When it comes to detailing cars there are areas that people are guilty of overlooking.
The wheel wells are one of the most neglected areas on a car, It could be because they’re somewhat hidden and out of the way.
I’m guilty of this myself. When I first began washing my car I gave them a quick rinse with a pressure washer and that was it. You could tell they weren’t cleaned properly.
Cleaning and Protecting the wheel wells of a car can be the difference between a car looking clean and a car looking detailed. It’s one of those services people don’t know they need until it’s done for them.
In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about cleaning & detailing your wheel wells.
Table of Contents
What is the wheel well of a car?
The wheel well is the space in the body of the vehicle where the wheel sits.
This means you have 4 wheel wells on a car. The wheel wells are located at the front and back, usually under the front fender and rear quarter panel.
Types Of Wheel Well Lining
Once you’ve located the wheel well, you’ll then be able to tell whether your car has any wheel well lining or protection.
Some vehicles have no wheel lining, others have a plastic lining and if you’re really unlucky, yours will have a felt lining.
What is the purpose of wheel well liners?
Wheel lining was designed to do two jobs.
1. Protect the engine bay from any dirt, water or debris that engages with the wheel.
2. Act as sound deadening material that reduces road noise from wheel/road interaction
It’s clear that as we move forward manufacturers are prioritizing sound deadening qualities, that’s how we’ve ended up with horrible felt wheel lining!
My car doesn’t have Wheel Well Liners?
Surprisingly, wheel well liners aren’t actually a vehicle standard. A lot of car manufacturers will choose to paint the rear wheel wells rather than put a liner on them.
What’s even more surprising is that manufacturers rarely put them on Trucks & SUVs. These are vehicles which are known to go off-road and tackle dirty landscapes!
If like me, you hate looking at rock chips and would appreciate less road-noise, you can buy wheel well liners and fit them yourself. Sourcing a wheel liner may be a hassle though. There are 3 places where you can go to get them.
1.) A Scrapyard/Junkyard
2.) Manufacturer Dealership
3.) Online (Amazon, Ebay, Certified Parts Dealer).
You should always try to go OEM when possible though sometimes it may be unrealistic. Buying OEM parts straight from the dealership can often seem way overpriced.
How To Detail wheel wells
Cleaning the wheel wells is a straightforward task but there are some potential complications. Speficicly cars with larger wheels and felt lining.
On some cars, accessing the wheel lining may be impossible due to narrower gaps between the wheel and the wheel arches. This is when having too many inches backfires and creates more work for you.
If the gap is too narrow to access and clean the lining properly, the only thing you can do is remove the wheels or forget about completing the job.
Taking the wheels off will also allow you to clean the wheels more thoroughly, but admittedly, it may be a little too extra for the average car owner.
What you’ll need to clean and protect wheel wells
- Garden Hose
- Pressure Washer (Optional)
- All-Purpose Cleaner / Degreaser / Bug & Tar Remover
- Detailing brushes (For Wheel Use Only)
If you plan on removing the wheels you will need a trolley jack, axle stands, breaker bar, and a torque wrench as well.
Anyway, here’s how to clean and protect your wheel wells:
Depending on the last time you washed your wheel wells they could be caked in mud or road salt.
I like to make sure that they’re thoroughly washed after harsh winters to prevent any potential corrosion thanks to the road salt.
Similar to washing your paintwork, you should always pre-rinse your wheel wells. Doing this will remove any loose dirt and contaminants.
A garden hose will do the trick here, but if you have a pressure washer you should use it.
If you don’t already own a pressure washer, you’re detailing wrong! Check out our list of recommended pressure washers here.
You can use snow foam when rinsing, it works just as you’d expect on the plastic lining.
Unfortunately, when using snow foam on fabric/felt based lining it doesn’t work as good.
Whatever you do, don’t agitate it. Agitation will create a matted foamy mess that nobody wants to experience.
If you do decide to use snow foam, make sure it’s all washed off before moving onto the next step.
Use All-Purpose Cleaner / Bug & Tar Remover / Degreaser
Cleaning your wheel wells requires a slightly different strategy than cleaning your paintwork. NOTE:If your car doesn’t have wheel well lining, treat your wheel wells like paintwork.
Instead of using traditional car wash shampoo it’s best to use APC, Bug & Tar Remover or Degreaser. This is because of the amount of road tar, bugs and stubborn contaminants that are likely to be stuck to the lining.
You can use any product that you want. I recommend Meguiars Super Degreaser or Meguiars All-Purpose Cleaner.
If you don’t have a spray bottle, pump sprayer or foam cannon to dilute and apply the products mentioned above, you should buy a can or bottled degreasing solution.
When you’re ready, saturate the wheel well lining with the chosen product. Using too little product will make the next step harder though you can continue to apply it as you work.
Use a brush to agitate the product
Grab a brush and start to agitate the solution while it’s still wet. If the product has dried, you can reapply it or keep topping it up as you work.
There aren’t any special requirements for choosing a brush besides handle length and bristle softness.
If you’re taking the wheel off you will need a brush with a long and flexible handle.
You should use a softer brush on a plastic lining to avoid creating harsh scratches.
When cleaning fabric lining you should use harder brushes to agitate and remove the dirt properly.
Just like a wheel cleaning brush, you should keep any brush you use on the wheel wells for rough work. Use the cheapest brush you can find that will get the job done.
A Final Rinse and Dry
Once you’ve agitated the product and feel as if the wheel wells are clean, it’s time to rinse the product away.
If you don’t rinse properly there is a risk that the APC and Degreaser will leave visible stains in the fabric lining. It’s not a problem on plastic lining though, you can correct it easily enough.
After rinsing thoroughly, I’ll normally dry off the lining using an old cloth or microfibre towel.
When drying the plastic lining, I’ll make sure it’s completely dry, but you can’t really do that with the fabric lining unless you use a blow dryer.
The final step in any detailing process is to add a dressing or protection. It’s no different for the wheel wells.
Admittedly if you’re working on fabric lining, there’s not much that you can do. You could use Repel Fabric Protectant It’ll certainly provide a fresh finish but it’s not going to withstand the abuse of the roads day in day out.
There are a lot more options when it comes to dressing and protecting plastic wheel linings. You can use vinyl cleaner, detailing sprays and Plastic friendly trim sealants.
Whatever product you choose, it’s mostly about making the wheel wells pop, sparkle, and shine. It shows that you take car care that extra step further (even if it is just once or twice a year).
Alternative Wheel Well Protection
Understandably, not everyone can afford to go out and buy brand new OEM wheel well liners. As a result, there are products that will do a similar job for a fraction of the price.
Rubberized Undercoating is a canned formula that you are able to spray onto your vehicle to get added protective qualities.
Products like “Rust-Oleom Automotive Rubberized Undercoating” claim to protect your car from salt, water, and other corrosive properties. They also help to deaden sound, just like a wheel well liner.
These sprays can be applied onto the bare metal of a vehicle, or any primed surface. They’re incredibly easy to apply, however, they’re not the most reliable and have to be reapplied often.
Spray-on Bedliners are said to provide more protection than rubber undercoating but they may not be the best option for wheel wells.
Originally they were produced to protect the bed of a truck from any equipment or tools that you’d have sliding around. Now they’re designed to protect every inch of your vehicle (other than the windows).
Spray-On Bedliners offer Anti-corrosive and UV Resistant properties. They also offer great impact protection and sound deadening, but they do have their downsides.
Applying one of these sprays could cause you nightmares. Even when applied correctly, the Bedliner can have a very inconsistent and uneven finish.
If you do apply them to the wrong panel or have slight overspray, they’re very stubborn and hard to remove.
It’s up to you whether you want potential protective qualities at the cost of aesthetics. Personally I’d buy OEM Liners or nothing at all.