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Tire & Wheel Care Whether you have hubcaps, clearcoated factory alloy, or custom wheels worth thousands, you'll want them to look their best. Metal polishing is also discussed here.

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Old 04-04-2008
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Default How to Choose the Proper Wheel Polish

How to Choose the Proper Wheel Polish

One of the most common problems consumers face is selecting the appropriate automotive polish for the finish on their wheels. Polishing wheels is easy, and can be done with an applicator or with the use of a PowerBall or PowerBall Mini. Use these simple tips to help choose the correct polish based on the specific type of wheel finish.

Clearcoated or Painted – The most common wheel finish on modern factory wheels is a clear or colored plasticized urethane that, while thick, is relatively soft and it can mar or become dull from abuse, improper washing or neglect. Even when the factory window sticker indicates polished alloy, polished aluminum, cast aluminum, forged alloy – or some combination of those terms – they are always coated for easy maintenance. Many aftermarket alloy wheels are also clearcoated or painted with the same grade of coating. When seen in bright sunlight, a rainbow hue or light scratches may be visible, indicating they should be polished.

The proper product to polish and protect clearcoated or painted finishes is 06208 Plastic Polish or 08808 PowerPlastic. For added protection, follow with a detailer or spray wax such as 08216 or 08224 Showtime, 20224 FX Spray Wax, 05724 California Gold Spray Wax; or use periodically, especially after a wash.

Chrome Clad – A relatively new type of factory wheel technology which offers the bling of chrome but without the toxic waste, chrome clad is a plastic cover with a chrome-look finish that is bonded to an aluminum or steel wheel. Generally a light tap with your finger will indicate a plastic-like dull sound, or you might see a telltale gap between where the cladding meets the edge of the rim. A popular option on many late-model Chrysler, Dodge, Ford and General Motors vehicles, chrome clad should be protected with a very mild wax product and polished only when necessary (refer to “Clearcoated or Painted” for polishing procedures).

The proper product to protect chrome clad is 05701 or 05500 California Gold Pure Carnauba Wax. For added protection, follow with a detailer or spray wax such as our 08216 or 08224 Showtime, 20224 FX Spray Wax, 05724 California Gold Spray Wax; or use periodically, especially after a wash.

Chrome PlatedChrome are easily identifiable by their mirror-like finish and are often a factory or dealer option on aluminum or steel wheels, and they are also popular in the aftermarket. Chrome is easy to care for with the routine application of a quality chrome polish. Today’s platings aren’t quite as durable as those years ago, so use a quality modern formulation to prevent possible damage to the surface.

The proper polish to shine and protect chrome plate is a mild non-abrasive formula, such as 05208 Chrome Polish.

Bare (polished) Aluminum and Billet -- Requiring the most maintenance of any rim finish, the payoff is an unmatched, brilliant shine. Aluminum is a relatively soft alloy that oxidizes from exposure to the environment, dulling the finish over time. Bare polished aluminum wheels are common in the aftermarket, and a proper aluminum polish applied on a regular basis can restore a brilliant shine to un-coated alloys. To insure the finish isn’t coated, simply rub a small amount of an aluminum or billet polish on the surface – it should immediately turn black (if it doesn’t, chances are the wheel is coated, so stop and use appropriate polish for clearcoated or painted wheels). Billet is a dense form of aluminum that is often machined instead of cast, and it generally has a much finer finish to it than a cast aluminum rim so it can be polished to a higher level. When polishing aluminum, work in small sections to maintain a black buttery residue. It is important to keep the polish from drying, but if it does, simply add a little more polish and remove while wet to reveal a brilliant shine.

For polished aluminum rims, the proper product is 05100 (5 oz) or 05101 (10 oz) Mag & Aluminum Polish; or 05148 Power Metal. For billet rims, the proper product is 05106 (4 oz.) Billet Polish. Extended protection of polished aluminum can be achieved with the products recommended for “Chrome Clad” described above.

  • For a more uniform finish and to save time when polishing, use a mechanical device like a PowerBall or PowerBall Mini.
  • Remember to use the polish appropriate to the finish or unsatisfactory results or damage may occur.
  • When doing a final wipe after polishing, apply some FX Spray Wax with a soft towel and wipe it on the surface; it's an easy way to add gloss and protection to any polished finish.

Related Items:
  • Wheel Cleaners (appropriate to the rim finish)
  • Brake Dust Brushes
  • Microfiber Applicators
  • Microfiber cloth (for product removal)
  • Tire Dressing
  • Spray Wax

Any questions?
Not sure of the finish? Many aftermarket wheels can be difficult to identify, and often have two or more types of finishes. Check out the on-line resources at and for answers on these and other subjects.

Any tips to add? Please post them below.


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