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Chrome Wheel Caps vs. Stock Plastic Replacements/Wheel Cleaning

C3Vette Lady

Active member
Jan 23, 2001
San Jose, California
1981 Red Coupe, 1973 Big BlockStingray
My aluminum wheels are missing the wheel caps. In the catalogue, I found die cast metal chrome ones that claim to be better than factory, but isn't chrome going to look bold with my aluminum? Also, curious if they are that much more durable than the stock plastic.

The plastic ones also advertise "chrome" appearance. Any suggestions as to how they look and hold up?

Also, while on the topic of wheels, what cleans the aluminum the best and what can I use to scrub the grime spots off without damaging the wheels? There is 8 year old grime stuck on my wheels....

Thanks again for any help!
Lanelle, The plastic chrome is better then the metal, I think. My pickup "had" chrome center caps, they are rusty now. The plastic is also more easy to clean, no scrubbing, just wipe off with a damp cloth and buff 'em to a shine with a dry one. As far as cleaning your wheels. I will let someone else post about that. I know that there are some chemicals out there that will make the job a little easier, but you will need a little elbow grease with whatever you use.......Steve

Hi Lanelle, Welcome to the forum. Your '81 came with chrome plastic caps. They sometimes don't fit very tightly and fall off. We replace one about every year. The cap and emblem are ordered seperate and you have to stick the emblem on (adhesive backed). They are still available from Chevrolet, got one in November. '81 wheels as well as '80 and '82 were high polished as opposed to the "brushed" finish of the '79 and older so you can't use an abrasive on them. I sit down on the floor with each wheel off and polish them with Mother's Aluminum Polish. It's my favorite. I'm sure others have their favorite also. The bottom line is elbow grease and lots of it. Check the yellow pages for a Pro Strip type of place that srips and derusts metal. I had Pro Strip in Ft. Wayne IN strip and polish a set of nasty Trans Am wheels on a restoration project and they looked great. Once they are shiney it is fairly easy to keep them that way. Tom
Before I started to use Mothers to polish the wheels on my '78 I used aircraft cleaner. The stuff was designed to clean bird guts and stuff like that off supersonic aircraft aluminum and composites. It worked amazingly well, better than any spray cleaner I have seen, and probably the best overall, next to Mothers. Mothers takes a lot of elbow grease but the results are worth it.

As for the center caps, my '78 had plastic too and as Steve pointed out they where very easy to clean. They where a lot lighter than the metal center caps too.
Reply re: aircraft cleaner

Thanks for the ideas! Any clue where to look for aluminum aircraft cleaner? The spots all over the rims have probably lived there for the last 8 years as it wasn't driven for that long when I bought it. The wheels are just covered with freckles of scum! Also, is there anything stronger than a rag (teflon pads possibly?) or basic sponge I can use to clean them with? Also, Tom, what did that Pro Strip place charge you for cleaning your rims? Thanks again for all the help!
Aluminum wheels


Stick with the plastic caps definately. No the chrome doesn't stand out as you would think, mine are original and to compensate for the loose fit I touched an ever so small amount of non hardening gasket cement to the back side. They still should pop out easily when required. I like Wenol polish, comes in a small tube and is available from several catalogs. You can scrub by hand if you like, but I would suggest getting a small cloth buffer for your electric drill motor. Much faster and does a much better job. My original aluminum wheels shine like a mirror.

[Edited by DDL-81 on 01-23-2001 at 10:32 AM]

Lanelle, It was about 8 years ago when I had the wheels stripped. They charged around $45. per wheel but these had severe corrosion in the painted areas and had to be dipped to remove paint, dipped to remove corrosion and then the original areas that were bare were polished. I painted the recessed areas as original when I got them back. For just a polish on a smooth wheel shouldn't be any more than that today, I wouldn't think. Can't say for sure. Mothers doesn't seem to work well with a power buffer. I have some Wenol that I haven't tried, DDL-81. What type of a buffing wheel do you use? Do you rub in on by hand and then buff it off or apply it with the buffer? Tom

You can get the caps w / emblem from Dr. Rebuild and Zip ( i think )
Dr. Rebuild has them for $12.00 each,... RiksVet as well has them.

When I did my wheels last year I used NAPA paint stripper ( comes in a can)
Spray on and wipe off. I used it to remove the old clear coat from the wheels.
doesnt harm the rubber , but I covered mine anyhow.

To paint the slots I used NAPA automotive flat black.
I flipped the wheel over and sprayed them that way.
It really looks nice.

I polished with Mothers ( also from NAPA )
I didnt re-clearcoat, dont think they need it..Just polish a few times a year with Mothers :)

Good Luck,
I need to put this in the Tech section on the L81 registry site.
This is a common topic that we all will have to tackle eventually :)

Wenol and buffer

Use the Wenol(red) to clean and restore the wheel, Use wenol (blue) to really shine it up. You will need two buff wheels they are about 3" in diameter and mushroom shaped, 1/4" drill chuck. Put a little daub on the wheel then buff it in. Actually works best if it starts to dry out while your buffing. The blue is like any wax/sealent wipe on, let dry, wipe off, buff w/clean buff wheel.
Wheel Cleaning

Guess I'll throw my .25 in too :D

The wheels on the Rare81 where very dull when I found her. Most it was the sun (ultra violet) exposure.

I learned this from my 84, the coating was scratched so an OLD Body Fender friend suggested Acetone and a tooth brush, then "Mothers", it worked then so I did the same to the Rare1 and it worked great. I took the wheels off, got comfortable and about 45 minutes to an hour per wheel and they look "marvelous". The paint was ok between the spokes, so just a touch up with some Black paste SHOE polish and I was concours ready :D.

Guess I may have used up $.50 instead of my .25 ;)

thanks Dale

They are still pretty shiney from the last Mother's treatment but I have never been able to get the mirror look. I'll give it a try and have the '81 standing tall this spring. Tom
Shine those Wheels

Lots of ways to get the aluminum to shine up WOW!!! Hey pick one that works for you and keep them looking great....
I did see chrome wheels styled after the aluminum, came from a company in California. Not for me, but it might be of interest to some.
I wish I could describe what the stuff on my rims are. It is like dried sticky gum or tar or something and each rim is covered with freckles of it. It would probably clog a buffer real quick, and I have to get it off before I can polish them. I guess I'm stuck with stripping them, yes? I tried straight "simple green" and scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed" but it still left a stain even though the mass of the sticky stuff was gone. I think steel wool would get it off, but it might scratch the rims. Seems like there should be a chemical to cut through the goop. I even tried "goo gone". It is just hardened on the rim. Has anyone used steel wool on aluminum?

Bud, did the acetone take the clear coat off your rims when you used it?

Twiget, where does one find that aluminum plane cleaner? It doesn't take off your clear coat, right?

Thanks a bunch for the help!

I dont know where you would find aircraft surface cleaner in the civilian world. Perhaps at a private airport. The stuff I was using was mil-spec, and thus very expensive. Being in the Navy I realy didnt need to worry about that though. The cleaner didnt damage the clear coat at all.

A word of caution, if you decide to use acetone to clean your wheels, please use rubber gloves, a rubber apron, and a face shield. Also, dont use it on your tires if you have just driven anywhere and the brakes are hot, acetone has a very low flash point.

For more details send me an email and I will get them for you. There is a lot of stuff you should consider inorder to use the stuff safely.
Just up the Road

C3Vette Lady,

Let me get my breath, , , OK, let's see now,

1. Does the Acetone take off the Clear Coat? Yep :)
I used a small medium bristle brush and a tooth brush, to work the Acetone around, then wiped it off with on old T-Shirt. Once all the Clear Coating was off then I the Mothered the he..ck out of it.

2. Specks won't come off? I might suggest try a razor blade and get as much off as possible, then try the Acetone.

3. twiget has some very GOOD suggestions for using the Acetone safely. I took the tire off and put it on my work bench. I didn't use the other stuff, I should have, but I didn't:(

4. The plastic sun insert. . . I had one in a 1980 that I had and it was in for almost 4 years and never had any problems with it. The one in the Rare1 has been in for 2 years. I take it out probably once every couple months to clean it and the back window. I've added a decal to the sun screen on the side that is against the window. If you do this be sure it is EXACTLY where you want it. DON'T USE ACETONE to clean it or try to take decals off... It WILL turn smokey white color in a heart beat.

If you have problems getting acetone, . , . finger nail polish remover whats too, It Has Acetone in it :eek:

(by the way C3, I work just up the road on 101 at Palo Alto :D)


You definately want to stay away from steel wool or anything abrasive. I have seen clear coat remover in the auto parts stores by Eagle One and others. I think it is a spray on, wash off deal. Easy to use. I have never tried it though. I polished the clear off my wheels with rubbing compound. I've used it for years to clean up aluminum that's really bad. It sounds like you have no choice other than to get down to the bare aaluminum to get rid of the crud you discribed. You can alway s re-clear coat them with wheel clear coat available at the auto parts store in spray cans but like I said earlier, once they are polished they are easy to keep polished.

I own a 78 l82 I used Never Dull made by Eagle One. I purchased it at Auto Zone it worked great , I used a buffing wheel on it,than just polish them.hope this helps
Another tip for stripping the clear coat: use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser + Acetone. I was working my fingers to the bone trying to get the old clear coat off. I asked my wife to go to the store to get me more scrubby pads and she brought home a box of the magic erasers instead. It was absolutely amazing how fast the clear came off of the wheel. The job went from 2 hours per wheel (just to strip the clear) to 10 minutes. The only negative is that they break down fast. I used two erasers to do one wheel. That would be around $16 per full set, but the time you save is worth it.

Like the others, I used Mother's aluminum polish to shine them afterward. The wheels on my 81 look great now.

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