I often say that maintaining your car is a sure way for it to run as long as possible. I consider this an advantage from multiple points of view. On the one hand, you won’t spend a lot of money down the line, but the more important thing is safety.
The most important part of a car is the wheel and tire combo. Driving, steering, and braking are the main areas the pair handles, so as long as both are maintained properly, you shouldn’t have too many issues.
On this site we usually cover tires, duh, it says in the name, but I feel like we don’t cover wheels as much. I did a guide on wheel damage a while ago and one of the several types is damage from negligence. This means that you’ll need to maintain your wheels. Not only will they look shiny and new, they’ll also last you a long time. But how?
Lucky for you, today I have a guide on how to maintain your wheels at home.
What is wheel maintenance?
You’re probably thinking that wheels are a piece of metal or an alloy, so there’s no maintenance involved. As true as it may seem, it’s not. Even though wheels don’t have any moving parts, the maintenance involved is related to cleaning. The cleaner the wheels are, the better they’ll look and they would be less likely to get extensive damage in the future.
Why should you maintain the wheels?
Well, I already explained why wheel maintenance is important, so now I’ll talk about why is there a need for that. The wheels on your car are exposed to the elements, so whenever you’re driving, all kinds of dirt get stuck to them. Even if your car is parked in front of your house or building, you’ll notice dust build up over time.
The dirt buildup worsens as you drive in non-dry weather. In rainy conditions, more dirt will get stuck to the wheels because they will be constantly wet. Snow isn’t helping the cause either. Salt gets stuck to the wheels, which can cause damage in the long run.
Regardless of the weather in which you drive, one constant is brake dust. As you brake, microscopic particles of the brake fly all over the place and, with the wheels being the closest, they get stuck there.
You can probably understand why wheels need to be cleaned, but how?
How to maintain your wheels?
Now we come to the fun stuff, and the one where some elbow grease is involved. The way you clean your wheels will depend on the type of access you have for some tools and items. People in buildings will be more limited than those that live in a house with a garage.
To cover as much ground and use cases as possible, I’ll divide the process into several sections, so you can choose the one that suits you the best.
Basic wheel maintenance
Anyone can do it, even with no expensive equipment. If you live in a building like me, you will find this easy.
For the basic wheel maintenance, I rely on it every time I take my car for a wash. I’m a fan of those self-service places, so I’ll use those in my example. The most simple and straightforward process is whenever you wash the car, to throw a bit of water on the wheels. My washing procedure consists of pre-washing, foam and rinse and in all 3 steps, I cover the wheels.
The magic happens when I apply the foam. You can go with just the foam and rinse it, but that won’t get rid of all the dirt on the wheels. Therefore, I have a special wheel brush that’s harsh enough to get the dirt, but soft enough to avoid damage to the wheels. Depending on your budget, you can get these pretty cheap. I believe mine was around $10 back when I got it.
A common mistake people make is that they only scrub the face of the wheel. Most brushes go through the spokes so that you can clean the inside of the barrel, which is where most of the dirt is. I mentioned that there’s some elbow grease involved, but be careful. If you get carried away and aggressive, you may end up damaging some of the braking components. Sure, they aren’t as fragile, but they also aren’t indestructible.
One thing I have to note is that this isn’t possible with all types of wheels. With steel wheels, you have no way to get the brush and scrub the barrel, so your only option is to clean the face. These kinds of wheels won’t be shiny, but at least they’ll be clean.
As far as what to use, the foam on a self-service usually gets the job done. With that said, there are some better products out there if you’re willing to buy them. They are generally affordable and a single bottle will last you for a while, depending on how often you clean your wheels.
With the scrubbing out of the way, wash the wheels and car thoroughly. Your wheels will be clean, shiny and dirt-free, for the most part.
Advanced wheel maintenance
I ended the previous section with “for the most part” for good reason. As long as the wheels are attached to your car, it’s impossible to clean them entirely. Depending on the design of the wheels or the space between the brake rotors and the barrel, you may not do a thorough job. The solution to this is removing the wheels. There are some more requirements for this job.
You should have a place where you can do this. Doing it in front of your building isn’t practical. Next up are the tools and you’ll need a few of those. You’ll need to jack up the car and remove the wheels, so you’ll need a jack, jack stands and lug wrench. Once you take the wheels off, your car will need to hang for a while.
With the wheels removed, it’s time to clean. This part of the process is the same as the previous one. You can start by washing the major dirt and debris from the wheels and then moving on to the foam. Depending on the product you use, you may need to leave the foam on for a while to do its thing. You can finish the process with a scrub, which is where this process shows its strengths.
Having the wheel detached means you can look at it from all sides. If you’re a perfectionist, you can even use a toothbrush to get into all crevices. Just make sure not to return the toothbrush in the bathroom.
Once that part of the process is done, you can rinse off the foam and leave the wheels to dry a bit.
Going to a professional
At a certain point, all of us have taken our cars to a carwash, sat down for coffee and watched our 4-tired friend getting a bath. In most cases, we’re talking about a regular wash, where the car is ready in less than half an hour. There are some places that offer wheel cleaning services, but that’s no different from doing it yourself at a self-service car wash.
When I say professional, I’m talking about car was services that offer different packages. For example, a few weeks ago I left my IS250 for a wash, but I paid for a package to wash the underside as well. This involved getting the car on a lift and washing it thoroughly. As part of the package, I also got a wheel wash. It wasn’t exactly getting the wheels off, but while the car was in the air, the guys could access the barrel easily and give it a proper wash.
It doesn’t beat taking the wheels off, which the service also offers, but it’s better than the basic wheel maintenance.
How often should you wash your wheels?
Even though irregular washing can be an issue, this also doesn’t mean that you’ll need to be overly concerned about it. There isn’t a specific rule about how often you should wash your wheels, but I have a habit of doing it every time I wash the car. Remember, this is only the basic maintenance, so there is some dirt left.
If you have the option, you can try to give the wheels a detailed clean every few months, depending on how dirty they are. If your car is sitting in a garage and you don’t drive it too much, then you won’t have to clean them too often.
My recommendation not only for the wheels but also for the car is to take it to a professional every once in a while. The service I went to have the underside of my IS250 washed recommended to do it twice a year, so next time I’ll include the wheel washing package as well.
How can you protect the wheels?
As far as protection is concerned, there are several ways in which you can do that. If you park your car in a garage, there are plenty of wheel cover options to prevent dust from sticking to them. Alternatively, you can also go with an entire car cover, which goes over the wheels as well. It’s not an airtight option, but it’s better than nothing.
If you park your car outside in front of a building, there are other options. There are many products that you can spray or apply to your wheels and get some kind of protection. In most cases, we’re talking about a product with hydrophobic properties that repel water. This is a good option because next time you go to wash the wheels, you won’t need to scrub as much to get them clean. Keep in mind that you should wash the wheels before applying any of these products.
Like any part of a car, wheels play a crucial role, so you need to car for them. Most people neglect them, which can cause some problems down the line. In most cases, they aren’t major ones, but will cost you a lot to take care of them. In some extreme situations, you may need to replace one or more of the wheels. With this in mind, wheel maintenance is a must.
Since most car enthusiasts approach this from a DIY point of view, we aren’t afraid of getting our hands dirty. If you consider yourself in this category, but don’t know how to maintain your wheels, this is an excellent guide for you. I’ve covered several ways, so most scenarios are already covered. Keep those wheels shiny!