Skip to Content

Why is my rim turning brown?

If you’ve noticed the rim of your wheel developing a brown color, you’re not alone. Many car owners find their rims turning an unsightly brown shade over time. While a brown rim may just be an aesthetic issue, it can also indicate underlying problems that need attention. In this article, we’ll explore the common causes of brown rims and what you can do to restore your wheels to their original luster.

What Causes Rims to Turn Brown?

There are a few key culprits that can cause your rims to become brown:


One of the most common causes of brown rims is oxidation. When the protective clear coat on your rims gets scratched or damaged by road debris and weathering, the underlying bare metal becomes exposed to oxygen. This causes the metal to chemically react and form rust, which appears as a brown discoloration.

Aluminum and chrome-plated steel rims are especially prone to oxidation. The aluminum oxide or rust forms first in areas where the clear coat is compromised, and then spreads from there.

Brake Dust

Brake dust is another major rim discolorer. The iron particles in brake pad dust can become embedded in the surface of your rims. When the iron is exposed to moisture, it causes brown rust staining. The longer the brake dust sits on your rims, the more stained they become.

Wheels with a porous, grooved or flat finish seem to show brake dust discoloration more than glossy rims. Brake dust staining tends to be most visible on lighter colored rims.

Tar and Grease

Road tar, engine oil, and grease flung up from the road can stick to your wheels over time. These contain oxidizing agents and corrosive chemicals that can react with the rim’s surface, leaving behind brown stains. Wheels that aren’t cleaned regularly are most susceptible to discoloration from tar and grease buildup.

Chemical Contamination

Certain chemicals that come into contact with your rims can also stain them brown. These include:

– Acid-based wheel cleaners
– Copper grease used during tire changes
– Ferrous metal particles from brake system repairs
– Tree sap
– Bird droppings

Using harsh chemicals to clean your rims or exposing them to contaminants through DIY work can all lead to blemishing and discoloration over time.

How to Remove Brown Color from Rims

If your rims have turned brown, here are some tips for removing the discoloration:

Clean and Polish

Start by giving your rims a thorough cleaning using a pH-balanced wheel cleaner. Apply the cleaner and let it dwell for a few minutes before rinsing. Next, use a quality wheel polish to buff out surface stains, oxidation, and old wax buildup. For light discoloration, polishing alone may do the trick.

Use a Rust Remover

For more stubborn brown stains caused by brake dust and oxidation, a rust remover is in order. Spray or wipe a rust removal product over the affected area and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Then scrub the rim with a soft brush before rinsing. Repeat as needed for heavily stained rims. This should break down and lift away iron particles and surface rust.

Rust Remover Key Features
Iron X – Gel formula clings to vertical surfaces
– Color changing formula turns purple when reacting with iron
Sonax Wheel Cleaner Full Effect – Acid-free spray formula
– Contains anti-corrosive additives
Mothers Mag & Aluminum Polish – Cream formula polishes away oxidation
– Non-abrasive with protective oils

Repaint or Powder Coat

For extensive rusting and pitting that penetrates the metal, your only option may be to refinish the rims. You can have them professionally sanded down and resprayed, or powder coated for a more durable finish. While pricier, this will give your wheels an attractive, uniform appearance again.

Preventing Future Discoloration

Once you get your rims looking like new again, you’ll want to take steps to maintain their appearance:

– Wash wheels frequently using a pH-balanced cleaner
– Avoid harsh chemicals and abrasive brushes
– Apply wheel wax or ceramic coating for protection
– Remove brake dust regularly
– Immediately clean any tar, grease or sap
– Fix any clear coat damage right away

Sticking to these simple rim care practices will help prevent a recurrence of ugly brown stains. With proper maintenance, your wheels can maintain their eye-catching shine for years to come.

When to Seek Professional Help

While many minor cases of rim discoloration can be handled with DIY cleaning, it’s smart to involve a professional detailer or wheel specialist for certain issues:

– If there is extensive pitting or corrosion that has damaged the wheel
– If you need to fully refinish rims with heavy staining or clear coat failure
– If you don’t have the proper space, tools or skills for thorough cleaning and polishing
– If you attempt removal yourself and stains persist

Brown rims detract from your vehicle’s appearance and curb appeal. By understanding what causes the discoloration, using the right products and techniques, and seeking help when needed, you can get your wheels looking fresh again. With consistent care, you can keep ugly brown stains from coming back.


Brown discoloration of your once shiny rims can be frustrating, but in most cases it can be successfully remedied. With a mix of regular cleaning, polishing, using targeted removers, and occasionally refinishing, you can banish brown hues from your wheels. Be sure to address stains promptly and care for your rims properly to prevent future oxidation, brake dust buildup, and chemical contamination. With some elbow grease and the right products, you can keep your prized wheels an eye-pleasing highlight of your vehicle rather than an eyesore.