Whether you bought a completely new car or just a set of new wheels for your current one, you might be looking into the best way to protect them. Using a wax or sealant will give temporary results but ceramic coating them will keep them shiny and easy to maintain for years.
Ceramic coating your wheels is a great way to protect them. It doesn’t mean you can avoid washing your wheels though – it just makes them easier to clean. Brake dust, tar, and road grime come off much easier. The only real downside to coating your wheels is the price.
Is it worth it to ceramic coat wheels?
By now, you’ve likely heard everyone and mother talking about having their cars ceramic coated. That’s great, and if you’d like to learn more about whether coating your paint is right for you or not, make sure to check out this article:
There are wheel-specific ceramic coatings available that will keep contaminants from bonding too strongly to the surface. That means your wheels will stay cleaner for longer. A wheel coating will make life easier, especially if the design of your wheels is more intricate and time consuming to scrub. Let’s break down the Pros and Cons of ceramic coating your wheels.
Expectations when ceramic coating your wheels:
Before we weigh the benefits and drawbacks, we need to manage our expectations here. To be clear – your wheels will still get dirty. Probably just as dirty as if they weren’t coated. This is an unrealistic myth that people have spread for no reason.
Ceramic coating your wheels will not keep them clean all the time – it’ll help YOU to keep them clean all the time by, you guessed it, making it quicker to wash them! Rinsing them off might get rid of most of the dirt but there will still be times where you’ll need to scrub them.
I coated the Method wheels on my 4runner for the first time 5 years ago and haven’t used a chemical wheel cleaner since. Just soapy water and some brushes. That is a great example of what life is like with coated wheels. I have to clean them every time I wash the 4runner, but it takes very little work/chemicals to do so.
Pros to ceramic coating your wheels
This is the biggest benefit of a wheel coating. Contaminants that would normally embed themselves (or really stick on the surface) can no longer make as strong of a bond. Because of that, there are times when they can simply be rinsed with a pressure washer and wiped down with an Si-02 spray to clean them.
If they need to be washed properly, they’ll still require much less scrubbing and agitation to get the grime off.
Ceramic coatings can provide a long lasting shine on the painted surface. Part of this is because they stay cleaner and part of this is from the extra gloss they can add. In some cases (like with matte finished wheels) this is actually a bit of a downside.
A coating will add a bit of extra sheen to the satin finish and some people don’t like this appearance. In my opinion, it was well worth it due to how easy they are to take care of now.
Avoid water spots on matte finish
Speaking of satin wheels, they can be tough to dry off with no watermarks or stains. Before I coated my Methods, I had to scrub and scrub to remove leftover watermarks after washing. I ended up starting to use a spray wax as an aid when drying them off and it helped.
Switching to the Gtechniq C5 coating amplified this effect in a big way and made it no longer necessary to use a drying aid (although I still use a topper to prolong the life of the coating).
Cons to ceramic coating your wheels
The biggest downside to ceramic coating your wheels is the cost. Compared to a few drops out of a bottle of wax you likely already own, it’s very expensive. You can expect to pay at least $35 for a small bottle of a wheel-specific coating.
In the grand scheme of things, $35 to protect a $2,000 set of wheels seems pretty reasonable. But it still might not be worth it for some. The other thing to consider is whether or not you’ll be paying a professional to coat them or doing it yourself. That will add a lot to the cost. In most cases, a pro will charge at least $200 to do the job.
As with most things in detailing, that high price mostly comes from labor. They have to jack your car up, remove the wheels, thoroughly clean and prep, them, and apply the coating. It’s not exactly a 5 minute job.
As mentioned above, whether you do it yourself or hire a detailer, the performance of your wheel coating all comes down to the prep work done beforehand. If the wheels or the car are brand new, there won’t be much more required than a good cleaning and a wipe down with alcohol (or a product like Panel Wipe or Eraser).
For wheels that have been driven on, it’s going to take a lot more work to get them ready. Stubborn brake dust, tar, adhesive from old wheel weights, etc. all have to be removed.
It might require things like wheel cleaners, iron/fallout removers, tar removers, clay bars, and even machine polishing (just like your paint). It depends on the starting condition of your wheels and the longevity you’re looking for out of your coating.
So is a wheel coating really worth the price?
It really depends on how important keeping your wheels clean and shiny is. If you don’t care about them looking dirty, your money might be better spent elsewhere. But if you’re going to be scrubbing them clean all the time anyway and want to make your life a lot easier, coating your wheels is totally worth the price.
How long a ceramic coating will last on your wheels
One of the biggest considerations when trying to decide if a ceramic wheel coating is worth it is its longevity. How long will it actually last in the real world? Paying this kind of money for a product that burns off a month later wouldn’t seem worth it at all.
In my experience with my 4runner, a good quality wheel coating will last at least 2 years in real world situations. This vehicle is driven year-round in all 4 seasons – so the wheels see extreme heat in the summer and road salt in the winter. It also gets dirty and is parked outside all year.
I reapplied the Gtechniq C5 coating after a couple of years. Not because it wore out, but because I was recoating the rest of the 4runner and wanted the whole thing to be freshened up.
Here are a few tips to extend the life of the ceramic coating on your wheels:
- Don’t use harsh wheel cleaners unless required – in most cases, ph neutral soap works fine
- Try not to let brake dust bake on the surface too long – if they’re dirty, clean them
- Use an Si-02 detail spray at least every other wash to give the coating a boost
Cost to ceramic coat wheels: Expensive, reasonable, cheap, or …free?
The price of ceramic coating your wheels varies greatly from expensive to free. Yes, you might not need to pay for it at all! Allow me to explain:
Hiring a professional (Expensive)
Don’t have the time or confidence to remove your wheels? Taking your car to a professional is a hands-off approach. It will cost you though. Ceramic coating your wheels properly requires lots of prep work. It’s not difficult at all, but it is time consuming.
Most detailers will charge you at least $200 to coat your wheels. Everyone has their own pricing though so this can climb quite a bit depending on who you hire. In contrast, some detailers will work this into the price of other services such as paint correction and coating your vehicle’s paint.
DIY wheel coatings (Reasonable)
Products like Gyeon Rim and Gtechinq C5 can be purchased by anyone. These are straightforward to apply and you can absolutely do it yourself if you’re handy. With these coatings starting at around $35, you can save a ton of money and get similar results to a professional job. The trade-off is the amount of time required to do it right.
Spray coatings (Cheap)
You can use a ceramic spray coating like Lithium Ceramic Slam on your wheels too. The price is similar to a wheel coating but the difference is the wheel coating comes in a tiny bottle (enough to do 1 set of wheels) and the spray coating can do an entire car multiple times.
This won’t perform as well as a traditional ceramic coating but it will still outperform a wax or sealant. It’ll be even easier to apply as well.
Using leftover ceramic coating for your paint (Free)
A lot of people believe that you have to use a dedicated ceramic coating for your wheels. This isn’t true. Any of the coatings you would use on your paint can also be used on your painted or powder coated wheels safely (it’s the same surface – the coating doesn’t know if it’s on a fender or wheel!)
There is some disagreement as to whether or not a regular ceramic coating will perform as well and last as long as a dedicated wheel coating. Matt from Obsessed Garage has adopted the use of Crystal Serum Light on wheels rather than purchasing a separate coating like C5.
It’s believed that the wheel coatings can withstand higher temperatures than regular paint coatings. I haven’t experimented with it to be able to say whether this is true or not. The official word from Gtechniq is that Crystal Serum Ultra, their flagship paint coating, can withstand temperatures up to 250 degrees celsius. In comparison, C5 – their wheel coating, is rated for 600 degrees celsius.
So whether or not a paint coating will last as long is definitely in question. But if you’ve already paid for the bottle to coat your paint and have some left over (and you likely will), you have nothing to lose by applying it to your wheels. It costs nothing in addition!
Should you ceramic coat wheels before or after tires are mounted?
This is a dilemma some people have trouble with. Of course, it would be nice to ceramic coat your brand new wheels straight out of the box. Once the tires are mounted, you’ll have to clean all of the soap and lube they use to stretch them onto the rim. Makes sense to do it before they get greasy, right?
Well, you should actually ceramic coat your wheels once the tires are on. Yes, you’ll have to clean up the mess left behind by the tire shop. But here’s the bigger problem with doing it out of order – the wheel weights won’t stick to the inner barrel of the rim if it’s ceramic coated.
Remember, the coating’s job is to make the surface slick and harder for things to adhere to. That same protection will keep the weights from sticking properly which will, in turn, cause trouble for the tire shop when balancing your wheels.
Can you ceramic coat your wheels if they aren’t brand new?
Ceramic coating isn’t only for brand new wheels. As long as you clean, decontaminate, and prep them thoroughly, there’s no reason why you can’t coat wheels that are 10 years old if you want to. It all comes down to the prep work.
Used wheels will require a lot more of it, that’s for sure. But it can be done. You just have to be patient and detail-oriented. It might require becoming the crazy guy that the neighbors see polishing the inside of his wheels but if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes!
Brand new wheels are quicker and easier to coat, but the process can certainly be done to any wheel.
Ceramic coating your wheels is totally worth the price for many people. If the cost of it is your biggest concern, there are other options available to you like a DIY wheel coating, spray coating, or using a leftover paint coating.
No matter what choice you go with, it will surely outperform a wax or sealant. Those will melt off due to the temperature of the brakes very quickly. Ceramic coating your wheels will make them much quicker and easier to maintain which in turn, will keep them looking fresh for much longer.
This post is part of our series on the truth behind ceramic coatings.
Tim is the creator of Canadian Gearhead. His experience with auto detailing and working for Toyota shows through all of the articles posted here. He runs the Canadian Gearhead site and YouTube channel full-time now and currently owns a 2007 4runner, 2006 Tacoma, and 1991 MR2. Read more about Tim: