How To Protect Your Wheels When Getting New Tires Installed August 04 2022

Our E36 M3 had tires that had aged out. Even just moderate acceleration would produce wheel spin. Exiting corners required judicious patience before going full throttle, or the rear would step out. It was time for new tires. There are a few things that I do every time I take my wheels in for new tires that prevent damage and keep the finish looking great.

BBS RK2 wheels in a stack.

I like to do as much as possible myself, because I have the luxury of time to do the extra steps that the installer often does not have time to do. I also want to reduce risk of damage to the wheels as much as reasonable. It is a little more work, and you'll need the right tools, but it's not too much effort in my opinion. You'll need the necessary equipment to get all four corners of your car in the air, transport all your wheels and tires to your installer, and properly torque your wheels to the car. This is stuff you probably already have if you work on your car.

Car wash shampoo, wash sponge and brush.

The first thing I do is take my wheels off and wash them. Most wheels have clear coat on them, so treat them like the paint on the body of your car. I use the same car wash shampoo that I use on the body of my car. Because I have previously treated my wheels with wheel wax, everything comes off easily with just car wash shampoo and a sponge. A nylon brush is nice for getting into tight spaces. For tougher, baked-on brake dust and grime, a specific wheel cleaner like Sonax Wheel Cleaner* may be required. Sonax is awesome for dissolving brake dust. If you don't wash off all the dirt, the dirt becomes like sandpaper on the clear coat when you and the installer handle the wheels. When transporting the wheels, it also won't make a mess and get brake dust everywhere. It's also just nicer for your installer.

BBS center caps

I also remove the center caps and aftermarket valve stem caps. There is always a possibility that the installer can lose, damage or mix-up these items, so it's better to just take them off yourself and eliminate the possibility of that. It also makes the installer's job slightly easier.

Wheel showing residual tire weight glue and gouge from prying off the wheel weight.

I also like to remove the existing wheel weights. Most installers will use some sort of chisel or pry bar to get under the old wheel weight and pry it off. This can invite scratches or gouges. We already have a few of these from previous installers. Tire installers typically don't have the luxury to take their time removing the old wheel weights carefully.

Goo Gone adhesive remover against a white background.

I like to use Goo-Gone* to loosen the adhesive. Let it sit for 30 minutes or more to give it time to dissolve the adhesive. The longer it sits, the less scraping you have to do. However, the solvents can evaporate off if left on too long. Putting plastic wrap over the Goo-Gone can help if you want to leave the Goo-Gone on for more than a few hours. With the adhesive softened, I like to use a credit card to scrape at the adhesive and pry the wheel weight off. Usually there is some adhesive residue left over after the first scraping. Repeat the process with more Goo-Gone and more scraping as required. This is a good example of something that an installer doesn't have the luxury of doing. They can't be waiting around for hours for Goo-Gone to dissolve the adhesive and to meticulously clean off all the old adhesive. 

After I've removed all the adhesive, I wash off the Goo-Gone with car wash shampoo. Residual Goo-Gone will attack the adhesive on the new wheel weights, and we don't want that.

SUV with roof rack carrying brand new tires to Winding Road Racing.

Now with the wheel weights and adhesive removed, the wheel is ready to get tires put on. Find a reputable tire installer in your area. I've had mixed experiences with the typical budget tire shop, and now only use performance shops for any wheels that I care about. Most performance shops will have tire machines that will minimize the risk of damage to your wheels, like the Hunter Engineering Auto34R or TC39 that do not require tire levers to pry the tire off. The shops that regularly change low-profile tires on $2000 performance wheels usually have equipment specifically for low-profile tires and for protecting wheels. Performance shops also have a different clientele that are very likely to complain if their wheels are damaged in the slightest, which establishes a higher level of service. If you're not sure, you can ask the shop what machines and processes they use to protect your wheels during tire installation. Asking about their policy on damage they cause to wheels can also shed light on what kind of a shop they are. Prying the bead off is one of the processes where damage can occur. The other way wheels commonly get damaged is during handling. Dropping tools or lugs nuts on the wheel, bumping wheels against each other or dragging the wheels across the ground are a few ways handling can damage wheels. 

Winding Road Racing is the local performance shop that we use, and we've had great experiences every time they've mounted tires for us. The old wheels are inside the cabin of our SUV, while the new tires are riding on the roof rack. Admittedly, it does take a decent amount of cargo capacity to pull this off. Having the tires shipped to your installer or supplied by your installer can help reduce the amount of cargo volume required, if this is an issue for you.

Another note on bad tire shops: I've seen a tire shop with all kinds of foreign object debris in the parking lot. Valve cores, fasteners and all kinds of junk were in the parking lot ready to puncture your brand new tires. This is a a huge red flag for me and something to look for.

Wheel Wax and nitrile gloves.

Once your new tires are mounted, I like to put a layer of wax on the wheels. This keeps the brake dust from sticking to the wheels and makes future cleaning a breeze. Since the wheels are off and somewhat clean already, it's a convenient time to do so. The wax helps to keep the dirt and the brake dust from sticking to your wheels. It allows much of the grime to simply be rinsed off with a spray of a garden hose. I haven't tried every single product available out there, but after using Wheel Wax the first time, I was happy with the performance and ease of application - enough so that I'm on my second container of this stuff, and haven't bothered to look for any other products.

Before the wax goes on, I clean my wheels again. The installer uses lubricants to aid installation and there is probably some left behind. Their hands may have had some grease or dirt on them. The vehicle that you transported your wheels in might also have any number of contaminants. Basically, there are too many unknowns that you have to assume the wheel is dirty again. Why not just wax the wheels when they were cleaned right before going to the installer? I'm not 100% sure, but I'm concerned that the wax may affect how well the wheel weights can stick to the wheels. The wax is intended to be slippery and prevent things from sticking. This is the opposite of what you want when it comes to sticking on wheel weights, so I don't risk it. One could argue that there is already a layer of wax on the wheel from previous applications, and I don't have a great counterpoint other than I'd rather err on the safe side.

I like to wear a glove when applying Wheel Wax, because this stuff will dry out your hands and make them feel weird. Chemicals can also be absorbed through your skin, so in my opinion, it's best not to risk it. I use a small piece of cloth to rub it all over the wheel. After 15 minutes or so, I go back and buff off the excess. 

Front wheel of E36 M3 showing my preferred orientation of the center cap.

The center cap and the aftermarket valve cap stems are ready to go back on. One nice touch I like to do is to clock the center cap so that the valve stem is in the 6 o'clock position. I also like to place the locking lug bolt opposite the valve stem. This consistency makes it easier to automatically know which bolt is the locking lug bolt by simply looking at the center cap or finding the valve stem. I torque the lug bolts to spec, lower the car back down and then I'm done.

This is how I reduce the chance of damage to my wheels. It is a little extra work compared to just dropping off your car and hoping for the best, but worth it in my opinion. It's like parking in the far end of the parking lot away from all the other cars. It's a little more work, but it's also easier than getting dents pulled and body work done regularly. I think preventing damage in the first place is easier than getting your wheels refinished.

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Wheel with stubborn brake dust inside the barrel being treated with Sonax wheel cleaner.

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