Clean Your Car: Wheels Edition

How to clean your car and its wheels to win more car shows. 

Tony Fiorello Car Show Winner and Detailing ExpertHi there, I'm Tony Fiorello and I've been showing cars for 29 years. I have won awards in over 200 shows. In the past 5 years I have placed in every show I've entered but 1.  

It's always important to keep the car or truck you are showing clean, but depending on which parts are the cleanest can often determine whether you win or lose when judged next to a similar make/model. I'd like to show all of you some of the strategies I've picked up over the years to win more consistently than many of my competitors. 

Why the wheels?

Your wheels are easily the one part of the car you are consistently overlooking. Maybe it's because you don't want to get down on the ground. Maybe it's because you prefer spending your time detailing the engine, but mark my words, the wheels will be your undoing if you don't spend some serious time on them. 

Tire application.

I think tires should be spotless, sand and pebble free. I prefer a dull shine versus a wet look. To me, it makes the car stand out without looking fake. When applying a product, I like to use a damp sponge to apply all tire coatings. Sprays are messy and make more work for you in the long run. You should absolutely shine the tire treads for the best presentation.

Don't be afraid, just don't drive too aggressively when you leave the show.

When the dressing is applied in this fashion you won't get wheel splatter, or the unintentional spraying of the tire shine all over your fenders, at all.  Don't forget to check your tire pressure, it should always be checked. If you have a low tire, it will show the judges and spectators you really aren't taking proper care of your vehicle. 

A Note on Tread: I'm an aggressive driver. I have never had a deduction for worn tires. That being said, my tires are always street worthy so you may want to consider the health of your tires if you're looking to win. 

The most important thing...

Of course, it's cleanliness. It sounds redundant but your brake dust is the number one culprit that is making it difficult to "Drive and Shine." 

I wax my wheels when I detail my cars - you should do this whenever you wax your paint. When I arrive at a show, I sit and detail each rim and tire for at least 15-20 minutes or more. I first use a brush to remove any sand or dirt from the tire tread. Next, I use a damp rag to wipe away the brake dust off each rim. Then, I use a spray "detailer" on a microfiber cloth to shine the wheels. I have purchased (2) Daytona Speed brushes to get far into the wheel and place a large gym sock over the brush to find any remaining dust. Finally, I apply my "Tire Shine" to the sidewall of the tire and move to the tire tread. When I am finished, I take a clean paper towel and run it around the outside lip of each rim to gather any tire shine that may have collected there. 

When to clean.

I clean my wheels before, during and after each show. It makes it much easier if they are cleaned a lot, so there won't be any build up. 


Many of the wheel cleaners contain acid that will harm painted, powder coated or aluminum wheels. This is a very expensive mistake to make which is why I use P21S wash. This stuff is also great for cleaning the brakes themselves out. You can use regular car soap and water, but I recommend P21S. 

The best tools.

Master Speed brushes are my number one favorite. After that, wheel wax and P21S are my go-to's for wheels. Some of the tools I like to use that you may not expect to find in a detail kit are a soft bristled toothbrush, Q-tips, and soft paint brushes. I also use regular household damp sponges for applying the tire coating. 

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