Hubcaps, or wheel covers, are standard equipment on many vehicles, yet they are often overlooked when it comes time for maintenance. If your hubcaps are starting to rattle or pull away from the wheel, it’s time to take a closer look.
First, a little on how they work. Hubcaps are held on in a manner similar to the way drum brakes work. With brakes, the shoes apply outward force against the drum, causing friction and slowing the vehicle. With hub caps, the retention ring applies outward force against the clips, causing pressure that keeps the hubcap mounted to the wheel. These similarities can act as a simple reminder to check the hubcaps when doing brake maintenance, as the retention ring and clips can wear out over time.
To check for wear or damage, remove the hubcap from the wheel. Use a dedicated hubcap removal tool ($10 online), or carefully use a wide flat-head screwdriver. Realize that the screwdriver is not exactly the proper tool for the job, so you risk damaging the hubcap or scratching the wheel.
With the hubcap off, check the back side for broken clips. This is also a good time to clean off any excessive brake dust or road grime. This stuff can build up over time, and scratch your wheels. If you have steel wheels, this can lead to rust. If the hubcap clips are broken, your best bet is to replace hubcap, as it will eventually fall off while driving. If the retention ring has come off the clips, it is most likely due to bent clips. You can fix the clips and put the ring back on, but there is a trick to it.
Place the hubcap on a flat heat resistant surface, such as a garage floor. Pull the ring off the nearest left and right clips from the one you are repairing. Use a hair dryer or heat gun and slowly warm up the bent clip. Depending on how close you have the heat source, this might take only a few seconds, or as long as a minute. The heat will soften the plastic enough for you to bend it back into place without breaking. Use heavy duty gloves or a terry cloth towel to carefully move the hot clip back into its proper position. Give it a moment to cool, and then snap the ring back into the clips. The hubcap is good as new and can go back on the vehicle.
photo by Cauldron Graphix, used under Creative Commons License