Ceramic Coating Wheels - The Complete & Free Handbook

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Finding the right wheels for your car can be surprisingly difficult. The aftermarket has infinite combinations of materials, designs, finishes, and colors. Simply making the choice can be a challenge, and you never really know if you got it right until putting them on the car.

A new set of wheels will transform your car, but this also comes with the burden of keeping them clean and presentable. Your fresh aesthetic won’t last very long in daily traffic before it loses its luster to brake dust, dirt, road tar, and dozens of other contaminants.

If you like to spend a couple of hours every other Saturday cleaning your wheels, by all means, go wild. Here at Torque Detail, we like our wheels to look brand spanking new at all times, but wheel cleaning is not on our fun jobs list.

This is where ceramic coatings come into play.

Ceramic coatings have been around for a while now, and many of you are probably aware of how well they protect automotive paint from UV rays, dirt, chemical attacks, oxidation, water, and other contaminants.

However, what many people don’t realize is that ceramic coatings aren’t designed exclusively for painted body panels. You can apply them on your windshield or other glass, plastic trim pieces, chrome bumpers, AND your wheels.

In this article, we’ll talk about ceramic coatings on wheels - why you should do it and how to get started.

DIY CERAMIC COATING - 1yr of Protection
The Best Spray-On Ceramic Coating. Period.

★★★★★ "My car is slick as glass!! I put the Ceramic Shine on my Corvette Stingray and it is very slick and shiny. I should have purchased it sooner. It is a great product. It made my wheels look new. Keeps off dirt and dust." - Charlie F.

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Table of Contents

Why Ceramic Coat Your Wheels?

Your wheels take the biggest brunt of driving. They’re right next to the ground, practically inches from the surface, spinning at hurricane speeds as you casually cruise down the highway.

All the dust, road tar, debris, and other junk gets kicked up by the tires and absolutely hammered into the wheel well liner and the wheels themselves.

However, by far the biggest danger to your wheels comes from your brakes.

Why Is Brake Dust Such A Pain To Remove?

If you’ve never taken your wheels off and have only ever cleaned the outer face and spokes, we have a challenge for you.

Take a flashlight and have a peek inside your front wheels. See that thick, dark brown or nearly black layer on the inner barrel of your wheel?

Depending on how well and how often you clean your wheels, the inside barrel, the back of the spokes, and maybe even the outside face will be absolutely caked.

That’s brake dust, and it’s produced by… well, your brakes.

The friction in your brakes converts the kinetic energy of the vehicle into heat to slow you down. By doing so, it also shaves a fine layer of material from the brake pads and rotors - mostly iron particles, but also various amounts of carbon, ceramics, adhesives, plastics, polymers, and even aluminum.

Every time you step on the brakes, your rotors send hot iron particles at 400F, flying at a good 50 mph toward the surface of the wheels.

And while we’re talking about surfaces, you should realize that paints and clear coats are porous at the microscopic level. Even polished bare aluminum, which is rarely found on wheels these days, isn’t completely flat.

Brake dust particles are smaller than 10 nanometers in diameter, so they can easily wedge themselves into the cavities. Over time, the dust builds up into a thick layer that’s almost welded to the wheel itself.

Brake dust is usually corrosive to the surface finish of the wheels. It won’t melt your wheels down, but if left untreated for many months, it will etch the clear coat of the wheel and embed itself permanently. Eventually, no amount of cleaning will be able to remove the pitting, and you’ll then have to have your wheels refinished.

That’s the last thing you want to be doing, so you’d better put some protection on! Ceramic coatings are the only products durable enough to provide long-lasting protection to wheels.

How To Prepare Wheels Before Ceramic Coating

Applying ceramic coatings on wheels isn’t much different from applying it on body panels, but the prep work certainly is.

If you haven’t bothered to deep clean your wheels in the last 6-12 months, you can bet there’s a thick layer of brake dust on all the interior surfaces and even the exterior surfaces as well.

You can’t proceed with a ceramic coating before cleaning and decontaminating your wheels to an almost surgical level.

Get your mechanic’s clothes on. It’s about to get dirty.

Remove The Wheels

First things first. You need to take the wheels off. You can neither clean nor coat them effectively while they’re on the car. Do one wheel at a time so you can keep better track of your work.

Keep the tires on, as they help lay the wheel flat (depending on the model) without having to line the floor with cardboard or rags. A rolling wheel stand makes the job a lot easier, but if you’re just doing your personal car in your driveway or garage, it’s an unnecessary expense.

Heavy-Duty Cleaning And Decontamination

Okay, here’s the conundrum. What wheel cleaner to use?

Acid-based wheel cleaners contain various acids like phosphoric, hydrofluoric, sulfuric, and other acids. They have a low pH of varying degrees and are most effective for cleaning brake dust, as they react viciously with the iron oxide, releasing it from the surface.

However, acids will corrode other components like brake and suspension parts, fasteners, plastic and chrome-plated trim, and even some wheels.

Acids also react with bare aluminum or magnesium wheels, producing a horrible stain that can only come out through polishing. Anodized, chrome-plated, and diamond-cut finishes will be damaged and possibly ruined beyond repair.

Alkali wheel cleaners have a high pH level, similar to degreasers and bleaches. While some of these can be corrosive to sensitive finishes, alkali wheel cleaners are usually less harmful but also less potent.

There are also pH-neutral wheel cleaners that are balanced and safe for all types of materials and finishes. These are great for maintenance, but are usually more expensive or less effective at cleaning caked-on brake dust.

Iron removers are likewise pH-neutral. They use sodium or ammonium thioglycolate to react with the iron oxide, making it soluble to water. They are very effective at removing iron, hence the name, but not much else, so you’ll need to combine this type of product with a car shampoo and/or degreaser. What’s more, iron removers are fairly expensive.

So, How Do You Choose?

If you have bare metal wheels or special finishes, consult the manufacturer and your favorite car detailing brand. They should be able to point you to a safe product to clean your specific wheels.

Typically, modern clear coats can withstand most acid and alkali wheel cleaners available on the market. You don’t want to use them very often, but if you ceramic coat your wheels, you won’t have to.

Every wheel cleaner manufacturer should offer a detailed MSDS - Material Safety Data Sheet - informing you of all the potential hazards when using their product.

Speaking of which, don’t forget that acids and alkali products are incredibly hazardous to your skin, eyes, and lungs. Read this page to learn more and always wear gloves, mask, and eye protection or a face shield when working with them.

Get To The Cleaning Part

As for the cleaning itself, first, make sure the wheel is cool. Spray the product and let it sit for a minute or two. Thoroughly agitate it with a soft bristle wheel brush and then rinse it off thoroughly. Don’t let the product dry on the surface.

After you’re done, your wheel should look pretty clean and bright. However, running your fingers across the surface, especially on the inside, you’ll probably find it rough and scratchy. That’s embedded dirt, which will require more work to remove.

Grab a piece of detailing clay and lube and perform a decontamination pass. You want to be thorough, as any leftover brake dust or dirt will impede the ceramic coating process.

You’ll know you’re done when you no longer feel anything. The surface will be slippery and the wheel will appear brighter and shinier.

However, you’re not done just yet.

Paint Correction And Polishing

Brake dust can and will eat into your clear coat if left unattended. Even after meticulously cleaning and claying your wheels, you may still see pitting and etching on the surface, as well as embedded dirt.

You may also have general wear and tear on the outside of the wheel such as scratches and curb rash. These defects can only be removed through polishing.

If you have clear-coated wheels, polishing is pretty much the same as with body panels. Wheel surfaces are narrow and complex, so you need to pick up either a micro-polishing machine or polishing attachment for your cordless drill. You’ll have to do tight crevices by hand using a microfiber towel.

You can use more aggressive polishing compounds and pads on bare aluminum and magnesium wheels, as well as chrome plating.

Polishing will ruin anodized, matte, or satin finishes, so don’t go anywhere near these with a compound.

How To Apply A Ceramic Coating To Your Wheels

Alright, after all this hard work, it’s finally time to do what you came here for.

Like polishing, applying a ceramic coating on wheels is very similar to applying it on body panels. The difference is in the geometry. Spokes and hubs have complicated shapes, which can make it difficult to use a box-shaped applicator.

What Ceramic Coating To Choose

Some wheel finishes require specific ceramic coatings, so you need to check if the product you intend to install is suitable.

For the majority of painted and clear-coated aluminum wheels, you can use the same ceramic coating you put on your body panels. If you have enough leftovers to cover your wheels, by all means, use them.

There are specific ceramic coatings designed to match the harsh conditions wheels work in, repelling brake dust more effectively and remaining stable at 400+ degrees Fahrenheit. However, these are usually the most expensive - biggest bang, biggest buck.

If you’re buying a liquid ceramic coating, try to pick a product that’s thinner and more slippery as opposed to thick or sticky. It will be easier to apply around sharp corners, giving you a consistent and smooth finish.

Liquid ceramic coatings will give you better, longer-lasting results. However, they are trickier to apply. Make sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions, especially information regarding the flashing times and recommended ambient temperatures, whether you should layer the product, and when you need to buff it off.

We offer two ceramic coating products. Ceramic Shine is very easy to apply, but we also have a more heavy-duty solution that’s better suited for wheels: Torque Detail 7H Ceramic Coating Kit. This is a three-step kit that offers incredible results and durability.

Split The Wheel Into Sections

This one is important. It might be tempting to coat the entire wheel in one go, but unlike a flat panel, spokes are difficult to get around and coat well.

You might not finish the entire wheel before the product starts flashing off, which can lead to high spots, inconsistent thickness, and bad finishes.

Do the barrel first as a test - it’s the easiest section that nobody will ever see. After you dial in the technique, coat the back side of the hub and spokes. Finally, do the outer face.

Make sure to follow the flashing times and properly wipe each section to level the coating and remove any excess.

Don’t forget to properly cure the ceramic coating according to the manufacturer’s description. Usually, liquid ceramic coatings need 4-5 days to completely outgas the solvents and harden to full strength, whereas spray coatings usually take 24 hours.

Don’t Forget The Brake Calipers

If you have painted brake calipers, coat them with ceramic too. They experience just as much brake dust and corrosion.

If your brake calipers were never painted and already have a thick layer of corrosion on the outside, it’s best to just leave them be. The alternative would be to take them off, grind back the rust, prime, paint, and finally coat them in ceramic. It’s a lot of work, so best to leave that for when you need to change the rotors.

Torque Your Wheels Back To Spec

Make sure you don’t lose your freshly detailed and ceramic coated wheels when you get back on the road. Check the torque spec for your wheels and use a torque wrench to tighten them properly.

How To Maintain Your Ceramic-Coated Wheels

Ceramic coating maintenance is key. Removing all that caked-on brake dust and polishing the wheels certainly was a chore, but now that they’re ceramic coated, it gets much easier.

If you wash your car weekly, all you need to do is wash your wheels with the same car shampoo and a soft brush. This will remove the thin traffic film accumulated over the week and keep the surfaces fresh and shiny.

Every few months, you may want to clean them with a mild wheel cleaner to remove whatever brake dust has accumulated.

Either way, while the ceramic coating lasts, you’ll find it an absolute breeze to clean and maintain your wheels in top form.

How Long Does A Ceramic Coating Last On Wheels?

Okay, here’s the deal.

The same ceramic coating will last a much shorter time on your wheels compared to your body panels. This is because wheels work in much harsher conditions - they’re closer to the ground, experience elevated temperatures, and are the primary target for brake dust.

The best wheel-specific ceramic coatings will get you two years of life at best. Regular coatings will last around a year and spray maybe half. All of this depends heavily on the product, wheels, and how much and how hard they have to work.

If you’re coating performance wheels that are going to see off-road use, track time, or drifting, understand that these activities will significantly shorten the lifespan of the coating unless you spend a healthy amount on the highest grade products.

DIY CERAMIC COATING - 1yr of Protection
The Best Spray-On Ceramic Coating. Period.

★★★★★ "My car is slick as glass!! I put the Ceramic Shine on my Corvette Stingray and it is very slick and shiny. I should have purchased it sooner. It is a great product. It made my wheels look new. Keeps off dirt and dust." - Charlie F.

SHOP NOW

The Verdict On Ceramic-Coated Wheels

Alright, this has certainly been a ride. Here’s what we’ve learned about ceramic coating wheels.

Ceramic coatings are the best way to protect your wheels regardless of their material and finish. Ceramic coatings offer the best protection against UV rays, brake dust and contaminants, corrosion, chemical attacks, and water. They also add some hydrophobic properties so water will easily bead off.

Brake dust is our mortal enemy. Depending on the condition of your wheels, the biggest job will be brake dust removal and decontamination while avoiding the harshest chemicals that can potentially damage the finish.

Clear-coated aluminum wheels are the easiest to work with. They have the biggest resistance to acid and alkali wheel cleaners, and they’re easier to polish and coat with ceramic.

Ceramic coating sprays are the cheapest and easiest to work with, while liquid coatings generally offer more protection and longevity.

Special finishes may require specific techniques and products. Make sure to research the exact steps for your type of wheels.

And that’s it for this article on ceramic coating wheels. Now grab your products and get to work!

Published on Feb 24, 2021