Chromed Aluminum Wheel Damage

This Advantage Auto Repair tip is for 2012 and earlier GM cars and trucks

Chemical staining of chrome wheels in most cases results from acid-based cleaners. These stains on chrome wheels — frequently milky, black, or greenish in appearance — result from using cleaning solutions that contain acids. Soap and water is usually suffi- cient to clean wheels.

Wheel cleaners that are safe for chromed wheels do NOT contain the following:

  • Ammonium Bifluoride (fluoride source for dissolution of chrome)
  • Hydrofluoric Acid (directly dissolves chrome)
  • Hydrochloric Acid (directly dissolves chrome)
  • Sodium Dodecylbenzenesulfonic Acid
  • Sulfamic Acid – Phosphoric Acid – Hydroxyacetic Acid

Also keep in mind that many wheel cleaner instructions advise to take care to avoid contact with painted surfaces. Many vehicles have painted brake calipers. Acidic wheel cleaners may damage the paint on the brake calipers.

Any wheel cleaner must be thoroughly rinsed off the wheel with clean, clear water. Special care must be taken to rinse under the hub cap, balance weights, wheel nuts, lug nut caps, between the wheel cladding and off the back side of the wheel.

Staining or finish disturbance also may result from road chemicals, such as calcium chloride used for dust con- trol of unpaved roads. The staining will look like small pitting and will usually be on the leading edges of each wheel spoke. If a vehicle must be operated under such conditions, the chrome wheels should be washed with mild soap and water and thoroughly rinsed as soon as conveniently possible.

Contact with applied road chemicals is corrosive to the wheel finish and may cause damage if the wheels are not kept clean.

Another type of finish disturbance results from prolonged exposure to brake dust and the resulting penetration of the dust through the chrome. As brakes are applied, hot particles of brake material are thrown off and tend to be forced through the leading edge of the wheel spoke windows by airflow. These hot particles embed themselves in the chrome layer and create a small pit. If the material is allowed to sit on the wheel while it is exposed to mois- ture or salt, it will corrode the wheel beneath the chrome, leaving a pit or small blister in the chrome.

Pitted wheel damage from road chemicals

Heavy brake dust build-up should be removed from wheels by using a chrome cleaner and polish.

After cleaning, the wheel should be waxed to help protect it from brake dust and reduce adhesion of any brake dust that gets on the wheel surface.

It’s vital to keep the wheels clean and free of prolonged exposure to brake dust build-up in order to maintain a quality wheel appearance.


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