Alloy wheels are made from aluminium and steel: two of the toughest metals. From navigating bumpy roads to absorbing shock, alloy wheels contend with rough conditions more often than you’d think. They’re constantly revolving, tackling water, debris and freezing temperatures as they take you from A to B.
But with intense friction comes consequences: alloy wheels are corrosion-prone and often require a professional to get them back in shape. So, what causes alloy wheel corrosion, and how can you prevent it?
What is alloy wheel corrosion?
Alloy wheel corrosion is a chemical process that occurs when moisture, iron and oxygen interact. It causes the protective coating and the underlying metal to deteriorate in quality.
When the factory clear coat on your wheels peels off, the underlying metal is exposed to water, debris, curb damage, and other chemicals on the road.
Aluminium (one of the main components of alloy) does not rust or produce the unsightly brown/orange colour typical with rusting. Once it makes contact with the elements, aluminium produces a layer of oxide to prevent further damage.
However, alloy wheels aren’t exempt from corrosion: this is a process similar to oxidation, where white patches appear due to the presence of iron.
If not promptly dealt with, corrosion can lift the rubber away from your wheels, corrode the rim and even clog valves in the transmission system. So, why do alloy wheels corrode?
Why do alloy wheels corrode?
Any conditions that remove the wheel’s clear coating can lead to corrosion, whether the general wear and tear of driving, light exposure or moisture.
Interaction between the brake disc and the brake pad causes the car to slow down. When these two components push against each other, they quickly generate heat, and over time, the more malleable of the two components (the brake pad) wears down. A worn-down brake pad will release heat deposits of iron, resin and metal particles that attach to your wheels. If the pad is not replaced, the look and quality of your alloy wheels will quickly deteriorate.
Pitting appears as small, localised spots on the wheel’s surface and is often caused by exposure to aggressive chemicals, road salts, and moisture. Pitting not only mars the appearance of the wheels but also weakens their structural integrity. If a professional does not deal quickly with pitting, it can cause tire leaks and unattractive dimpling.
While keeping your alloy wheels clean is essential, using the wrong cleaning products can inadvertently contribute to corrosion. Using harsh or abrasive cleaning products on your alloy wheels can damage the protective coating and make the wheels more susceptible to damage.
Recent studies have shown that prolonged exposure to UV light can promote the corrosion of alloy. The sun’s radiation can break down the protective coatings and finishes on the wheels, making corrosion more likely.
Moisture and salt exposure
Alloy wheels often come into contact with moisture, especially if you drive in rainy or humid conditions. Similarly, road salt, or ‘grit’ commonly used in colder climates, can accelerate corrosion. This combination of moisture and salt creates an electrolytic environment that encourages the process and deteriorates the quality of your tires quicker.
Tips to prevent alloy wheel corrosion
Purchase iron-free brake pads
One way to counteract corrosion is to purchase iron-free brake pads. While they may not prevent resin from burning through, iron or copper-free brake pads will minimise the amount of iron and metal particulates thrown onto your wheels.
Regularly inspect your wheels
Make it a habit to visually inspect your alloy wheels every few weeks. Look for any signs of discolouration, bubbling paint, or small spots that could indicate the onset of corrosion. Catching these issues early allows you to take preventative measures before things worsen.
Avoid harsh weather conditions
While driving more in the colder months may be convenient, it can also accelerate corrosion. Road salt, in particular, can be highly corrosive to alloy wheels. Whenever possible, avoid driving on roads covered with grit or wash your wheels thoroughly after driving through salted areas.
Keep a safe following distance
Maintaining a safe following distance when driving behind other vehicles can help prevent debris from hitting your alloy wheels. Rocks, gravel, and other debris kicked up by the vehicle in front of you can cause scratches and chips on the wheel surface, potentially leading to corrosion.
Go to a professional
If you notice that corrosion has already begun, it’s time to call Customise Your Wheels. Our professionals will stop corrosion in its tracks, delivering first-class refurbishment using state-of-the-art equipment. Customise Your Wheels will bring your alloy wheels up to scratch, removing unsightly blemishes as we make your car look as good as new.
Can alloy wheel corrosion be repaired?
Professionals can often repair minor corrosion, but prevention is key to avoiding initial damage.
Can I repair pitted alloy wheels?
Pitted alloy wheels can be challenging to repair. We recommend taking your vehicle to a professional workshop like Customise Your Wheels.
Is alloy wheel corrosion purely cosmetic?
No, corrosion can also weaken the structural integrity of your wheels, affecting their performance and safety.
Are alloy wheels more susceptible to corrosion than steel wheels?
Alloy wheels are generally more corrosion-resistant than steel wheels. However, they still require regular maintenance to prevent corrosion.
Can I use household cleaners to clean my alloy wheels?
We recommend avoiding household cleaners: they may contain abrasive chemicals damaging your wheel’s protective coating.