As the old adage goes; prevention is better than the cure. Presumably you’ve already got a clean set of wheels (or soon to be) at the ready. If not, have a look at our wheel cleaning guide. And for those not already accustomed to the world of “detailing”, you may be wondering why merely cleaning your wheels isn’t enough…
The importance of correctly protecting your wheels is threefold:
1) To reduce the corrosive and damaging effects of brake dust, road grime and salt.
2) For ease of cleaning – harsh chemicals are no longer needed.
3) For maintaining a high quality finish.
Wheel types and a note on polished wheels: The following information is provided for all painted and/or clear coated wheels (including diamond cut wheels which have been lacquered). For information relating directly to protecting polished wheels and split rims, skip to the final section of this page.
Car vs Wheel specific products
Waxes, sealants and coatings are products which are all used for broadly the same purpose. Although there are dedicated products for wheels, any product sold for use on car paint can also be used on wheels – and many do a great job of it. The main point of consideration to bear in mind here is that car products tend to be developed with appearance in mind (e.g. giving paintwork a deep shine) and may or may not offer high levels of durability. Wheel specific products are generally manufactured for durability which is far more important in the harsher conditions that wheels are subjected to.
Waxes, Sealants and Coatings Explained
Primarily an “old school” car paintwork finishing product; waxes are designed to give depth and shine to paintwork as well as protection (and they usually smell nice, too). Waxes are responsible for “beading” on paintwork, where water droplets form spheres or orbs due to its hydrophobic properties. Although this looks great on bodywork, beading isn’t very noticeable on wheels due to gravity pulling the water off them.
Unlike sealants and coatings, waxes are made with (at least some) natural ingredients, namely Carnauba. Carnauba is a naturally occurring wax which comes from the leaves of the Carnauba palm tree and it’s actually the hardest wax in the world. Manufacturers often quote their product’s carnauba content, although this can often be the result of misleading marketing and is by no means to be all and end all when it comes to the quality of a product.
Wax products come in “paste” and “liquid” forms.
– Paste waxes are solid and sold in tubs (the majority of car waxes).
– Liquid waxes are runny and come in bottles.
One is not “better” than the other and everyone has their own preference. There tends to be less wasted product with paste waxes but liquids can sometimes be easier to work with. Try both and decide for yourself.
Waxes are usually applied thinly with an application pad using circular motions for maximum coverage. When the product has cured it is buffed off with a microfiber cloth. This process can be repeated a second time to ensure no surface was missed. Applying two layers is worthwhile, but there is little to no gain from applying a third.
When used on wheels, durability can be up to around 3 months. If the design of your wheels has large, flat areas, a wax is a good option for protection and will not take long to re-apply when required. More intricate designs may make this task harder, which is when a sealant or liquid wax could prove to be a better choice.
Sealants are basically fully synthetic waxes and come in paste, liquid and spray forms and they bond chemically to painted surfaces. In liquid and spray forms they are very easy to work with and can offer greater protection than traditional waxes. A minor downside of many sealants is that they lack the pleasant fragrance you’re likely to encounter when using a traditional wax.
Sealants are usually applied in the same way as a paste or liquid wax but some fall into the “wipe on walk away” (WOWA) category. An example is Opti-Seal; a clear liquid in a spray bottle which is sprayed on to the surface to be protected. An application pad can be used to wipe the product on before any excess product is buffed away with a microfibre cloth. This product is especially useful for protecting intricately designed wheels.
In general, sealants are more durable than waxes and it’s possible to get 3+ months of protection from a single application. The two layer rule applies here, too – don’t bother wasting your time, effort and money by applying more.
Coatings are the most advanced forms of paint protection today. Developed with nano-technology, coatings bond to painted surfaces with strong covalent bonds; becoming part of it at a molecular level. Durability is far superior to both waxes and sealants, with 6+ months protection from a single application being a real possibility. Coatings are very thin liquids and are sold in very small volumes since a little product goes a very long way. Coatings are a fantastic alternative to traditional waxes and sealants and can be worth the extra cost.
Taking Gtechniq C5 as an example, a cotton pad is supplied to spread the coating onto the surface of the wheel; covering it by using as little product as possible. Application is easy and if too much product is accidentally used, it can easily be buffed off with a clean cloth before crystallisation occurs.
Coated wheels can still show protection after many months. The question to ask yourself is if the extra cost is worth the lower effort. For a weekend or show car we’d suggest probably not, but if you’re covering motorway miles and still care about keeping your car and wheels clean, coatings are unbeatable.
Layering Waxes and Sealants
A common question is if waxes and sealants can be layered on top of one another. The answer is yes, however you must always layer a wax on top of a sealant and not the other way round as a sealant needs to be able to bond with the paint itself. While some people finish car bodywork with a wax on top of a sealant with the intention of adding depth, it really isn’t necessary in the case of protecting wheels and we’d advise sticking to one product type only. We would also recommend against layering products on top of coatings as it simply isn’t necessary.
Protecting Polished Wheels and Split Rims
The preceding information is applicable to all painted wheels, but we can’t stress highly enough the importance of thoroughly protecting your polished wheels and split rims.
The first type of protection for polished wheels is prevention. Running polished wheels in winter is a recipe for disaster and will lead to them being ruined in a matter of weeks. Even regular washing is not enough to stop the corrosive effects of salty roads.
In terms of product choice for protecting polished wheels, we would recommend a sealant such as Finish Kare F1000P. This is suitable for use on bare metal and it’s both highly durable and affordable. We would steer clear of expensive sealants for polished surfaces as while they are fantastic for paint, they don’t tend to bond well to metal.
Even protected un-laqured wheels still need to be regularly polished by hand to maintain a flawless shine. Polishing will remove any wax/sealant already on the wheel so they should always be protected again with a wax or sealant afterwards.