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How to take care of your wheels

Read Cars logo Read Cars 20/04/2017 Giles Kirkland
© Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When it comes to vehicles, few areas get overlooked as much as car wheels. Since these, combined with the tyre, are responsible for both moving the vehicle and keeping the car glued to the road, their importance should not be underestimated.

Cleaning

One of the most efficient ways to take care of your wheels is to clean them. Of course, this isn’t as simple as running some water over them. Just like the body work, there are different layers of paint and lacquer to consider and, furthermore, this can vary between steel and alloy wheels.

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Steel wheels can be cleaned more easily but, if you have aluminium, titanium or other mixed-metal products, it helps to learn how to clean alloy wheels properly. Alloys are generally much thinner and weaker than steel, so are coated with numerous layers of lacquer. Use warm soap and remove any large dirt particles before applying dedicated cleaning products. Otherwise, your subsequent cleaning might scrape these particles against the protective layers.

With both steel and alloy wheels, you should also use a hose or water spraying device to wash behind the spokes. Dust, generated from the wearing of the brake pads, can easily gather between the brakes and the wheels.

Protection 

After cleaning, you should always make efforts to protect your wheels. Typically, this means reapplying protective layers that have been worn down through use. As already mentioned, wheels use protective lacquers, waxes and polishes and these need to be renewed after washing. Be sure, however, that you pick a product for your respective wheel type. Steel needs protection from corrosion while alloys often need a stronger, all-round dedicated product.

Related: The best tyres 2016 - evo tyre test

A final finish of wax will help protect these layers (especially the paint, in the case of custom alloys), while also ensuring they remain smooth and streamlined. This can easily be applied after you’ve washed the wheels and, done regularly enough, will be enough to keep them safe in most circumstances.

The Tyres 

While cleaning and maintaining your wheels, it makes sense to also inspect your tyres. Small defects or diminishing quality in your tyres can greatly influence how your car performs on the road, so it’s worth making regular inspections.

One of the most important, for instance, is tread wear. Different countries have different limits, but most people agree that, when the tread comes to around 2 or 3 mm in depth, it will start to lose its grip and other parameters.

Likewise, your tyre pressure always needs to be checked. Air can naturally permeate through the tyres, so don’t expect your wheels to maintain the pressure just because there are no punctures. Modern pressure readers are quick and easy to use, and pumps are readily available as well. So, next time you clean your wheels, take a few extra minutes to check the pressure on all 4 tyres – and the spare, if you have one.

Alignment

While checking your wheels, it’s vital to ensure they are properly aligned. If they are not, this can greatly disrupt the driving properties of your car: needless to say, both turning and driving in a straight line require the wheels to be at their intended positions.

This alignment can be further broken down into two factors: the toe and the camber. The toe refers to the vertical rolling angle with which the wheels ‘point’. Typically, rear wheel drive vehicles favour a slight positive toe (where the wheels turn in to face each other), as this works well with the drag such cars produce. Likewise, front wheel drive cars favour a negative toe (where the wheels point outwards) to compensate for different drag forces. Check your car manual to see what specific toe alignments your car needs.

The camber, similarly, prefers to the horizontal angle. This can also be negative or positive and can offer different properties as a result, due to the way it uses the tyre. Yet the occasional bumps can cause this camber to change, or even cause wheels on the same axle to become unbalanced.

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Related: The coolest alloy wheels ever made (Provided by Motoring Research)

Watching the wheels: Preparing a list of the coolest alloy wheels ever made is the easy part. Narrowing it down to ten is more of a challenge. It’s a highly subjective opinion, of course, but we’re pretty sure you’ll appreciate the examples of circular beauty we’re about to roll out. The emphasis here is on ‘cool’, rather than the most dramatic or extravagant. In the case of alloy wheels, bigger isn’t necessarily better, while bling leaves us cold. What are the coolest alloy wheels ever made?
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