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Typical Misses: Wheels & Wheel Wells


This is super easy. Shoot man, spray some wheel acid on the face of the wheel and rinse that bad boy off! By the time you’re done, you just BARELY broke a sweat…well, or not…

Sure, that is what most shops offer and what a lot of car owners do themselves. But you’re not here reading this because you’re okay with a shoddy looking job with tons of room for improvement. What you’re after is a result. One could say you’re looking for an experience when detailing.

This piece will draw attention to a few wheel areas many tend to overlook and that have a negative impact on the finished product. These are a few steps that can be added to your workflow that are not super time consuming. So there’s no good reason not to add them to your quick wash! Despite what the corner car wash would have you believe, wheels take time to get properly and safely cleaned.

What You Need

To clean properly and safely, you’ll need a selection of proper tools that will reach areas that a wash mitt will not. I am a big fan of long bristle vinyl brush like an EZ Detail Brush, Wheel Woolies of all sizes, Boar’s Hair Brushes, and Microfiber Towels that are not of the “boutique” variety for the dirtiest of portions. A fine cleaning chemical (i.e. P21S Gel Wheel Cleaner) will ease your cleaning and provide a margin of safety that typical wheel acids do not.

What Gets Missed

For the sake of time, we will not review every step of how to clean a wheel. We are aiming to touch on just the typical misses and how your details will improve by working in those areas.

For most, cleaning the faces of wheels are a breeze and that’s where most wheel cleanings stop. What we need to recognize is that we don’t see just the face of wheels. On modern cars, we can typically see a very large area of the inner dish. I’ve been asked more times than I can count how I get the inner dishes on wheels so clean. The short answer is that having the right tools make the job possible. Wheel woolies and EZ detail brushes provide you with reach and leverage to get those tough to reach areas. Wheel woolies have become my favorite wheel cleaning tool due to it’s long reach, durability and fluffy head. It’s limiting factor is its thickness between some calipers and inner wheel dishes. Where the wheel woolies drop off the EZ detail brush picks up. It’s low-profile is ideal for getting between most calipers and wheel dishes. Its flexible stem allows for you to bend it in a way that you can reach the rear of spokes and around the wheel offset. In some cases you may need to clean all the wheels, roll the car forward a few feet then reclean where you could not reach before on the inner dish. Between spokes is another area that will have missed spots. For between spokes, you can use the smaller wheel woolies, EZ detail brush or a boar’s head brush. I like to use a boar’s hair brush for where spokes meet the wheel dish. Longer brushes do not tend to provide the reach in tight corners that a smaller brush will (no d’uh, right?). The same boar’s hair brush will be able to clean out lug nut recesses that build up over time. Lug nut recesses may need extra attention beyond what your typical cleaning as they have tight gaps and even with the right tools, they may need multiple cleaning passes.

Why Are These Issues?

I don’t know anyone who loves to bend over and work in an uncomfortable position. Because of that, many will not get low enough to inspect their work. What will improve your cleaning on wheels is squatting and actually doing just that, inspecting. Now, the highest portion of the wheels will not be lacking.

www.detaileddesignsautospa.com atlanta car detailing wheel misses_3Get low enough to inspect your work as you go. With some due diligence, the right tools and safe chemicals your wheels will look great, inside and out.

Wheel Wells

This is one of those areas that is outright forsaken. They get more hammered than probably any other portion of a car, yet are rarely cleaned. Your eyes may not go right to them while appreciating a car, but I guarantee if it’s dirty, it is taking away from the overall appearance.

If you’ve purchased your EZ detail brush, have some microfiber towels that are on your bad side (okay, so just some towels that don’t mind throwing away once finished with) and a good all purpose cleaner/degreaser (like the P21S Total Auto Wash or Meguiar’s APC), you are all set on getting those bad boys cleaned up. Pre-soak the wheel well with water then spray your APC directly to the wheel well surface. After allowing your APC to sit for a short period of time (dictated by the directions on the bottle), agitate the surface with your EZ detail brush with it bent in a way that it has the most surface contact with the liner. Try your best to keep the bristles of the brush inside the wheel well and off the painted exterior of the fender. This will minimize the chance to generate marring on your paint. In my experience, using a pressure washer for wheel wells is ideal. For instance, if you have a felt wheel well liner, using a water hose on dirty felt is an exercise in futility. Felt grabs up junk and it mingles with the fibers. A pressure washer can clean better than any water hose pressure.

www.detaileddesignsautospa.com atlanta car detailing wheel misses_2EZ Detail Brush makes cleaning a breeze.

www.detaileddesignsautospa.com atlanta car detailing wheel misses_1Pressure washers provide excellent cleaning ability.

Finally, You’re Done!

A thorough job may require multiple passes at cleaning any of these surfaces. At times, I have spent a hour on these very surfaces. But just think of it. When you’re done, you will be left with the dirtiest parts of your car cleaned beyond anything it has experienced. You’re giving the surfaces a chance at a long life and you the opportunity to protect them with a variety of products.

It may take a long time but if you’re anything like me. When you’re done, you’ll be able to stand back from your auto detail and take real pride in the beauty you created.

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Jean-Claude Corcoran
Jean-Claude Corcoran
Detailed Designs Auto Spa
Atlanta, GA

4 comments on Typical Misses: Wheels & Wheel Wells

  1. Craig Eastley says:

    I couldn’t agree more! Nasty wheel wells can ruin an otherwise perfect detail. I like the Meguiars wheel well brush, as my Equinox has plenty of room to maneuver, but your suggestions are also great. Thanks for the tips!

  2. Tony says:

    Working for Cadillac, this is a must. If I detail a vehicle then this area better be cleaned or the job is not done! Gotta love a clean back side of a wheel and wheel well!

  3. Ray Scott says:

    I always clean the wheel wells and inner wheel dishes. I use all of the brushes mentioned and on ocassion I reach in tight areas with a used MF towel. One bit of advice use some protection on your hands as I have experienced some nasty cuts using bare hands.

  4. Steve K. says:

    Detailed wheels and wheel wells add that much more to the job. I will get asked if my truck is brand new because of this. Just looks better.

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