Dressing aggressive off road tires properly is something I’ve always struggled with. I’ve tried lots of products and techniques, but none of them gave me the results I was looking for. I prefer to use thick, water-based tire gels on regular street tires, but treating all terrain and mud tires the same way just doesn’t work.
I don’t want to use solvent based dressings in aerosol cans even though they’re the easiest solution. After a lot of trial and error, I’ve finally figured out how to dress off road tires quickly using the products I like.
If you’ve tried wiping a tire shine product on an off road tire with a foam applicator, you already know exactly why I’ve put so much thought into this. It just doesn’t work. The trick for me is to divide the tire into 2 sections and treat them separately. The side lugs will have a spray-on dressing applied by a brush while a regular foam applicator with a tire gel can be used on the smooth section near the wheel. This approach will result in clean, black tires with just a hint of shine.
Why is dressing off road tires different?
Most all-terrain and mud tires have big beefy lugs on their sidewall. This helps them to chew through deep mud and snow as well as grab onto large rocks and boulders. Unfortunately, they’re equally as effective at ripping apart your favorite foam applicator.
Many people avoid this issue by simply not dressing them at all. If you’re fine with dull looking tires, feel free to go that route. But properly dressing an off road tire after a detail gives it a really clean, dark black looking appearance – and I think it’s worth the extra effort.
I’ve tried lots of different products over the years. I’ve wiped tire gel onto each individual side lug with an applicator, but that doesn’t just chew up the foam – it also takes forever. When you’re putting the finishing touches on a vehicle after a long detail, you just want to get it over with. Crouching down and fighting each tire isn’t my idea of fun.
I’ve also tried spreading tire gel on with a paintbrush like some people recommend. It took even longer than doing it with an applicator and the results weren’t great. The bristles of the brush were too soft, too long and just didn’t do what I needed them to do.
My next idea was to swap the regular paint brush out for a solid foam version. This did a better job of applying the gel, but it required carefully painting over each lug of the tire with a small brush. If you like the idea of spending over an hour dressing your tires, this might be the option for you. I’d rather not.
Why am I stuck on using water-based products?
Other things I’ve tried are products that come in aerosol cans. These spray-on dressings and tire foams make it super easy to dress an off road tire, but it comes at a cost.
Solvent-based products tend to be greasy and attract dirt. They also REALLY stick to the tire, making them hard to clean off. So the next time you use your off road tires as intended, especially in mud, it’s going to be a lot harder to get them clean and remove any staining.
Water-based dressings might not last as long, but I find them much easier to deal with. I know that at any moment I can easily clean them off and reapply a fresh coat. They’re usually dry to the touch after you let them cure for a bit which means they won’t attract dust nearly as much. In my opinion, their satin appearance looks better than other high-gloss products too.
My method for dressing off road tires
The method I’ve come up with might seem a bit complicated, but it allows me to effectively dress aggressive tires in very little time. Here are the products I use:
- Poorboy’s Bold n Bright tire gel
- Poorboy’s Bold n Bright tire dressing (or gel diluted with water)
- A regular foam applicator
- A larger stiff bristled brush
1. Give the tires a good cleaning
I do this step right after cleaning the wheels. A pressure washer is helpful for really muddy tires. Make sure to spray the side lugs thoroughly.
Once the majority of grime has been sprayed off the tire, I’ll use either an all-purpose-cleaner or better yet, Meguiar’s Super Degreaser diluted 4:1 with a tire brush to scrub away any dirt, grime, or leftover tire dressing. After one more quick rinse, the tires should be nice and clean.
2. Make sure the tire is dry
Any leftover water will dilute your dressing down making it weaker. The tire might look fine while it’s still wet but once it dries, you’ll see that your product wasn’t as effective as it should be.
You can work away on other parts of the vehicle while you wait for the rubber to dry on its own, or speed up the process by blowing them dry. My favorite way to do this is with this leaf blower. It’ll also blow any remaining water out of your wheels and lug nuts.
3. Dress the outer section of the tire
I spray the dressing directly onto the tire but you can also spray directly into the brush if you’re concerned with slinging. I try not to use a ton of product here, just enough to be able to scrub it into all the lugs evenly. Using too much only means it’ll take longer for it to dry.
4. Dress the smooth section of the tire
This is where I switch to the thicker tire gel and foam applicator. The rest of the tire is no different than a regular one so I treat it the same. I find the thicker gel lasts a bit longer than the spray and it’s easier to get a nice even layer spread on.
5. Dry off the wheel
I don’t bother drying the wheel to perfection before applying the dressing. The reason for that is because I’m bound to get product overspray on the wheel itself. No point in doing the same job twice. So I come through and wipe the wheels down properly AFTER I have the tires all sorted out.
I like to use a spray wax when drying off wheels (especially matte finished ones) because it makes it a lot easier to avoid water spots and streaking. This doesn’t seem to change the satin look of the wheels much – it just makes them look really clean.
6. Allow the dressing to dry
Give your tire shine a chance to dry before you drive the vehicle. This gives it a chance to really bond to the rubber and helps to avoid tire sling. You can even use your blower again if you’ve gone a bit heavy on the product and want to speed things up. If you really want to prevent excessively shiny tires, give them a quick wipe with a towel to knock the shine down a bit.
You don’t have to do it exactly the same way I do. If you have other products or tools that you like to use, there’s no need to throw them away. This method will work fine with any water-based dressing.
Using a separate product for a spray and a gel is just my personal preference, it’s not necessary. You can always dilute your favorite tire gel down a bit with water and put it in a spray bottle if you want to, or you can stick with using a spray-on dressing and brush for the entire tire. Popular products like Meguiar’s Hyper Dressing and CarPro Perl should work perfectly fine for this method.
Tips to keep your tire shine from slinging:
If you’re having trouble with slinging, quite frankly, you’re doing something wrong. Most people blame the product itself but I find it’s usually due to improper application.
The most common mistake is using too much product. Doing this will make it pool up in the tread blocks or lettering, then send it flying down the side of your car as soon as the wheel spins. You also need to give the product of your choice time to dry completely.
The way you prepare the rubber before applying a tire shine makes a big difference too. If you don’t clean them first, the product will stick to the dirt and grime rather than the tire itself. If it isn’t bonded to the tire, it’s more likely to sling off.
Why bother dressing off road tires?
It might seem like a “Mall Crawler” thing to do and honestly, that’s the main reason for dressing off road tires. But there’s a more functional advantage behind it – adding a layer of protection to the rubber makes it easier to clean dirt and mud off in the future. I don’t know about you, but my off road tires do get used as intended from time to time.
One more bonus: dressing your tires can also help to protect them against dry rot when they’re sitting outside for a long period of time. Dry rot doesn’t seem like a big deal until you’ve had to throw out an otherwise good set of tires because of it. And let me tell you, that one stings.
If you’ve been having a hard time dressing your off road tires properly, give this method a try. I’ve been using it for a while now with great results. The extra step of spraying and scrubbing the dressing on only adds another 5 minutes or so on top of the time it would take you to dress a regular tire. That sure beats painting each individual lug.
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: