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. Consumer Reports just tested special cleaners that claim to make the job easier.

At the storage facility, the upscale cars gets top-notch service. Owner James Machinist makes sure his team pays special attention to the wheels.

Machinist says, "Every time you hit the brakes, brake dust gets on the wheels. Every time you hit a rock, it chips the wheel. Every time it rains, the road gunk comes up and gets on the wheel."

While few people have extra cars in storage, keeping your wheels clean can prevent them from dulling or getting damaged.

Consumer Reports tested five cleaners designed for cleaning wheels, from names like ArmorAll and Black Magic. All promise to get rid of "brake dust and grime."

The spray-on, hose-off cleaners cost anywhere from five to seven dollars.

To test, Bernie Deitrick took "before" pictures and then went to work. He wiped off some dirt "for the record"-applied each cleaner as directed-and waited.

He rinsed...and wiped the tire with a second cloth so he could compare "before" and "after" dirt.

Deitrick says, "During the test, I didn't use a brush with these products because I wanted to see how well the product itself worked."

Turns out none of the products delivered dazzling results without brushing. To get that required some scrubbing.

Deitrick says, "There are better options than these wheel cleaners. If you're going to have to brush to get good results, you might as well start with a less expensive product that gives good results with brushing."

The ZEP degreaser Bernie used costs a lot less-about 10 dollars 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.

That cuts down on visibility!

Consumer Reports' tests of headlight cleaners found Sylvania's Headlight Restoration Kit performed the best. A plus-and it works on different types of headlights.

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