Wheel corrosion isn’t just unpleasant to look at, it also compromises the integrity and mobility of your vehicle. And taking good care of your vehicle can be greatly aided by understanding the causes of corrosion, ways to prevent it, and how to eliminate it. But It can be a nuanced topic, so it is important to go through it fully.
Put simply, corrosion on alloy wheels occurs when the protective factory clear coat begins to peel off. This initiates the pitting process, which itself is caused by weather conditions, brake pad dust, road salts, or simply air and water.
Corrosion Isn’t permanent, and can be removed to avoid further damage to the rims, which we’ll go over as well.
Related: How To Remove a Stuck Wheel On Your Car
What Causes Wheel Corrosion
The most common cause of wheel corrosion is pitting, which happens after the protective factory clear coat starts pealing off. Which is then accelerated by weather conditions, brake pad dust, etc.
Steel and alloy wheels can start to corrode if the factory clear coat peels off. The clear coat can be damaged by weather conditions (i.e water and snow) and curb damage, exposing the underlying metal to air and water. This causes pitting, which can detract from the appearance of the wheels and lead to tire leaks.
Iron contamination from the braking pad can frequently be the cause of corrosion in steel and aluminium alloy wheels. As when you brake, the friction and heat produced by the brake pad contacting the brake disc results in hot deposits that stick to the rim of your wheel.
The appearance and lifespan of your alloy rims can be significantly impacted by these metal and resin particles. As brake dusts can amplify pinning leaving your wheel compromised.
Corrosion is quite common in snowy areas, due to the heavy use of de-icing materials like salts on roads, which combined with water and air, can create the optimal condition for corrosion and rust to appear, even on alloy wheels.
Although acidic cleaners are excellent at removing icky substances, they can strip away the wheels’ clear coat, making them susceptible to rapid corrosion and should never be used.
When dealing with corrosion and rust, it is important to know the difference in how different wheel types behave, and how to spot what is and isn’t corrosion
Alloy rims are the most popular on the market. They are more expensive than steel wheels, but they save money in the long run. This is because they are lighter and will consequently increase the fuel economy. They are more prone to cracking and bending, but this is a seen as a good trade-off for the enhanced fuel mileage. They are available in a far wider range of designs and provide both style and utility.
While alloy wheels don’t technically rust, they certainly corrode, which may sound like the exact same thing, but they are not. Both are slightly separate chemical processes, but both can become a serious problem if left unchecked.
- Corrosion: Corrosion is the process of deterioration of materials as a result of chemical, electrochemical or other reactions.
- Rust: Rusting is a part of corrosion and is a chemical process which results in the formation of red/orange/brown coating on the surface of metals
On rims, rust appears as brownish spots, while corrosion appears as white marks.
Steel rims are less expensive than alloy rims, but they often lack the style. They can withstand the worst weather and driving styles. Since steel is dense and heavy, they can withstand a lot of abuse, but because they are heavy, they will strain the axle and the vehicle fuels economy. Steel wheels are actually used on police cars because they can slammed against curbs repeatedly without breaking.
Since steel wheels are made of, well, steel. They are prone to oxidation, and consequently, rusting. As said earlier, rust appears in the form of brownish spots.
So if you notice brown spots on your wheels, you are probably dealing with rust and steel wheels, not corrosion.
Know The Brake Pad Dust!
When you see a spot of brown on the wheels, you may assume it is made of steel, but it is often just brake dust on your alloy wheels! But brake pad dust still causes corrosion and should be removed.
Why Wheel Corrosion Is Bad
Corroded wheels will often start out as a cosmetic issue, but if left untreated, it can get to a point where it is no longer safe to drive on. These are the areas where wheel corrosion can cause problems:
Just Plain Ugly
First and foremost, corroded alloy wheels are unappealing. While it may not bother some people, it can cause problems for you, especially if you plan to sell your vehicle. Potential buyers are likely to bargain and ask you to lower your price due to the condition of your alloy wheels. It will not make a favourable impression on anyone looking to purchase your vehicle.
The second issue with alloy wheel corrosion is that it can weaken the seal between your tire and your rim. Even a small amount of bubbling corrosion on your alloy wheel can separate the rubber from the wheel and allow air to escape. If not addressed immediately, this could become a very dangerous situation.
Tire Pressure Loss
As previously stated, wheel corrosion can compromise wheel integrity. Slow tire leaks are frequently caused by corrosion. It’s particularly common on alloy wheels, which may seem surprising given that they don’t rust like steel, but the aluminium corrosion forms a porous “crust” through which air can leak.
It occurs because the tire mounting equipment can sometimes scratch the wheel around where the tire bead sits, and then road salt gets into the scratch. It is completely repairable without replacing the wheel. You only need to remove the tire, clean the surface with an abrasive wheel, apply a sealant, and then remount the tire.
At the end, we’ll go over the cleaning process.
How To Prevent Wheel Corrosion
While you cant fully prevent your rim from corroding, there are several things you can do to slow it down significantly.
Wipe down your wheels getting the dirt off. Then use rubbing alcohol or lacquer thinner and rub the inner and outer wheel. Make sure to use non-acidic cleanser’s that will not strip away the wheels clear coating.
Once your wheels have been thoroughly cleaned, choose a polish that is suitable for your particular wheels. Scratches will appear less obvious and the shine will be improved with a good polish.
This process requires some equipment, so it may be best to leave this to a mechanic. Although If you consider yourself proficient, you can certainly try on your own, there are many tutorials online.
Chrome plating is not just about appearances, although your wheels will undoubtably look cooler. One of the biggest advantages of chrome plating is that it offers protection against corrosion by placing a protective layer over wheels and rims. Plating works by using an electrical current to catalyze a reaction that leaves a thin, protective metal coating on the surface of your vehicle.
How To Clean Wheel Corrosion
Always make sure your vehicle is parked on level ground and all brakes are engaged while you clean the wheels.
- Remove any dirt and debris that is loose enough to be brushed off the wheels with a steel brush.
- Clean one wheel at a time.
- Turn on the water and wet down the wheel and the tire.
- Spray them both with a good amount of the all-purpose cleaner(non-acidic.)
- Use a small brush to get into areas that might have accumulated dirt.
- Remove as much of the dirt as you can get off at this point.
- Using the smallest brush, clean the areas within the nut casings. If the brush is too large, use an old toothbrush with some of the cleaner sprayed on it instead.
- As you finish, rinse each area with the hose to see if it needs more scrubbing. If so, continue until the area is clean. It is critical to clean both the tire and the wheel to avoid splattering dirt from the tire onto the wheel.
- Spray the all-purpose cleaner off as you work and be careful not to leave residue on the wheel or tire.
- The residue can damage the surface of the wheel.
- Examine the wheels carefully for any corroded areas that did not come off during the regular cleaning procedure. Spray those areas with penetrating oil and let it sit for about five minutes.
- Rub the fine-grit steel wool over the areas where the penetrating oil was sprayed until the corrosion is gone. Make a gentle back-and-forth movement.
- Rinse the oil away and thoroughly dry the wheels with microfiber cloths.