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Wheel DetailingWheeling and dealing a blow to dirt and dust
One can look at a wheel as a utilitarian device for allowing something to roll, or the ultimate in personal expression when it comes to cars and trucks. The inventor of the wheel had no clue that the surprisingly simple rolling rotundity would not only eventually allow the automobile to travel at then unimaginable speeds, but also serve as a means of personal expression to those whose hands were held firmly on the steering version of this groundbreaking circular innovation.
Polished, spoked, painted, chromed, powdercoated, or plain old steel, wheels can make or break the visual appeal of any automobile. Keeping them clean can be a chore in itself, but taking the extra step in the wheel cleaning process can make a big difference in the overall appearance of the vehicle whether it's stopped or rolling. Keeping the wheels clean can also protect the wheel finish over the long term. In the very worst-case scenario, the contaminants in the dust and grime can etch into the wheel finish or paint, causing pitting and requiring expensive refinishing.
Wheels not only share the common tendency to spin, they also need to be cleaned like the rest of the vehicle with a few minor but important differences. A large portion of what ends up all over the wheels due to normal driving is dust from the brake pads. The rest of the grime can come from sources as common as the open dusty road or nefarious as neighborhood cats and dogs. Depending on the complexity of finish and construction of the wheel itself, cleaning could be as easy as a simple hose down, or as involved as breaking out numerous brushes and polishes to achieve the desired level of shine.
Wheels are to the automobile as shoes are to one's feet. Functional or fashionable is largely a matter of choice, and care follows suit. Steel wheels with or without hubcaps are similar to a trusty pair of work boots, whereas a set of custom chrome wheels are the equivalent of a fine set of dress shoes. While work boots hold up with little or no care, dress shoes require a little more attention. Driving an automobile with filthy wheels is akin to showing up to a job interview with scuffed up shoes.
Tips and Tricks
The procedure for cleaning and detailing wheels on an automobile varies with the type and finish of wheel. Before washing or detailing any wheels, make certain they are cool to the touch. Brakes get hot, and so do the wheels. Allow the vehicle to sit in the shade for a time. Steel wheels with plastic wheel covers, or hubcaps as they were once called, require a minimal degree of cleaning beyond normal soap and water. Special care must be taken with custom or premium wheels depending on what the wheel is made of or the method of finish. Painted finish wheels should be cared for in much the same way as the rest of the vehicle.
Washing, and a good coat of wax will help prevent brake dust from sticking to the spokes. Chromed finish wheels should only be cared for with chrome care products and methods. Chrome wheels should never be waxed, as the finish needs to breathe. Great care should be taken with polished wheels, as oxidation and pitting can be a perpetual problem. Brushes that will fit into the shape of the wheels go far to help scrub out dust and grime. Finally, while one-step cleaners are a good quick fix, be certain that the formula is compatible with the finish by testing on a small area before coating the entire wheel. Some of these cleaners can cause damage. If in doubt, consult the owner's manual or wheel manufacturer's recommendations for the best approach.