There are several different types of finishes available for Aftermarket Wheels. Most wheel companies offer a warranty on the finish. In most cases, painted wheels have a 1 year warranty. Most chrome wheels have a 2 year warranty, and in some cases a 3 year warranty. Polished aluminum wheels are only warranteed until you take them out of the box. In any event, the buyer has the responsibility to properly maintain the wheels. There are a lot of folks out there that pay a lot of money for custom wheels then only clean them when they send the car through the car wash once in awhile. It takes time and elbow grease to keep custom wheels clean and to protect the finish. I’ve seen chrome wheels that customers wanted to return because they were pitted or rusting so bad that they look like the car was parked on the bottom of Lake Michigan for the winter. If you don’t maintain your wheels, don’t expect the manufacturer to take them back and give you a new set.
Let’s cover the 3 types of finishes and how to maintain them.
Painted Finish – There are 2 types of paint used. First and most popular is Powder Paint. This is a paint that is applied in a powder form then baked at about 400 degrees. The powder actually melts and becomes liquid for a short time then adheres to the wheel and creates a very hard surface with excellent coverage. The second type is Liquid Paint. It is sprayed in the conventional method and then baked in an oven. Liquid paint normally results in a better finish with little or no orange peel effect. Most high quality painted wheels are powder painted with the color and then liquid painted with a clear coat that gives the overall finish a lot of depth.
Maintaining Painted wheels can be accomplished with soap and water and a soft brush or cloth. Make sure that the brake dust is rinsed away prior to using a brush or cloth because brake dust is very abrasive and can put small scratches in the finish. Be very careful when sending your vehicle thru a car wash because they use coarse bushes to scrub the tires and they can get into the wheels and chew them up in a flash.
Chrome Plated – Chrome wheels are by far the easiest wheels to clean, if they are done frequently. If they are not at least wiped clean with a damp cloth every 2-3 weeks, they accumulate road dust, brake dust and what ever else is out there, and then it requires chrome cleaner to remove the mess that hides the shine. Chrome plating is a very tough and resistant finish, but it is not impervious. Steel wheels that are chrome plated can still rust if they are subject to a lot of moisture or constant moisture. Chrome plated aluminum wheels can oxidize from under the plating and cause pitting if not properly maintained. The new technology used in chrome plating uses a 4 layer system. First the wheel is plated with copper as a base and filler. Then a semi-bright nickel is applied, followed by a bright nickel layer. The final layer is the chrome. The chrome is the thinnest of the layers but the hardest and the most resistant to the outside environment.
Maintaining chrome wheels can be done with soap and water and a soft brush or cloth. Again make sure to rinse away any brake dust prior to using a brush or cloth. There are several chrome cleaners and polishes available to really put a shine on your wheels after washing them with soap and water.
Polished Aluminum – Owning and maintaining polished aluminum wheels is a real test to ones devotion and love of his ride. After the wheel has been polished, that’s it. There is no protective coating put on the wheel. Aluminum oxidizes and dulls after a time. The length of time depends on where you live, and how much moisture is in the air. The dryer the climate the longer the finish will stay bright.
Maintaining polished wheels has only 2 requirements. Elbow grease and a lot of time. I will admit that a highly polished set of alloy wheels looks really bitchin. I prefer chrome because I don’t want to work that hard and I’m too old to get down on my knees for that long, and it’s too hard to get back up. Again there are several aluminum polishing products available and they pretty much all work. That is with you supplying the muscle.
There are a few other finishes that I didn’t cover that should be mentioned. One being a machined finish aluminum wheel. Maintenance is accomplished with soap and water and a soft brush or cloth. Then there is a machined finished aluminum wheel that has a liquid clear coat finish applied after the machining. Maintenance and care would be the same as a painted wheel.
Remember, care and maintenance is your job not the manufacturer. Don’t use harsh chemical cleaners and be careful of products that say “just spray on and rinse off”. They most likely have some acid or etching chemicals that will destroy your wheels finish.