Wheel Care: Return Luster to Faded Rims

Any vehicle looks sharp when blessed with some polished wheels and gleaming tires. Getting the look right requires some attention to detail–and choosing the right products for the job.

“Make sure the product you use to clean your wheels doesn’t have an acidic base,” said Adam Bateman, the sales and marketing director for Wizards Products, a Minnesota-based polish and wax company. “A general rule to remember is if it’s safe to use on the vehicle’s paint, it’s safe to use on the wheels.”

Aesthetics aside, clean wheels play a role in overall vehicle health. Wheels that are left to flake, chip and corrode can pose safety threats as they deteriorate.

“Keeping your wheels clean is about making sure rust and corrosion don’t set in,” he said.

As with any other aspect of maintenance, routine cleaning prevents the task from becoming too intense, Bateman said.

“If you stay on top of maintenance you will be better off,” he said.

As for tires, some cleaning products offer some protection against the sun’s ultraviolet rays while bringing out the tire’s natural black sheen and reducing cracking.

In contrast, tire dressing is just for aesthetic appeal.

“Dressing your tire can repel water, but it doesn’t actually add to tire life,” said Ron Fausnight, research and development manager for ITW Global Brands.

Below, Bateman and Fausnight offer advice for getting those wheels and tires looking like they belong in the showroom.

  • Clean wheels when they are cold. Wheels heat up when driven, so allow them to cool before washing to avoid thermal cracking or other complications.
  • Avoid household detergents that can leach oils and wax from the rubber. An auto wash solution works well, as do specialty tire cleaners. When using tire cleaners, avoid overspraying onto the wheel.
  • Tire dressings may dribble off and permanently stain cement or befoul the water table. Rather than spraying directly on tires, apply the solution to a cloth and wipe the sidewall thoroughly.
  • Chose a cleaner that is acid-free. A general rule: If it is safe to use on vehicle paint, it is safe to use on wheels.
  • A layer of polish or traditional auto wax provides protection against dusty summer roads.
  • Clean the wheels every time you wash the vehicle.
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