History didn't record his
name. He may have been a warrior designing a battle chariot.
Perhaps he was a stone mason struggling to complete a building, or a
mourner providing a smoother ride for a departed loved one. But on
that special day, sometime in the fourth millennium BC, in the delta
between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, this unknown Sumerian changed the
history of the world and all mankind. He invented the wheel.
WHEEL CARE CHALLENGE
Your car's wheels can dramatically enhance the appearance and performance
of your automobile. Modern wheels can also present a substantial
cleaning challenge as heated dust particles from brake pads bombard the
wheel and bake into the finish. If left on the wheel, a phenomenon
known as galvanic corrosion sets in, which will eventually destroy
your wheel's appearance.
Kinesis wheels on this Porsche Boxster have polished aluminum rims
that require frequent maintenance.
Most modern wheels, in particular aluminum wheels
(or "Mags" as they were once called), are painted with the same
paint and clear-coat used on the body of your car. While durable,
the wheel's clear-coat finish is subject to damage from acid compounds
(including acid rain, hydrocarbons, and acidic cleaners). Likewise,
polished and anodized aluminum wheels (not protected by a clear-coat) will
react (dull or corrode) to both alkaline and acidic conditions.
|This BMW wheel is
excessively dirty. The brake dust was allowed to sit and
bake on the wheel for several weeks without washing. Regular
washing will not clean this wheel completely. It will
require a strong wash solution and 30-45 minutes of restoration
Unfortunately, typical car wash soaps and household
cleaners are not strong enough to break the bond between brake dust, road
tar, road grime and the wheel. To properly clean wheels, the car
care industry has developed three groups of wheel cleaners:
- Acid-based Cleaners
-- These are widely used by detailers, car dealers and car washes who
need to clean wheels in the shortest possible time or with the least
amount of effort. Acid-based cleaners are typically 2% solutions of
oxalic, phosphoric, and hydrochloric acid. Eagle One All Finish
Wheel Cleaner is an example of an acid-based cleaner. While acid-based
cleaners pack the greatest cleaning punch, they can easily etch the
surface of your wheel if allowed to dry. Care must be taken not to use
acid-based cleaners on wheels with pitted or chipped surfaces. The
acid will migrate into any fissures and accentuate flaking and peeling
of surface coatings.
- Acid-free Solvents
-- These are mild solutions of alkaline solvent, usually ethylene
glycol or butyl ether, with a wetting agent. These solutions creep
under the dirt and brake dust, loosening and lifting surface grime.
Non-acidic cleaners usually require some surface agitation (wheel
brush or sponge) but will not etch the wheel's finish like and acid.
The problem with these solutions is that they pose a serious health
risk (skin irritation and respiratory distress). I warn everyone
to review the contents of their wheel cleaner.
- Detergents --
Generally speaking, detergents are safe wheel cleaners, but can be a
little tough on tires and other rubber. Of all the active wheel
cleaner ingredients, detergents are by far the safest for both car and
owner. Detergents also require the most agitation (brushing) to
completely clean your wheels. The benefit of a detergent wheel
cleaner is that it will not harm delicate wheels and it does not pose
a health risk.
TIRE CARE CHALLENGE
Like the wheels, your tires have several formidable enemies, including
water, formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, ultraviolet (UV) light and
ozone. Water washes away the natural oils and waxes in rubber that
keep it elastic. Formaldehyde and petroleum distillates act as
solvents, eating rubber on contact. When ozone is combined with UV
light, a reaction occurs that attacks the tire and its polymers.
easy to keep tires looking great and in good condition by treating
them with a quality dressing at least once a month.
The products I like include: 303
Aerospace Protectant and Sonus
Total Eclipse. Both of these products are water based,
will not sling off, and leave a nice, dark matte finish.
To protect against ozone and UV damage, a
stabilizer molecule called a competitive absorber is blended with the tire
polymer. Competitive absorbers work by capturing and absorbing UV
radiation and converting it to heat, which is dissipated harmlessly.
All tire manufacturers use the same competitive absorber, called carbon
black. This is why most tires are black. These absorbers are
sacrificial; they expend themselves in performing their function of
converting UV light to heat. However, as carbon black loses its
ability to perform, it turns gray. This is one reason tires tend to
discolor with age.
To protect tires from further ozone damage, tire
manufacturers add a wax compound to their formulas. Tires flex when
they are in motion, causing the wax molecules to migrate to the surface.
This forms a protective barrier between the air (ozone and oxygen) and the
tire polymer. In the tire trade this is called blooming. When
tires are parked for extended periods, blooming does not occur, and ozone
quickly attacks the tire polymer. With UV light and ozone working in
concert, the degradation is accelerated, resulting in drying,
discoloration and cracking.
To combat the negative effects of water, solvents
and UV light on tires, the car care industry makes tire dressings.
Tire dressings fall into two groups: oil-based and water-based silicones.
Oil-based silicone dressings are nonpenetrating
coatings that seal rubber and vinyl. They are very good at providing
a protective surface barrier. Oil-based silicone dressings create a
glossy film that never really dries. I'm not a fan of these
products, as most contain petroleum distillates as a cleaning agent.
Petroleum distillates are harmful to rubber and vinyl, and will cause
Water-based dressings do not contain oils or
petroleum distillates that can harm and dull the surface of rubber and
vinyl over time. Most water-based dressings offer a nongreasy, more
natural looking satin finish; however, they are not as durable as the
PROPER TIRE & WHEEL
To properly clean your tires and wheels, you will need a 3-5 gallon
bucket, a soft tire and wheel scrub brush, a sponge or wash cloth, a water
hose and nozzle, car shampoo, and a spray wheel cleaner.
BMW wheel has collected about 300 miles of brake dust and was
washed a week before the picture was taken. As the brake
dust has not had a chance to set, it will not be difficult to
clean with soap, water and a good brush.
Warning: Do not clean your wheels if they
are still hot from driving. Let them cool, or thoroughly hose them
down. If your brakes are hot, spraying them with cold water may
cause severe damage.
|I have a variety
of brushes and sponges I use to clean tires, wheels and wheel
wells. I really like the Feather-Tip
Wash Brush and Tire
& Wheel Brush from OXO. They are by far the finest
quality wash brushes available under $20. If you use a tire
gel, or if your tires get heavily soiled, you may want use the OXO
Tire Brush, which has stiff bristles.
Here are some step-by-step tips to make cleaning
- Clean one wheel at a time.
- Clean your tires and wheels first before washing
the rest of the car. This prevents the splattering of cleaners,
dirt and brake dust on already cleaned panels. Your car is also
less likely to get water spots from drying while you wash your wheels.
- Mix a bucket of soapy water with your favorite
car shampoo, using double the recommended strength.
- Thoroughly rinse the tire and wheel with water
using a hose and spray nozzle. If it is exposed, rinse the brake
caliper to flush away loose brake dust. Finally, rinse up into
the wheel well to wash away road grunge, road kill, mud and other
- If your tires and wheels have a heavy coating of
brake dust or road grime, spray them down with your wheel cleaner.
Allow the cleaner to soak for 30 seconds (minimum) to 3 minutes
(maximum). For fine wheels, I recommend Sonus,
P21S and Autoglym.
All of these formulas are non-acid, detergent based cleaners.
- Use a tire and wheel scrub brush and your soapy
water to agitate the tire and wheel surface. Use plenty of soapy
water. The soap acts as a lubricant to gently lift dirt and grit
away from your wheels. Follow up with your sponge or washcloth
to wash the remaining dirt from the tire and wheel. If your
wheels have large open areas, use the sponge to get behind these
areas. Make sure the tires are scrubbed. Many people put
layer upon layer of dressings on their tires, but never clean them.
The result is a brown or yellow discoloration.
- Use your wheel brush and soapy water to scrub
the accessible areas of the wheel wells, too. This small detail
keeps your car looking fresh and new. If your wheel has a lot of
small nooks and crannies, use a parts
- Thoroughly rinse the tire, wheel and wheel well.
Use plenty of water. You need to ensure that all traces of the
wheel cleaner (and your neighbor's cat) are gone.
After washing your car, remember to dry your tires
and wheels using a detailing towel.
I do not recommend using tire cleaners
containing bleach. Bleach is used in many tire cleaners to brighten
whitewall tires, but they can turn tires a dull gray. Bleach will
stain your alloy wheels permanently. Read the product contents on
the label before you buy.
have intricate wheels, a round brush, such as this 1
Inch Round Natural Detail Brush is a must.
Spoke Brush can be adjusted to most spoke wheels. The
brush head has stiff bristles that get into the difficult nooks
TIRE & WHEEL CONDITIONING
After you clean your tires and wheels,
you need to protect them. Tire dressings accent the appearance of your
tires and protect against cracking and fading. Likewise, waxing your
wheels protects their finish from brake dust, and makes them easier to
Your wheels should be waxed, at a minimum, each
time you wax your car. You can significantly reduce your wheel
cleaning and waxing efforts by coating your wheels with a high quality
acrylic. I like Klasse
All-In-One for this purpose, as it is heat resistant and will not
yellow. Klasse All-In-One also has the added benefit of being both a
cleaner and a protectant. Another excellent wheel protection product
Plexus works well on wheels with many small openings, as these wheels are
difficult to wax.
To apply tire dressing:
- Use a small foam sponge, foam wax applicator, or
"tire swipes" to apply tire dressing (foam provides even
distribution and wastes far less product than a cloth). To avoid
getting tire dressing on your car, apply the dressing to the foam
applicator, not directly to the tire. If your car spends a lot
of time in the sun, I highly recommend 303
Aerospace Protectant and Sonus
Total Eclipse. These products are
both water-based dressings containing strong UV inhibitors. If
you like a really glossy tires, use a tire gel.
- Allow dressings to penetrate into the tire
before wiping off the excess dressing. Five to ten minutes is
okay, but 30 minutes is even better.
- If your wheel wells have a black plastic liner,
wipe the wheel well liner with dressing, too. This simple
detailing step makes a big difference.
- If you like your tires to be shiny, do a final
wipe down with your foam applicator. If you prefer a satin
finish, buff the tires down with a terry cloth detailing towel.
Keeping your tires and wheels clean and
detailed makes a big difference in the appearance of your car. If
you have invested in upgraded factory or aftermarket tires and wheels,
spending a little extra time detailing them helps maintain your