Your alloy wheels and their tyres are subject to contamination by grit and grime from roads, as well as brake dust, on a continual basis. They are also probably the hardest part of your car to keep in top condition. In this guide, we’ll discuss the best ways of washing and cleaning alloy rims and wheel covers; how to remove stubborn accumulations of brake dust safely and effectively; and how to clean and protect your tyres.

One solution we are promoting to prolong the lifespan of your alloy wheels, is to invest in a set of Winter wheels. These offer a bolt-on solution to replace your standard wheels, and are ideal during winter as they will withstand the extra grit, rocksalt and corrosive material/debris on the treacherous winter roads.


Wheels are arguably the hardest part of your car to keep clean, as they are under continuous attack from contamination by brake dust and road grit. Brake dust is a major problem for owners of cars with alloy wheels, as it is not only dirty and difficult to remove, but can be corrosive to the paint/lacquer. Brake dust is released when as a result of friction between the brake discs and pads. When braking, the surface of brake pads is worn way, producing dust that is deposited on other surfaces nearby, primarily your wheels. There is a wide variety of compounds used to make brake pads, with differing hardness and metal content, meaning that the amount of brake dust generated does vary significantly between vehicles.

Brake dust is actually a combination of metal filings, carbon fibres, and (believe it or not) adhesive residues. It is often deposited onto the wheels at very high temperatures. Consequently, it immediately etches into traditional wheel lacquer. The adhesive residues in brake dust are acidic, not only causing it to firmly bond to everything it touches, but also initiate corrosion in their own right. If that wasn’t bad enough, the metal filings contained in brake dust have a tendency to oxidise, and if they do this when in contact with the metal of the rim the process of galvanic corrosion sets in, leading to rust. So, brake dust gradually erodes coatings until they fail, after which point the rim itself starts to corrode. This gradual erosion not only makes the rim look unsightly, but can also eventually affect the safety and structural integrity of the wheel.

The key option for controlling the negative effects of brake dust is to establish a proper wheel care routine. An easy thing to say, but what does this actually mean? In our experience, if you want to keep your wheels in perfect condition, it means a minimum of a weekly wash and occasional reapplication of a wheel sealant.

Regular washing should be the easy bit, but is often overlooked, particularly during the winter months when cold and wet weather makes the idea of going outside to clean the car highly unappealing. We do advise at least giving wheels a quick wash, and don’t worry about drying everything off; just make sure you get any road salt and brake dust off. It only takes a few weeks for serious etching to set in on unprotected rims, particularly in winter months. Once etching sets in you’re facing a problem a bit like rust; no matter what you try to do to combat it, it will persistently get worse.


If you have purchased a set of wheels with new tyres, please allow the tyres 150-200 miles to ‘bed in’ and start to offer maximum grip and performance. If you have purchased locking wheel bolts/nuts, please keep the key code in a safe place – in the event of you losing the key, you will require this code. Although there are ways of removing locking fasteners without the key, the risk of damage to the wheel, the hub, or both is extremely high and invariably costly.

To care for your new wheels, you do not need expensive, aggressive chemical wheel cleaners. Simply put a small squirt of normal household washing up liquid (NOT surface cleaner, as these are often acidic) into some warm water and wash your wheels down EVERY WEEK. If you allow brake dust and grime to build up on your wheels, it WILL damage the finish. To remove heavy build-ups of brake dust normally requires very aggressive, acid-based cleaners and these will not only remove the brake dust and grime, but will also remove the finish of your wheels. If there are any small chips in the finish, such as stone chips, using such acid-based cleaners will eat into the alloy under the paint coat, resulting in the paint peeling from the wheel.

We strongly recommend NOT using mechanical car washes as some will use acid based chemicals as part of their cycle and, more importantly, the brushes can be extremely abrasive and can damage the finish of your wheels. Remember, take 5 minutes every week to wash your wheels down and they will give you thousands of miles of driving pleasure, but take heed: they are YOUR wheels and only YOU can give them the attention they need.
Large Diameter Wheels: If you have purchased a set of wheels and tyres that are of larger diameter, i.e. you have purchased a set of 17” wheels on a car that was originally fitted with 14” wheels as standard, please allow yourself time to adjust to the new handling characteristics of your car. When driving on larger diameter wheels, extreme care must be taken with hazards on the road such as potholes, speed humps, kerbs and any other road debris. Modern 35>50 series tyres offer very little ‘cushion’ in the case of collision and with diminished protection of the tyre ‘cushion’, there is an increased chance of damaging the wheel when driving on adverse road surfaces.


In principle, you can use your aftermarket alloy wheels all year round, provided you look after them, but it is always preferable to use the original steel wheels over the worse of the winter if they are available. The salt that is used on the roads in icy or snowy conditions is extremely corrosive so it is strongly advised that you wash your wheels down after every journey when there are high levels of salt on the roads. If your wheels have a ‘polished’ rim section, or are of ‘hi-gloss’ or ‘hyper’ finish, it is always recommended that these are thoroughly cleaned and stored carefully in a dry place over the worse of the winter months while the standard wheels are used.