WHEEL WELLS | A GUIDE TO WHAT LIES BENEATH
Treating any form of wheel well carries the same level of importance as your wheel system (i.e., tires, calipers, rotors, lug nuts, barrels, etc.). As I alluded to in a previous article, wheel wells receive a great deal of continued abuse as you drive throughout the year and the degradation process accelerates at a faster rate if left untreated for longer periods of time. While there are a multitude of raw materials used in fabrication, a vast percentage of liners that are used in today's mass-produced market include either polyethylene (PET) or polypropylene (PP).
In case you ever wanted to know, polyethylene was first discovered in 1898 by Hans von Pechmann purely by accident, but his original intention was to break ground on developing diazomethane. Of course, things didn't exactly go according to plan. To transition, polypropylene was discovered much later, and in 1954, a gentleman by the name of Giulio Natta made way for a new variety. While there may be an endless sea of plastics in the marketplace, not just accounting for automotive plastics, roughly 34-35% of the world's plastics are made with polyethylene (PET). Rather than overwhelm you with an engineering nomenclature covering these two categories, there are two distinct differences between polyethylene and polypropylene.
Although these two forms of plastics are equally omnipresent in many industries worldwide, polypropylene is more pliable and can withstand higher temperatures versus polyethylene which has a higher rigidity rate but is typically used in common, everyday items such as milk jugs, toys, plastic packaging, and other areas of the like.
Unlike that of polyethylene, polypropylene has the ability to reject any level of mildew or mold while also having the advantages of greatly reducing stress fractures. However, when it comes to production, polyethylene is more costly to manufacture versus its counterpart. It stands to reason why polypropylene is generally the preeminent choice in wheel well production. One recurring theme that I often revert back to is how automobile manufacturers are offsetting the quality of fabrication by giving you the adrenaline rush of luring you into intuitive features within the cabin versus what's under the hood. At the end of the day, it's about shaving cost wherever and whenever it's convenient for the assembly line.
The third variety which has yet to make an introduction is that of poly-felt lining. In my industry, I refer to these as the wheel wells of death. Below you'll find an illustration. From an owner's perspective, they serve many advantages with the largest being that due to its material of interwoven poly-fiber matrixing, they offer a dramatic reduction in vibration and noise-related interference when driving. Of course, I could list the disadvantages but that's another conversation and another cup of coffee. Okay, let me list at least one. While this variety improves your driving experience, they easily trap any form of contamination like a Venus fly trap and requires great effort to thoroughly clean.
Now let me take you through a comprehensive guide to restoring both varieties, including any poly-felt liner. As a prerequisite, it would behoove you to own some form of a pressure washer. Without sounding condescending, the mixture of water and pressure will actually release a great deal of contamination prior to using any wheel cleaner. This is particularly prevalent with any poly-felt material.
Once the area is purged of any surface level contamination, it's time to use your diluted cleaner of choice. It's important to note that while wheel cleaners are effective at restoring wheel well liners, some are highly acidic or simply too strong for the task at hand, which in turn can cause a residual haze to appear once applied. A trusted all-purpose cleaner with a higher dilution ratio is strong enough to emulsify and break apart any remaining debris, yet is fragile enough to preserve the pigment that's left on the liner.
With a stiff-bristled brush, and I would suggest something that's small and compact, agitate the area in two directions because an overwhelming majority of liners have recessed moldings that require something small to ensure complete coverage. Once the area has been thoroughly agitated, rinse and repeat if necessary. Without any further undue work, have two all-purpose microfiber towels on hand to wipe dry so as not to introduce any hazing left from the cleaning and agitating process.
As an addendum, poly-felt liners will most likely require twice the amount of labor due to the sheer density of material, and in most cases a pressure washer with a higher PSI will become your inseparable friend. A clear indicator that a poly-felt liner has been thoroughly cleaned is to continue spraying the area with a pressure washer and watch the color of water that drops out of either end. If the water turns crystal clear, then it's time to move on but if it should turn any other shade, then it's recommended to repeat the agitation process with another wave of your trusted cleaner.
Cleaning wheel wells is one thing, but it's another to protect them. Below are a list of options for protecting your wheel wells with a brief guide on instructions and application. Mind you, there's a glut of options out in the marketplace, so trust me when I tell you that these options are just a small percentage of what's available and will most likely change as I seek out viable replacements.
Meguiar's All-Season Dressing
2-2 1/2 weeks of minor weather resistant protection
Application Method | Spray bottle w/microfiber applicator pad
Stoner Trim Shine
2-4 weeks of minor weather resistant protection
Application Method | Spray at least a few inches away from the surface to avoid any excess dripping from the surface and simply walk away
Mid & Long-Term Solutions
CarPro CQuartz Dlux Plastic & Wheel Coating
1 year of protection
Application Method | Akin to any application of a ceramic coating, apply a thin film onto a micro-suede applicator cloth and apply in straight lines
Dura-Coatx Wheel and Trim Restoration Kit
1 year of protection
Application Method | With a garden-variety microfiber applicator pad, simply apply a small film of product into the pad and apply until all surfaces are thoroughly coated
Note: Can be used on both trucks and vehicles of any description
Pinnacle Black Label Ceramic Trim Restorer
2 years of protection
Application Method | With a microfiber applicator pad, apply a moderate amount and coat surface in a cross-hatch pattern to ensure an even application | Follow-up with a seasoned microfiber towel to wipe-off any spots that look uneven