time to take care of your feet. The same goes for your car. Your wheels and tires are what connect your four-thousand-pound machine to the earth. And they take a beating. Therefore, they need just as much care as the rest of your car.

Most passenger vehicles today roll off the dealership lot with sharp-looking alloy wheels, or “rims”, as original equipment. Aftermarket companies too offer hundreds of styles to suit any taste. Not only are these aluminum or magnesium alternatives to old, heavy steel wheels more stylish, they are also lighter weight and help to improve fuel efficiency.

But they are also more difficult to maintain than simple steel wheels. Some alloy wheels are coated with clearcoat. Some are uncoated. Others are anodized. Each is susceptible to damage from dirt, salt, abrasion, and the caustic effects of brake dust. Alloy wheels can suffer pitting, corrosion, and discoloration from exposure to those contaminants and damage from aggressive cleaning techniques. So, it is important that your wheels be cleaned and protected regularly and properly, just like the shiny and expensive paint finish that coats the rest of your car. Yet, just like the underbody, they are often neglected. What’s more, trying to clean your wheels the wrong way can actually make matters worse, cause more harm than good.

Here are a few mistakes to steer clear of when washing your wheels.

1. Cleaning the rest of the car first

Because the wheels and tires are in constant contact with the ground, they are often the dirtiest, grimiest part of your car. They become coated and embedded with sand and dirt, mud and tar, and sticky black brake dust. They should be treated first.

It may seem a bit counterintuitive to start with the wheels since the rest of the vehicle should be washed top-down. But when you make the mistake of washing the rest of the vehicle body before the wheels, you run the risk of splattering those cleaners and contaminants across those freshly-washed panels. When it is time to dry the car, those compounds abrade the paint and other surfaces. So, start with the wheels, the tires, and the wheel wells before tackling the rest of the car top down.

2. Washing all the wheels at the same time

Just because it worked for Henry Ford to implement an assembly line approach does not mean it is an effective strategy for your wheels. When you approach the job of wheel cleaning, take it one at a time. It may seem a bit time-consuming (it is) to rinse a wheel, spray it with wheel cleaner, and just wait when you could be multitasking at all four corners of the car. But when you attempt to wet all of the wheels at once with wheel cleaner, inevitably the cleaner will dry before you have a chance to rinse it off. That can lead to streaking – and more work.

The same principle works for your tires. Tire cleaner or tire bleach needs to remain wet for a few minutes to penetrate the dirt embedded in the rubber. If it dries in place, it is of no value and the process must be repeated. Instead, treat each wheel and tire assembly separately from the others.

3. Working with the wrong cleaner

There is a common dishwashing detergent that likes to tout its capabilities as a car wash product. There is only one problem with that idea: it is not a car wash product. Debates rage across the internet about the use of dish soap and other household cleaning products on a car. That debate is far less common among automotive professionals who understand that cleaning products are engineered to be effective on specific soils. Bug residue is addressed with one cleaner, road tar with another, wheels with yet another. The contaminants embedded in a tire or layered on a car wheel are significantly different than those caked on a dirty dish. Therefore, the chemicals needed to treat those contaminants properly are different. Dish detergent not only removes protective coatings from your wheels, it also contains other additives that can oxidize the clearcoat on a wheel and strip out the necessary oils from the rubber in your tires (they lose flexibility and UV protection).

Car wash products are formulated to work on car-specific contaminants. Wheel cleaner eats away at brake dust, not your wheels. Tire cleaner emulsifies dirt, not the chemicals in your tire. Do not make the mistake of using household cleaners (including the absurd suggestion on one website to mix dish detergent with baking soda so that the degreaser and abrasive can clean your wheel) to treat your wheels and tires. Even professional products must be checked to make sure that they are compatible with the type of alloy wheel you have.

4. Attacking with the wrong tools

That brings us to the next mistake to avoid: using the wrong tools for the job. Household abrasives like baking soda or toothpaste will scratch the finish of your alloy wheels. So will many other materials. Stay away from steel wool, dish scrubbers, or Scotch Brite pads. And be careful what type of scrub brush you use.

Wheel brushes are designed to be gentle on the surface of an alloy rim and to extend into hard-to-reach crevices. Their bristles are soft and non-abrasive. A tire brush, on the other hand, is stiffer and intended for more aggressive scrubbing. Neither a wheel brush nor a tire brush should be used on any other part of the car. Both should be dedicated to their purposes. A separate bucket should also be employed when attending to the wheels, tires, and wheel wells so that the contaminants found there are not transferred to any other area.

5. Scrubbing too soon

People are always in such a hurry these days. They want to save a buck and save time all at once. But care takes time. It seems odd that what takes a professional detailer hours to accomplish in a professional shop, the average auto owner thinks can be done in the driveway in thirty minutes. Another mistake when washing wheels is to start scrubbing them too soon, before the wheel cleaner has time to work, or even worse, without any cleaner at all.

The most common contaminant on your wheels is brake dust, the sticky black residue that results from wear of the brake pads rubbing against the rotors when you slow down and stop. (Wear is normal – that is why complete brake service is necessary every so often. The amount of brake dust that accumulates on your wheels may depend, in part, on what type of brake pads you use on your vehicle). Every time you use your brakes, tiny bits of metal debris mixed with the sacrificial material on your brake pads sticks to your wheels. The wheel cleaner is formulated to dissolve brake dust. It does its job rather quickly, but it still needs time to work.

If you forgo the cleaner altogether (or use the wrong cleaner that does not work on brake dust), when you start wiping and scrubbing your wheels, even with clean water, you scratch that metallic mess deeper into the wheels, dull the finish, and wear away at the coatings.

Use the right wheel cleaner, let it soak for a few minutes (according to directions), and gently agitate with a wheel brush. Then rinse. Repeat if necessary.

6. Forgetting the final finish

Once your wheels (and the rest of your car) have all been washed, it is important to dry them thoroughly. Otherwise, you will end up with water spots. Hard water deposits are especially difficult to remove from your wheels if allowed to develop.

With the wheels washed and dried, it is time for a final coating. It is common to apply wax to alloy wheels to protect them from the elements. While the same wax that is used on the paint can be used on the wheels, there are wheel-specific coatings that will guard against UV rays and keep dirt and brake dust from sticking. Without this step, your clean wheels are ready to collect new contaminants. Wax coating will place a barrier on your wheels and make them easier to clean the next time.

7. Avoiding professional service

Don’t make the mistake of trying to do it all yourself. When you consider the sheer array of car wash products – soap, degreaser, wheel cleaner, tire bleach, automotive glass cleaner, carpet shampoo, leather cleaner, conditioner, and so on – and the list of tools to do the job right (a minimum of 3-4 separate buckets, multiple brushes, clay bars, microfiber towels, chamois, vacuum, carpet extractor, and more), it is no cost-saving measure to clean your car yourself. Never mind paint correction that requires specialized training to sand and polish the clear coat without removing too much or causing damage. Professional detailing service restores your vehicle to like-new condition, inside and out.

Of course, it is not necessary (or cost-effective) to have your car detailed frequently. Nor is it likely that you are going to invest the money in all of the materials and equipment to properly clean your car yourself, or the time to do it right. A quality automatic car wash fitted with soft-touch technology is designed to use the proper chemicals along with gentle agitation to clean your car on a regular basis. If you want to stay on top of car cleaning, you might consider investing in a car wash membership with an unlimited number of washes. That way, you can get your car cleaned whenever it needs cleaning. Add on car wash extras like wax or sealant to protect your investment in between professional detailing services.

When it comes to taking care of your wheels, it only makes sense to avoid these mistakes.

Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright

This article is intended only as a general guidance document and relying on its material is at your sole risk. By using this general guidance document, you agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash and its affiliates from and against any and all claims, damages, costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees, arising from or related to your use of this guidance document. To the extent fully permissible under applicable law, Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the information, content, or materials included in this document. This reservation of rights is intended to be only as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the laws of your State of residence.

COLUMBIA AUTO CARE & CAR WASH
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Copyright

This article is intended only as a general guidance document and relying on its material is at your sole risk. By using this general guidance document, you agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash and its affiliates from and against any and all claims, damages, costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees, arising from or related to your use of this guidance document. To the extent fully permissible under applicable law, Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the information, content, or materials included in this document. This reservation of rights is intended to be only as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the laws of your State of residence.