Applying silicone paste to wheel hubs may eliminate those embarrassing instances of stuck wheels on customers' vehicles.
This could be another small step toward saving time in the shop as well as exceeding customer expectations.
It's likely most readers of this column have struggled to remove a customer's wheel at one time or another. Fortunately, this doesn't happen every day and is much more likely to occur in the snow-and-salt belt than in many other regions of the country. Nonetheless, it's still a headache.
Sometimes service personnel discover a stubborn wheel on a hectic day when the appointment book is full. Worse yet, onlookers in the crowded customer lounge may get an eyeful of the challenging task of removing a stuck wheel. The removal methods may look downright barbaric—especially on a costly modern car.
Obviously, there's a hole in the center of a wheel; this hole fits onto a hub on the vehicle. My experience has been that the biggest concern is corrosion that occurs between the outside diameter of the wheel hub and the inside diameter of that center hole in the wheel. Years ago, I encountered this on common steel wheels when motorists failed to rotate tires at reasonable intervals.
However, I think this corrosion and the resulting stuck wheel is more prevalent today due to the popularity of alloy wheels. The mismatched metals here—steel hub and aluminum wheel—invites galvanic corrosion. Rain, snow and road salt aggravate the corrosion and infrequent tire rotation just gives the corrosion a longer time to incubate.
Corrosion between the hub and wheel may be severe enough to warrant extreme measures. For example, years ago I was taught to reinstall the wheel nuts barely finger tight. Then lower the vehicle lift again and start the engine. Put the transmission into gear and gently rock the vehicle back and forth—drive to reverse and back. Typically, this would loosen stuck wheels without damaging anything. (Use the step at your own risk.) Then raise the vehicle again, remove the wheels and clean off the corrosion.
Regular tire rotations seem to reduce the risk of stuck wheels, but it's difficult to convince some motorists to heed that advice. There-fore, some techs take preventive measures.
First, they use steel wool, crocus cloth or perhaps an attachment on a power tool to remove the corrosion very carefully. Then they treat the wheel hub to a light application of a common anti-seize paste.
Other techs put a film of silicone paste on the wheel hub's outside diameter. A good example is 3M's or an equivalent product. They say the silicone paste is easier to apply and more readily fills the small imperfections between the hub and the wheel.
What's more, the paste is less noticeable to a fussy motorist because it's nearly clear in color. Unlike some greases, the paste doesn't run.
I've found that either the anti-seize or the silicone paste prevents stuck wheels—even in the snow and rust belt. Of course, regular tire rotations are still important. Meanwhile, I welcome hearing your tips on corrosion prevention and wheel removal.