Using appropriate products and techniques gained from many years of experience, UF has published a series of car care guides with the car enthusiast in mind. With careful application and attention to detail, you too can correctly look after your car, make it look amazing and then keep it that way. Protecting your investment starts here …
6. Caring For Wheels & Tyres
Wheels and tyres have a significant impact on the overall appearance of your car. Alloy wheels tend to be sensitive to harsh chemicals and can be scratched by stiff bristles. Typically alloys are expensive to replace, so keeping them in good condition is a worthwhile investment. Tyres also take the brunt of road conditions and are subjected to different types of dressing, many of them silicone-based. Over time these types of dressing cause a build-up of brown residue which apart from being unsightly can can also impact the longevity of the tyre.
Keeping wheels clean is an on-going battle, as inevitably they collect an enormous amount of road grime, tar and harmful brake dust. The temptation may be to use a caustic wheel cleaner to remove these contaminants quickly, but using strong chemicals is very likely to degrade the surface over time and if left for too long on the wheel during the cleaning process will compromise the lacquer and eventually cause it to peel – requiring a complete and expensive wheel refurbishment!
The key to keeping wheels in pristine condition is to clean them regularly to avoid the need for strong cleaners. Using a pH-balanced wheel cleaner is ideal although their lack of bite will mean contaminants that have been allowed to bake on to the wheel will require agitation with a brush in order to dislodge them. Cleaners with a slight alkaline or acid bias will remove these trouble spots more easily. Some wheel cleaners have a colour-change function which helps to see that it is working. If contamination is particularly evident or after a long drive where the brakes have been used extensively, it may be necessary to use an Iron Contamination or Fallout Remover (refer to 1.1 Safe Removal of Metal Particles).
Never clean wheels whilst they are hot! It is extremely important to ensure wheels are cool to the touch before beginning the cleaning process. Any wheel cleaner will evaporate if sprayed on to a hot wheel. Even worse, if the cleaner has an alkaline or acid-base, the reaction between the chemicals in the cleaner and the heat of the wheel could cause permanent etching in the lacquer.
- Wheel cleaner in a bottle with a trigger spray head
- Soft wheel brush or microfibre wash mitt
- Soft drying towel
- Step 1 – Ensure wheels are cool to the touch
- Step 2 – Spray wheel cleaner on to the face of the wheel
- Step 3 – Using a wash mitt or a soft wheel brush (refer to 6.3. – Safe Wheel Brushes) work the wheel cleaner into the corners where the spokes meet the inner and outer edges of the wheel where brake dust and road grime collect. If your wheel cleaner has a colour-change function you will see it working
- Step 4 – Rinse thoroughly with cool water using a hose or pressure washer until all the wheel cleaner residue is removed
- Step 5 – Using a soft, clean drying towel dry the wheel taking care not to allow the cloth to touch the ground (where it may pick up grit and scratch the wheel as you’re drying it)
Most modern cars have alloy wheels, many of which have fairly intricate designs. As these types of wheel tend to be relatively expensive it’s a good idea to keep them clean and protected. This requires getting right into the nooks and crannies to make sure that all remnants of brake dust and grime are completely removed.
Once the wheel cleaner of choice has been applied, using the right equipment will help make light work of what can be a time consuming job. Whilst a designated wheel mitt can be useful for the face of the wheel, sometimes a little more agitation is required. A wheel brush is the ideal solution, but when selecting a wheel brush there are several important factors to consider:
Bristles should be firm enough to give a little ‘oomph’ to the cleaning process, but not so firm or sharp-ended as to inflict scratches on to the delicate wheel finish.
The ferrule (the ‘hub’ where the bristles are gathered together to join to the handle) should be plastic rather than metal. Plastic is softer than metal and is less likely to scratch the alloy should the ferrule collide with the wheel whilst you’re cleaning.
The handle should be long enough to allow you to fit the brush through the spokes to clean the back of the wheel. As it will be in proximity to the wheel ideally the handle will either be constructed of wood or plastic, again to reduce the chances of scratching the wheel.
Style of brush:
There are different styles and shapes of brushes available. Some are fairly traditional – rounded ends attached to a long handle, a bit like a paintbrush. Some are ‘Christmas tree’ shaped. Whilst these are great for cleaning the back of the wheel care should be taken as many of these have metal cores with the fibres twirled within. Over time the fibres become flattened which makes it easy for the metal core to come into contact with the wheel. Other brushes, or ‘woolies’ have no metal in their construction – the fibres are attached directly to a plastic core, and their elongated shape make reaching through the spokes to the back of the wheel easy – so this style is a particularly popular option.
Many tyre dressings contain silicones that leave a build-up of residue which turns tyres brown. In order to restore tyres to their natural satin black, it is necessary to strip off the old remnants of tyre dressing to reveal the original rubber surface.
There are specific tyre cleaners available for cleaning tyres, however an effective (but preferably not too astringent) All Purpose Cleaner will work just as effectively.
Inevitably tyre cleaner is going to be transferred onto the wheel during cleaning, so it’s important both tyre and wheel are cool to the touch in order to prevent any etching from a chemical/heat reaction.
- Tyre or rubber cleaner, or
- All Purpose Cleaner diluted as per manufacturer’s instructions
- Stiff bristle brush
- Hosepipe connected to running water
- Drying towel for tyres
- Drying towel for wheels
- Step 1 – Ensure tyre and wheel are cool to the touch
- Step 2 – Spray tyre cleaner on to the tyre
- Step 3 – Using a stiff bristle brush, scrub the tyre. It’s likely the foam will turn brown as you’re scrubbing – this is the old dressing remnants coming off
- Step 4 – Rinse tyre (and wheel) free from suds
- Step 5 – Pat tyre dry with designated drying towel
- Step 6 – Pat wheel dry with designation drying towel to ensure no water spot marks are left behind
Once tyres have been cleaned and old tyre dressings have been removed, applying a good tyre dressing finishes off the look perfectly.
Some tyre dressings are solvent based and some are water based. Solvent based dressings work by opening the pores of the rubber to impregnate them with colour. They tend to be longer-lasting and more water repellent. However some use lesser quality solvents which can damage tyres and all of these dressings tend to attract more dust as they are typically a thicker, stickier formulation. They can also be considerably more difficult to remove when you want to clean the tyres and start again.
Water based dressings tend not to last as long and are prone to sling as they’re not as thick as the solvent based products. Both water based dressings and solvent based dressings may contain silicones and so both types have the potential to turn tyres brown, so if you’re aiming for a silicone-free dressing you will need to check the ingredients first, rather than relying on the description of ‘water based’. It’s worth bearing in mind that dressings containing silicones must not come into contact with tyre tread as it will make lose grip and become slippery, particularly in the wet.
There are two different types of finish to choose between – a high gloss look or a natural satin sheen. Whichever you opt for is entirely down to personal choice, but note the shinier the dressing, typically the higher the silicone content. Tyre dressings come in a variety of formulations – wipe on with a foam applicator (some are contoured specifically to make tyre dressing application easier), spray on / trigger head bottle or in a tub which require you to paint it on with what looks like a paint brush. Typically tyre dressings can also be used on the under-side of wheel arches, for those who wish to be thorough.
- Tyre dressing of choice
- A foam applicator pad or a dressing applicator brush
- Microfibre towel
- Ensure tyre is clean and dry
- Either spray on, wipe on or paint on the tyre dressing
- Allow to soak for a couple of minutes
- Wipe excess with a microfibre to prevent any excess from slinging on to the car’s bodywork whilst driving along