Washing your car isn’t just about improving its appearance—it’s a form of maintenance, too. But, as with any task, doing it wrong can cause damage, as can going too far in the pursuit of a quality shine. Speaking of shine, detailing often involves giving your car’s tires a good shine. But is that something you should do yourself?

Is tire shine good or bad for your tires?

A worker applies Chemical Guys Tire Kicker tire shine
Applying Chemical Guys Tire Kicker tire shine | Chemical Guys

Often called ‘tire dressing,’ tire shine is a term that describes a variety of chemicals meant to improve a tire’s appearance. In other words, make it look shiny and new. Plus, as Consumer Reports explains, some products can protect your car tires from things like UV light, salt, and air pollution. These contaminants can cause them to brown, crack, and even rot, MotorTrend reports. And to be fair, tire debris is a harmful pollutant in and of itself.

However, if you’re storing your tires long-term, the general advice is to avoid polishing or dressing them. And some tire shine products, if used improperly, can damage “the tires in the long run,” The Drive reports. A few even warn you not to let them get into waterways, TruckTrend reports. So, what’s the deal?

The key is in the tire shine formulation, CarWashCountry explains. Although solvent-based cleaners keep your tires shinier for longer, they also dry out them out, Autoblog reports. Water-based dressings, while not as ‘durable,’ are far kinder to the tire compounds, Autoblog and Roadshow report. They also don’t leave a film, which prevents further headaches, Detailed Image reports, but more on that later.

In short, if applied properly, a water-based tire shine product can benefit your tires.

How do you shine your car tires?

Shining your car tires is a fairly straightforward process, Autoweek reports. The key is making sure you apply and wash off the dressing properly.

First, before you start shining, make sure the tires and wheels have been thoroughly cleaned, TheVehicleLab reports. That means thoroughly scrubbing the wheel and tire surface to remove dirt, brake dust, and other debris, Car and Driver and Hagerty explain. Be careful not to use an overly-stiff brush, though, as that can cause further damage. And make sure the tire is cool before you start shining it, CarBibles reports.

The next step depends on what kind of tire dressing you’re using. If you want to avoid overspray with an aerosol- or spray-based shine product, apply it via a microfiber towel, Avalon King reports. Gel-based tire dressings, though, require a dedicated applicator, such as a pad, towel, or brush.

Regardless, after it’s applied, give it a few minutes to dry. Then, wipe away any excess with a dedicated microfiber towel or cloth. And, if your car tire still isn’t shiny enough, give it an extra coat. After the last coat, Detailed Image recommends waiting at least 30 minutes before driving the car.

Things to keep in mind before you shine

The drying-and-waiting steps are crucial for several reasons. Firstly, it prevents ‘tire sling,’ which is when tire shine gets flung everywhere due to tire rotation. So, now your sparkly-clean car is dirty again. Incidentally, this is another reason to use water-based dressings—they’re less susceptible to tire sling, Autoblog reports.


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Secondly, waiting for the dressing to dry cuts down on another potential down-side of shining your tires. Specifically, one that can happen if the product ends up somewhere besides the tire sidewalls. Namely, loss of traction.

If tire shine gets on the tire treads, it interferes with the tire’s ability to grip the road. So, your car’s tires look great, but now it’s sliding more easily and taking longer to stop. This is why, generally speaking, you don’t see dressing applied to motorcycle tires, RideNow Powersports explains.

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