Consumer Report: Disappointing Wheel Cleaners

Keeping a car clean isn’t only about good looks. It’s about maintaining your car’s value, too. One of the toughest jobs is cleaning the wheels. Every time you hit the brakes, brake dust gets on the wheels. Every time you hit a rock, it chips the wheel. Keeping
wheels clean can prevent them from dulling or getting damaged.

Consumer Reports tested five cleaners designed for cleaning wheels, from names such as Armor All and Black Magic. All promise to get rid of “brake dust and grime.”

The spray-on, hose-off cleaners cost from $5 to $7. First, testers had to scout out cars with dirty wheels. Then they took “before” pictures and went to work. They wiped off the worst of the dirt, applied each cleaner as directed, and waited. Then they rinsed and wiped the tire with a second cloth to compare “before” and “after” dirt. None of the
products delivered dazzling results without brushing.

If you’re going to have to brush to get good results, Consumer Reports advises using a less-expensive product. The ZEP degreaser does call for brushing, but it costs a lot less, about $10 for a gallon. That’s just pennies per wheel.

Headlights are another car part that often needs special attention. Many of today’s plastic covers cloud up and discolor over time, which cuts down on visibility. Consumer Reports’ tests of headlight cleaners found Sylvania’s Headlight Restoration Kit performed the best, and it works on different types of headlights.


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