How to Clean Car Wheels

Car wheels, often made up of an aluminum or magnesium alloy, are what serve to hold the tire. On some cars, a plastic wheel cover or hubcap is affixed to the wheel itself. Both require cleaning to keep up appearances. And your car’s wheels take some of the heaviest abuse on your car, generally needing much more care than is provided. That’s one reason many relatively new cars have dull, dusty wheels. If you spend a little time and money maintaining your car’s wheels, then they’ll have that new-car look.

Person washing car wheel hubcap with a sponge

From an expert: Why you should clean your car wheels

Corrosive brake dust builds up on the wheels, starts to etch into the finish and causes staining, peeling and discoloration, said Todd Cooperider, President, Esoteric – Fine Auto Finishing. Even if you don’t need to replace the wheels, discolored wheels and pitting will surely lower any trade-in value. Cooperider noted that professional detailers – not local car washes – know the best cleaners to use on individual wheel types and finishes.

Detailing costs more than DIY cleaning, of course, but remember that replacing a wheel that was pitted or damaged by improper cleaning can cost about $150 per wheel. If the wrong cleaner is used, it can also be “catastrophic and expensive” to the brakes, said Cooperider. Owners of high-end cars may opt for professional detailers to coat their wheels with the latest quartz/ceramic wheel coating technologies, making cleaning much easier. Those coatings, which can cost between $300 and $600, are generally used on high-end cars with wheels that cost thousands, but that treatment is available for all wheels.

The good news is that most drivers can safely clean their wheels and rims at home as long as they use care and the correct products. That will certainly cost less than detailing, but Cooperider cautioned not to buy the cheapest cleaners. He recommended a relatively new segment of wheel cleaners that are pH neutral and neutralize the iron deposits from brake dust that attach to the rims. These wheel cleaners are far more effective than what is typically available at your local auto parts store, and they are much safer as well.

How-to tips

Once you select your wheel cleaner, consider these tips for cleaning your own wheels and rims:

  1. Choose a large foam sponge. Or, get a brush with soft bristles. Wheels are easy to scratch, so you want something very soft. Pro tip: Old toothbrushes are excellent tools for wheel cleaning.
  2. Soak the sponge and/or brush in water for several minutes before you use them.
  3. Use plenty of water. You’ll want to have one bucket to use with the cleaner and a second for rinsing your sponge and/or brush between uses. That way, you won’t transfer dirt from the water back onto the wheels.
  4. Make sure you’re working with wheels that are cool to the touch, and clean the wheels one at a time for best results.
  5. Don’t rush. Give the cleaner time to work. Depending on the type of cleaner you choose, leave it on the wheel for a minute or so and let it dispel the dirt.
  6. Work from the top of the wheel to the bottom, just as you do when washing windows. That way, dirt and water won’t run over a freshly cleaned surface.
  7. Thoroughly rinse and dry each wheel as soon as you finish cleaning it.
  8. Consider using a protective coating on your wheels after you’re done, which will make your hard work stand up to the elements longer by repelling brake dust. Pro tip: Some car waxes can be applied to wheels. Not only will wax serve as a protective barrier, but you’ll also save a few bucks from not purchasing another specialized product.

Car Scratch Removal Made Easy

Today’s two-part urethane paints consist of a clear coat on top of the color coat. While this system preserves the color by protecting against UV rays and provides a brighter shine, it can also get scratched fairly easily. Just rubbing your rag on a dusty surface, or having grit in the cloth itself, can leave fine lines and swirls.

Hand buffing out a scratch on the side of a car

Visible lines

If polishing and waxing isn’t producing the smooth finish you’d like to see on your vehicle, but you can’t feel the scratches with your fingernail, then a simple liquid scratch remover might do the trick. Note, however, that not all car scratches are the same. Some marks may be due to rubbing against a bumper from a car or shopping cart. The material coming into contact with your finish might be softer, and simply leaving behind a bit of material on top of the paint.

If that’s the case, it may come off easily with a spray for removing tar, bugs and adhesives. Be sure to use a product specifically designed for marks on paint, as acetone or types of solvents might damage the paint. If the mark is still there after using the spray cleaner, try using a soft-grade rubbing compound (it’s easy to penetrate the clear coat, so don’t overdo it). You’ll need to use a polishing compound to remove any fine scratches left by the rubbing compound, and then finish the job by sealing the surface with a good car wax.

Medium-depth scratches that you can feel with your fingernail require a more aggressive method of repair than simply using rubbing and polishing compounds. Bad scratches that penetrate to the color coat can require touch-up paint and possibly professional care.

Smooth operator

Liquid scratch remover being rubbed on a car scratch

For the medium-depth scratches, use a car scratch remover kit. The system is fairly easy to use, requiring three separate steps and a common household drill. As with the rubbing compound mentioned above, less is more. The idea is to take off a very thin layer of the clear coat, but still leave enough on to protect the paint. And you’ll need to protect the finish with a good wax or synthetic polish to bring back the shine.

Scratch removal tips

  1. If buffing, polishing or using a rubbing compound doesn’t get scratches out, a more intensive approach could work, especially if the scratches don’t penetrate to the color coat. Evaluate the depth of the scratch by running your fingernail over it. If you can feel the scratch but your fingernail doesn’t catch, you can probably repair the damage.
  2. After washing the damaged area with soap and water, spray water on both the finish and the abrasive pad.
  3. Even though a 3,000-grit pad can feel soft, still only rub gently on the scratch until a bit of foam appears. After about 10 seconds of rubbing, wipe off the slurry with a wet paper towel to see if the scratch has disappeared. Don’t overdo it, as the clear coat is not thick.
  4. The area being rubbed will dull slightly, depending on the angle of the light. The following steps will eliminate this discoloration.
  5. Insert the buffing wheel into a standard household drill. Note: A variable-speed trigger makes it easier to control the speed of the buffing wheel, as it’s important not to let it heat up.
  6. To prevent splattering, smear the compound around by hand before starting the drill.
  7. Apply only light to medium pressure (enough to slightly compress the pad at a flat angle), operating the drill at slow to moderate speeds. Overlap the area slightly until the compound begins to dry, applying progressively lighter pressure.
  8. Remove any residue with a clean, dry microfiber towel. Make sure there’s no dirt on your towels, or you’ll just make things worse.
  9. Switch out the pads (they can be rinsed for reuse) and apply the remover to a clean pad. Scratch remover is typically thinner than the compound, so use care when squeezing it out or you’ll have too much on the pad.
  10. Again, first smear the liquid without turning on the drill to minimize splatter.
  11. Using a light speed setting, polish the compounded area, overlapping it slightly.
  12. Buff the area with another clean microfiber towel until the finish matches the surrounding paint. Look at the area from various angles to ensure that all the scratches and compound have been removed. Repeat the previous step if needed. Protect with a polish or wax as a final step.

How to Detail a Car

Car detailing isn’t something you need to do that often. You might roll up your sleeves once a year to perform a top-notch cleaning – sweeping, scrubbing, wiping every nook and cranny – on your car. The level of clean you need? It’s really whatever you prefer. Here’s a helpful guide to get you started.

Man detailing the interior of a car

Before you begin

The difference between an “OK” and an “incredible” result is tied to the tools you use and the time you spend on the job. It helps to use specialized car detailing products for specific tasks. For instance, toothbrushes come in handy for small areas that are harder to clean, like vents and grilles. Cotton swabs are useful in these spots, too.

Also, try to use name brand products to play it safe, but be certain to read the labels. Even name brand products aren’t suitable for all paint finishes. If the product does not list that it’s safe for clear coat finishes, it’s probably not. And keep in mind that this likely won’t be a five-minute commitment; a high-quality car detailing job can take between four and eight hours.

Step 1: Getting the hard-to-reach placesWork on the interior first. Use compressed air in a can to blow dirt out from the tiny crevices. Save exterior cleaning for later. By taking this approach, you’ll prevent all the dirt you brush out from undoing exterior detailing efforts.

Step 2: Working from the top downCloth headliners present a problem since they’re glued to the roof. Removing marks and stains can be tough, but it’s important to remember that headliners shouldn’t get wet. Use a microfiber cloth and an upholstery cleaner designed for use on velour or suede.

Brush the entire headliner lightly with a dry part of the cloth. Then, apply cleaner to the cloth – not directly to the headliner – and continue to gently brush everything. For stubborn spots, wet only one corner of the cloth with cleaner, brush lightly and dry off with the rest of the cloth.


When to Repair or Replace Your Windshield


It’s happened to us all: the painful sound of something solid – a rock or bits of debris – whacking your windshield. If you’ve had your car for a while and your windshield is immaculate, consider yourself lucky.

The windshield of your car ensures your safety while driving, but it is also prone to chips and cracks. So what should you do when it’s on the receiving end of a rock?

Repairing a small windshield chip
Repairing windshield chips can stop cracks from spreading and avoid the high cost of replacing the windshield.

Also, repairing your windshield allows you to keep the original quality glass and original factory seal and is a fraction of the replacement cost. Prices vary from shop to shop, but a chip repair costs around $50 on average.

There’s no need for immediate worry if the chip is small; it’s probably repairable without replacing the entire windshield. Generally speaking, if you can cover the entire chip with a quarter, you won’t need to replace your windshield.

If the chip can be repaired, it’s best to do the repair as soon as possible.

Your first step is to get an estimate from a glass repair shop. Next, call your insurance company to see if the repair is covered under your insurance policy. Typically, if you have full comprehensive insurance on your vehicle, the repair will be covered. However, each company has its own policy, so it’s worth the call to find out.

When you take your vehicle to a glass repair shop – or, in many cases, the auto glass company will come to your home or office – the repair worker will “fill” most of the chip. This process is relatively simple, and most chips can be repaired in half an hour or less. It may still leave a visible flaw, but it will be much less noticeable. Moreover, the repair provides a strong bond that prevents further cracks