Alloy Wheel Polishing & Detailing
by Jeremy Goodspeed
In addition to just cleaning the wheels of a vehicle, they need protection. Just like the painted surfaces, wheels go through a tremendous amount of abuse from brake dust and heat. Protecting the wheels will insure a longer lasting finish and better overall appearance.
PAINTED and CLEAR COATED: Clear coated wheels are wheels that are painted with a clear paint and can be treated the same as regular painted wheels. Nearly every OEM alloy wheel fits this category. Both painted and clear-coated wheels can be polished and protected by using normal paint polishes and waxes. Cleaner/waxes are suitable for this operation. Some car care manufactures have introduced a clear coat wheel polish for this procedure. Both products achieve the same goal. On a pre-cleaned wheel, use a polish to restore lost gloss and remove light scratches. Wax the wheel to protect the finish. Remember to use a soft diaper like towel to polish and wax and a microfiber towel to burnish.
CHROME PLATED: Chrome plated wheels are relatively easy to care for. With reasonable care, a chrome-plated wheel will provide years of trouble free use. To remove contaminates, polish with a chrome polish or an all-metal polish. Wipe with a terry towel to remove any residue or streaks. A terry towel can be used due to the harder finish of chrome. For light cleaning, use a glass cleaner and a microfiber towel to remove any streaks.
BARE (NON COATED) ALLOY WHEELS: Bare aluminum and alloy wheels need the most care. Aluminum wheels oxidize much faster than other types. The amount of time required to polish aluminum wheels depends on their condition. It is usually easier to polish them more often. To polish aluminum wheels, use duct tape to guard the tire from the polish staining it. The duct tape will not leave any residue on the tire, yet it will stick unlike many other types of tape. Polish the alloy wheels using a aluminum polish. Apply using a soft towel or diaper. Polish in the direction of the wheel. Use moderate pressure and turn the towel often. The towel will turn black from the aluminum-polishing residue. A terry towel may be used on severely oxidized wheels to rough them in, followed by a soft diaper to finish. When satisfied with the renovation to the wheel, wipe the majority of the excess polish from the wheel. To final polish and increase the gloss of the polished wheel, wipe the wheel with cornstarch. Cornstarch can be purchased at any supermarket. Dip the clean towel into the box and wipe the wheel thoroughly with the cornstarch. The cornstarch will absorb the excess polish from the pores of the aluminum and eliminate any streaks in the finish. To remove any cornstarch powder, use compressed air. Very severely oxidized wheels may be wet sanded with a very fine wet or dry sanding paper prior to polishing. If you are unsure about sanding aluminum wheels, it is better to consult a professional rather than risk damage to the wheel.
VINYL DRESSING TIRES: Tire dressings are available in both aerosol and wipe on types. Aerosol tire dressings are faster and especially great for truck and 4X4 vehicles. The aerosol dressing can be sprayed into the deep tread edges where it is usually difficult to wipe. Wipe on dressings offer the benefit of keeping the excess dressing away from finished wheels. After application of any dressing, allow it to soak on the surface for about one hour before wiping off the excess. This will allow the dressing to soak in to the tire and eliminate dressing slinging off onto the vehicle. For a more even look, burnish using a 3" soft paintbrush to smooth out the dressing.
Special Note Regarding Long Lasting Tire Gels: Tire gels have become more and more popular among users looking for products that need only occasional treatments. They offer usually higher gloss levels and soak into the rubber for a longer lasting finish. However these products have a draw back. As these products soak into the rubber, they release the creosote found within the tire compound. If this tire gel slings off the tire while driving, the creosote uses this gel as a carrier to land on the painted surfaces of the vehicle. Once the creosote is allowed to soak into the paint, it leaves a brown stain known as a photo stain. It is most commonly found among white, silver, and beige colored cars because of the contrasting color. These stains attack into the clear coat, cannot be polished, and will only lighten with time.