Five tips for washing custom wheels

Five tips for washing custom wheels

Most, if not all, after market wheels require special maintenance to maintain their luster.

Custom and aftermarket wheels have become an increasingly popular vehicle accessory as drivers look to make a statement, and add personality and style to the exterior of their vehicle. The emergence of online companies and the continued popularity of custom shops allow even the novice auto enthusiast to complete this upgrade with little to no automotive knowledge.

From chrome, matte black and custom painted finishes, to wheels with larger diameters, widths and offsets, there are thousands of brands and styles from subtle to extreme. But even if your customer is not rolling on 24’s or spinners, it’s important to know how to service a vehicle with aftermarket wheels, because most, if not all, require special maintenance and care to maintain their luster.

Here are five tips for properly detailing custom wheels:

1. Watch rails and track guides

Custom wheels will often change the tracking of a vehicle because of negative offsets or staggered fitment (where wheels in the rear of the vehicle are wider). While the vehicle should always fit within normal tracks in an automated car wash, this is something to be aware of. Vehicles with custom wheels are also prone to having other modifications. Trucks with lifted suspension, cars with lowered suspension, low profile or stretched tires; all of these modifications will affect how the vehicle can or should be washed.

2. Wash wheels with a finish- safe product

Wheel companies will tell you to never wash wheels with anything but basic soap and water, but sometimes this is just not enough. Make sure to use a clear, coat-safe product. More than just “clear-coat safe,” ensure that the solution is not too acidic, and that it’s at the proper dilution if created from a concentrate. Wheels with matte finishes, just like matte auto body paint, require special cleaners to maintain their proper appearance.

3. Don’t use stiff or abrasive tools

Do not use hard bristle brushes or abrasive pads found on some sponges. They key is nonabrasiveness. Soft sponges or rags will do the job. If the grime is a little stubborn, let the correct cleaner do the work, not your elbow.

4. Don’t wash warm wheels

The finishes on aftermarket wheels are generally softer than those on OEM wheels. When custom wheels are warm and then subjected to cooler water, the minerals in the water can leave permanent water spots in the finish. These will be impossible to remove without refinishing the wheel. Make sure that wheels are cool to the touch before starting any detailing.

5. Talk to your customer about maintenance

Some customers may not know that aftermarket wheels require extra attention. If brake dust is allowed to build, it will not matter how well the wheels are washed; the finish may become permanently tarnished. Regular maintenance is mandatory to ensure that custom wheels stay looking new. Having this conversation will convey the importance of regular washing and detailing.

You wouldn’t throw a cashmere sweater in the dryer, so why would you wash expensive, custom wheels the same way as plastic hubcaps? Follow these tips and your customers’ wheels will shine on.


Richard Reina is the training director for CARiD™.

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