Alloy Wheel corrosion is one of the remnants of winter driving left on vehicles throughout the Madison WI area. Snow drifts have dwindles and road slush drained. What remains is not just unsightly it can lead to serious consequences.
When water and air combine with an aluminum alloy they create aluminum oxide corrosion. Add the extra corrosives used to melt salt on local roads and you have an even more devastating mixture.
Alloy wheels are more popular than ever on cars, SUVs and trucks. Custom designs are great accessories and they come as standard on many even less expensive new vehicles. Friction between tires and wheels at the bead area often causes clear coat to flake and peal.
Vehicles with alloy wheel corrosion often show signs of slow air leaks because of the friction between tire and rim. Leaks range from being annoying to dangerous. Loss of tire air pressure caused by corrosion-induced rim leaks can lead to dangerous under inflation or flat tires. Under inflation seriously impacts your vehicle’s handling.
If your vehicle has one of the new tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) you should get an alert if pressure drops before tires go completely flat.
Signs of Alloy Wheel Corrosion
Early signs of damage to clear coat often appear around lug holes. Discolored coatings and “bubbling” around the openings are tipoffs. The areas are often weakened when a lug wrench scratches the surface during tire changes or rotations. If you’ve made unexpected contact with a curb or road debris from a pothole clear coat damage is possible. Check it. Any water, dirt, salt or chemical that penetrates these areas speeds up the process.
Damage in some areas is hard to spot because it’s hidden by the tire or on the inside of the rim. By the time corrosion shows up on the face of the wheel it likely has a solid hold on an inside surface. The only way to be sure it to have the wheel and tire removed and inspected.
If there was an easy way to guard against alloy wheel corrosion, you’d use it wouldn’t you? There are wheel cleaning products promoted as safe for alloy wheels. But some are not so be careful what you put on those high-ticket rims.
What Corrodes Alloy Wheels
If after winter’s layer of grime washes away corrosion has actually caused pitting cleaning isn’t the answer. Polish only works on smooth surfaces. Your first option is professional reconditioning of the rim. Worst case, you’ll have to replace it.
There are three significant contributors to wheel damage from corrosion:
- Pitting on the surface – when the factory-applied clear coat is penetrated both steel and alloy wheels corrode as the coating peels off. Damage from the weather, road conditions or hitting a broken curb the “skin” and the process begins. Once the clear coat is broken, even the slightest bit, underlying metal is exposed to air, water and contaminants. Left unattended, pitting not only looks bad, it can cause dangerous tire leaks.
- Iron contamination – bits of iron from brake pads can cause corrosion on aluminum alloy and steel wheels. When brake discs and pads come together they generate heat and parts of the pads wear off. These hot deposits stick to the rim. Not only do metal and resin particles stick to the rim and stain it, they penetrate the clear coat. Professional cleaning to remove iron from rims is the best way to avoid severe pitting and lengthen the life of your prized wheels.
- Dangerous cleansers – why emphasize the need for “professional cleaning?” Because using the wrong cleansers can do more harm than good. Acid-based cleansers strip away factory clear coat if left in the wheel too long. Knowing what to use and how to use it takes experience and skill.
Protect The Investment – Understand Alloy Wheel Corrosion
National statistics reveal drivers in the U.S. spend about $3 Billion each year on repairs caused by corrosion. The cost of repairing or replacing more than one corroded wheel adds up in a hurry.
Understanding what your wheels are made from helps understand what you might expect from poor road conditions. Some materials stand up to road salts and corrosives better than others. There are two basic types of wheel on today’s vehicles:
- Steel construction – steel wheels are the basic, no-frills inexpensive option. They’re found on older models and many low-cost new ones. Steel rims are heavier than aluminum alloy or other types. They are prone to oxidation – rust – especially when scratched or otherwise damaged.
- Aluminum alloy – most new vehicles come with aluminum alloy wheels. They are much lighter that steel and resist oxidation.
A third choice is often available as an option or an aftermarket add-on: Magnesium wheels. Made famous in the ‘60s and ‘70s when everybody wanted “mag wheels,” they are lightweight, rugged and resist corrosion. They are also at the high end of the price range.
There are three steps to keep in mind when putting a plan in place to keep high-end wheels and custom rims looking good and performing:
- Regular cleaning – you can do this on your own if you’re careful. Get brake dust of as soon as you can – a hose with good pressure is a start. Use a low-pH or pH-balanced (non-acid) cleanser and always rinse well.
- Polishing – use a polish specifically blended for you kind of wheels and rims.
- Electroplating – a professional plating service can coat your wheels and rims with exotic metals like chrome, zinc and nickel. The new metallic coating adds value and protects against corrosion.
It’s Pothole Season – When Isn’t It
In Wisconsin it’s “pothole” season. Unfortunately it overlaps most other seasons. Dropping a wheel into a crater-sized pothole or bouncing bits of concrete or asphalt off your rims in a good way to invite corrosion.
You can be the most attentive driver on the road and you’ll still hit ‘em. Potholes are everywhere, aren’t they? Potholes are the force behind a lot of that $3 Billion spent each year on road-related repairs.
So, you hit a pothole. Now what? After you’ve said a few words they didn’t teach you in Drivers’ Ed there are four areas to check as soon as possible:
- Your tires – the force of dropping into a pothole at any speed can cause tire sidewalls to bulge and tread to separate. “Bottoming out” in a pothole can cause a flat tire. If you have low-profile tires, they are particularly at risk.
- Wheels – hitting hard angles in potholes applies forces wheels aren’t supposed to deal with. You may have bead breaks (where the tire separates from the rim), bent metal, chips or cracks. A bent wheel is very serious. Chipped and cracked wheels can result in catastrophic failures.
- Lower body panels – vehicles built low to the ground for better handling are the ones most at risk for damage from pothole scrapes. The edges and displaced debris from potholes cause scrapes, dents and scratches on low-hung plastic parts. Bumper covers, side skirts, wheel well liners and rocker panels are prime examples. Damage isn’t likely to impact how the vehicle operates, but it opens up what’s beneath to more serious problems.
The good news is that most potholes aren’t deep enough to do much real damage. They’re just another obstacle threatening your car, truck or SUV.
Cracked Plastic Bumpers – Not Out Of The Question
True, “most potholes aren’t deep enough to cause damage.” However there’s always an exception, isn’t there?
Not every scrape, crack or dent requires major repair. When does a simple repair make sense:
- Repair costs less than insurance deductible– Avoiding an insurance claim, keeps premiums as low as possible.
- New parts are “pricey”– a replacement plastic part, plus installation often costs more than repairs.
- Repair is quicker– repairs often take less time than ordering and replacing parts.
- Avoid hard-to-get parts for older models– plastic part repair may be the only option for older vehicles when parts are hard to find.
When you have a run in with a pothole, curb or roadside debris consider a high-tech paintless dent repair. Paintless dent repair (PDR) reduces the time and cost for minor dents. Under the right conditions it efficiently handles dents from the size of a dime to the size of a football.
Alloy Wheel Corrosion – Find A Trustworthy Body Shop
Restoring cracked, dented or scratched plastic parts is an AutoColor specialty. Applying the latest auto body technology, including paintless dent treatment, provides cost-effective solutions. You always want the most cost-effective fix for your vehicle, right?
Call or stop into one of our local shops: in Middleton on Parmenter Road; on Madison’s East Side on Stoughton Road near Buckeye. Make AutoColor your choice to restore any seasonal vehicle damage including a run in with a monster pothole and alloy wheel corrosion in the Madison WI area.