Decontaminatin’ cleanin’ enhancin’ and protectin’ my wheels and arches with some Autobrite Direct products in time for winter.
Prior to scrutinising the presumably cruddy components though, the wheels obviously had to come off. So once the nuts were cracked, the car was jacked up and secured with axel stands at appropriate points on the subframe to make sticking my head in the arches a relatively safe affair.
I was only going to be attending to the one wheel and arch here, cleaning the rest off camera another day, but any other time you’ll likely be doing all four, so depending on the hardware you have you need to decide wether you’re going to tackle the font end first, one side or all four consecutively, then raise and secure the car in a way that best suits your intended cleaning strategy.
I’d be attacking this one with a bunch of products from Autobrite Direct, a brand I’ve used on and off myself for years now but never actually directly featured, and having originally purchased my K7 pressure washer & FLEX XC polisher from their HQ years ago, I thought it was probably about time!
I had pretty much everything you’d need to properly clean, decontaminate, enhance and protect the various components found within a wheel arch, including a concentrated all purpose cleaner, a snow foam, tar remover and even an all in one polish which I planned to use on the painted calipers.
Once the wheel was out of the way then I stuck the camera in so you could see what everything looked like to begin with, and while admittedly I’ve seen allot worse, it was still definitely dirty enough to warrant a good going over.
The poor old Bilstein’s had seen better days with probably a good years’ worth of caked on crud encrusting them, as well as a healthy sprinkling of small stones trapped behind the springs which was a first for me!
The big Rebel Blue brake calipers which I’ve been tending to from the outside of the wheel as best as I can, still needed a detailed clean, and the dried-out, stone chip-peppered plastic arch liners were also in desperate need of some tender loving decontamination.
While slammed cars look cool and handle well, access to areas like the wheel arch is greatly reduced and so the components hidden behind tend to suffer. That’s why it was important to play catch-up here and give the entire arch a really thorough going over while the wheel was out of the way.
First things first then was an initial pre-rinse to remove any loose dirt and saturate the entire area to allow the cleaning products that were to be subsequently applied to disperse evenly and penetrate more effectively.
Once sufficiently sodden, a citrus all purpose cleaner from Autobrite diluted roughly 1:8 with water, was liberally applied to everything apart from the painted calipers with a small pressurised pump spray, to save my trigger fingers which would no doubt be called upon later.
I then got straight to it, working the APC into all areas of the arch with a selection of different detailing brushes I had soaking in a wheel cleaning bucket of suds nearby to pull the bulk of the ingrained dirt out and prepare the various surfaces for a more in depth chemical decontamination.
With unfamiliar parts of a car that aren’t regularly cleaned you just can’t be too thorough in my opinion, the chances are you’re probably going to miss a couple of spots, so the longer you spend cleaning and switching up your angle of dangle, the better!
Once I was happy all parts had been sufficiently covered with the brushes, I gave the arch a thorough rinse out to release the freshly freed filth, before moving onto a dedicated caliper clean.
Autobrite’s non-acidic BriteGel wheel & tyre cleaner was used to tend to the brakes and after being liberally applied and left to cling to the dirty surface for a few moments, it was thoroughly worked in to the caliper with a corresponding soft bristled wheel brush. While the APC could have also been used here, a stronger wheel cleaner is always going to do a better job at removing stubborn brake dust from intricate areas that in this case may not have seen any proper cleaning action since the brakes were installed.
The steering was carefully placed on full lock to provide better access to the rear of the caliper as obviously you aren’t usually able to get to it via routine cleaning, so while the wheel was out of the way it made sense to go the extra mile to help keep it in good shape.
Once cleaned, it was given a thorough rinse off at reduced pressure and while this isn’t essential, if you have a washer with adjustability built in then you might as well make use of it.
The floating aluminium disc bell was also then given a once over with the wheel cleaner and brush to remove any stains as well as unseen brake dust build up, which could easily be transferred onto the freshly cleaned caliper if it wasn’t properly attended to.
With the first two stages of cleaning complete it was onto the next two which would comprise of heavy chemical decontamination. Autobrite’s ‘Purple Rain’ fallout remover was first liberally sprayed into the arch with a veiled face to prevent my fillings from falling out, before being left to sit and do its thing for a few minutes.
Surprisingly, despite the big brake setup there was very little iron contamination present but if you’ve gone to the trouble of removing your rims then it’s still worth doing prior to a through rinse just to be sure.
While there may not have been much metal-based contamination, one thing there was allot of was tar and as you can probably see, it peppered absolutely every surface. Luckily, I had ‘Just the Tonic’ to sort it out.
This was going to represent the bulk of the cleaning and after being doused with the solvent the inflicted arches were left to soak to allow the tar spots to begin dissolving.
I personally blame the perpetual motorway works taking place here in the UK for this mess, what with the temporary soft road surfaces which have to be endured for miles on end while they switch to a so a called “smart” network covered in cameras and silly illuminated signs. Funnily enough, in my experience it always seems to be the original stretches on non-smart motorway that flow the most efficiently, but hey, that’s none of my business!
Rant aside, while on paintwork you would generally use a microfibre towel to remove tar spots, I went with a more heavy-handed brush approach to break them down here simply due to the level of contamination and the materials it inflicted. As you can probably imagine, it was the least pleasant part of the process but at the same time probably also made the biggest difference in terms of overall turnaround.
After what seemed like an eternity of spraying, dissolving and brushing tar spots into oblivion then, the arch was given a penultimate blast to remove most of the freshly dissolved brown residue.
Following the final decontamination, I then took the opportunity to try out my new Autobrite Heavy Duty foam lance (which was of course topped up with a strong mix of good old Magifoam), to pull out any remaining loose dirt I may have missed, but more importantly to help neutralise any lingering chemical residue that could potentially interfere with the dressing and protection products that were to soon be applied.
The all-encompassing clean a thick, long-dwelling foam gives is absolutely perfect for this kind of application as it gets into all the nooks and crannies you’d struggle to fully access yourself. You could also foam the arch as a first port of call to help soften up any initial loose dirt like when washing the exterior of a car, but I thought I’d do things in reverse here and save the suds for a neutralising final soak.
When spraying the arch out for the last time I was extra thorough and also made sure to remove any cleaning product residue that had settled on the surrounding paintwork, as I wouldn’t be wetting things down again so needed to make certain everywhere was as clean and contaminant free as possible.
Once fully cleaned and decontaminated the next logical step for me is to dress the arch wet and to do this I used Autobrite’s ‘Super Sheen’. Now I’m not absolutely certain this was the right product for the job as it didn’t really look, feel or smell water based which is what you want when dressing things wet, however I wanted to stick with the brand so spritzed everywhere apart from the caliper, before leaving it all to dry out naturally.
It’s at this stage you’d ideally then move onto tackling the next arch. It makes sense to clean and decontaminate them all first as that way, by the time the last one is complete, the first will be dry and ready for finishing, but as I was only tending to the one here, I moved onto the stray BBS wheel in the back garden instead.
Although this wasn’t really about the wheels, I did go to the trouble of capturing some footage of me decontaminating, cleaning, enhancing and protecting the one I’d removed, using the same collection of products used on the grubby arch. The face was pretty straight to begin with as I’d obviously been cleaning it while it was on the car, but the backside definitely needed a bit of attention to help bring it back up to standard.
Ideally I’d love to throw some satin black BBS C-IR’s on the car instead as these SR’s weigh a tonne and I’m not a huge fan of diamond cut wheels, but for the sake of some snazzy after shots, I ensured this one was was given a certain level of clean so it wouldn’t let the arch down once refitted.
Following the wheel clean it was back to the arch to finish off the few remaining components. I added a bit of dressing by hand to the floating disc bell as it was looking a little washed out, and while dressing your brake components isn’t advisable for obvious reasons, it definitely looked allot better for a quick rejuvenation.
Next was to show the big blue brake caliper some love with the Cherry Glaze all in one polish which simultaneously cleans, enhances and protects. It was dabbed over the surface, then worked in by hand with a microfibre applicator pad to help restore some shimmer to what I now believed to be a powder coated finish, before being buffed off with a clean microfibre towel. I wasn’t looking to try and polish them up to perfection here and so a quick once-over was more than enough to help make them pop.
And although I could have just left it at that as there is some protection provided by the all in one, because they’re such a big visual feature on the car and one that’s exposed to allot of contamination, I wanted to add a dedicated layer of protection and so followed up with some ‘Hell Shine’ wheel Wax, which smells allot more like heaven if I’m honest!
This was applied with a foam applicator pad instead of a microfibre one as the product doesn’t have any abrasive or deep cleaning capabilities, and after leaving it to haze over for a few minutes, it was then thoroughly buffed off to reveal a nice slick-feeling finish.
The basic enhancement and protection process was then repeated by hand on the freshly cleaned (and now relatively dry) wheel so it could be washed using nothing more a wax-friendly bodywork shampoo in the future, which would hopefully help make maintaining it slightly more satisfying.
Everywhere was then treated to a final once over to remove any remaining residue, drips and smears, before downing tools to capture the results.
A few days after filming this first arch clean, I gave the other three the same treatment including dusting over the rusty rear brake disc hubs with some satin black spray paint, and touching up a few chips on the standard calipers so they at least looked clean and tidy when compared with their bigger brothers up front.
After all my hard work then, I’d like to think it was somewhat of a different wheel arch now. There was almost no unsightly tar spotting present following an exhaustive decontamination. The calipers (although not too bad to begin with) were looking squeaky clean front and back and you could now actually make out the braided brake lines reflecting the light. The inside of the strut towers along with the Bilstien springs and dust boots all looked like they’d just left the factory which was really satisfying to see, and although the body of the front shocks had unfortunately become too tarnished for simple cleaning to rectify, the rear yellow dampers came up a treat following their off camera clean.
It’s a pity Volvo didn’t program their factory robots to properly paint the unseen metal parts as a bit of Rebel Blue to match the calipers and springs here would have brightened up the arches nicely, but at least the panels and their visible seams were now pristine.
I did contemplate eating my dinner out of the arch just to show how clean it really was but thought I’d probably induced more than enough chemicals for one day, so decided to replace the wheel before retiring for some chemical decontamination of my own.
Just before that though, while the car was still raised off the ground I took the opportunity to dress the tyre properly to achieve full coverage, using the same Super Sheen product I’d coated everything else to see how it faired on the rubber, before bringing it back down to Earth with a bump.
The Autobrite Direct products used for the clean generally cut the mustard as far as I was concerned. I probably would have chosen another water based dressing for this particular wet application as I’m not too familiar with the Super Sheen product, however it still left the arches in pretty good shape and seemed to do a nice enough job when used on the dry tyres too.
If you’re tending to all four arches I’d advise setting aside an entire day for the job as you’re ideally going to want to wash the car at some point too, to remove the inevitable chemical overspray from the paintwork, again, this is something I did myself a few days later off camera. Lastly, be sure to take it easy when using the car for the first time following an arch clean, as the discs will need properly scrubbing off, that is, unless of course you’re rocking rusty drum brakes!
The day after completing the clean some fresh new aluminium open-ended racing nuts arrived in the post, so obviously I was straight out there with the camera to get these new bad boys fitted so I could include some additional stylish after shots.
Being so lightweight and soft they were an absolute nightmare to fit without chewing up, so I settled on a piece of relatively thick plastic bag held over the nuts to take the brunt of the torque, but I’ve since had the bright idea of coating the inside of the socket with some rubberised Plasti Dip, so I’ll give that a go next time.
Regardless, I think the faffing was definitely worth it as they look ace, and finish off each corner perfectly.