How To Keep Those Expensive Wheels Looking Like New

‘Tis the season of road work.

Every errand on hot, dirty roads can add grime on your vehicle wheels. It’s not only unsightly, it can cause permanent damage.

You’ve washed the vehicle and the paint looks pristine. But if your wash doesn’t include cleaning the wheels, it’s like stepping out in a sharp suit and some filthy shoes.

Water alone won’t remove the filth from wheels. Even the suds at the local car wash have trouble cutting through the grime.

What is this stuff and where does it come from?

Microscopic particles of brake lining flake off every time you stop the car. Left unattended, the dust congeals into a viscous sludge on the wheels that traps moisture and feasts on the finish.

Specially formulated wheel cleaners cut the grease and reduce the amount of elbow grease required to restore the look. It’s vital to read the label and ensure it’s something that won’t damage the wheel's finish, said Brad Bergholdt, an instructor of automotive technology at Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, Calif.

Detailing experts offered the following insights on brake dust and how to best address it:

  • What causes it? As brake pads wear down, microscopic particles flake off and cling to whatever they touch. That dust is especially corrosive to a wheel's finish and can cause permanent pitting and staining.
  • The worst offenders: Disc brakes create the most dust because it uses a clamp on both sides of the disc to create friction. Drum brakes capture most of the dust behind their cover. The front brakes are often discs, while the rear wheels may be either disc or drums. That’s why front wheels may look dirtier than the pair in back.
  • Applying a spray wax creates a barrier that hampers the dust’s ability to cling to the wheel for a little while. Rags and specially designed brushes work wonders. An important note: Do not use the same rags or brushes on other finishes such as the glass, paint or upholstery to avoid staining these more delicate surfaces.