Any amount of time at a race track equals dirty wheels. There is no way around it. Even if you aren’t running an aggressive brake pad that creates a ton of dust, other people are throwing tire rubber around and it is sticking inside your wheel. The reality is your wheels will get dirty while racing. They can get so dirty and have so much foreign material stuck to them that they actually can be thrown out of balance. Additionally, dirty wheels make it difficult to spot problems like cracking. This means those dirty wheels need to be cleaned.
I am a bit of a freak about clean wheels. I have been spotted under my car cleaning them between sessions during a track day. It is not that I am trying to win “Best of Show” at a race. It is just that I know that watching the inside of my wheels helps me see other problems brewing, like CV boots leaking, bearings failing, etc. I also clean my wheels and remove all wheel weights before I send them to a shop to get new tires mounted and balanced. I do this because if I don’t clean the wheel, the poor kid who mounts tires all day long will simply slap another wheel weight on top of a lot of Carbotech brake dust. Spoiler alert: It ain’t gonna stick. Long story short: I clean a lot of wheels, a lot of the time.
Because I spend a lot of time cleaning wheels, that means I spend a lot of time outside on my hands and knees making a mess of the driveway. This is uncomfortable work. It is important work, but it just isn’t any fun and doing it on my knees doesn’t help the time pass any quicker. I walked by the Continental Tire trailer at an IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar pro race and saw they had a pretty trick method for cleaning wheels. The first thing I noticed was that they weren’t on their hands and knees. They had the tire up high enough that a technician could stand and clean the wheel. This had my little brain spinning. I could build something like this — but cheaper and better.
A quick search of the internet located a few different folks on YouTube who are into extreme car detailing who built their own wheel cleaning stations out of aluminum. The design was relatively simple, two rollers on an aluminum frame. My mental concept was a combination of the Continental rig and the car detailer dude’s design. I wanted a metal bucket the two rollers would attach to so the tire could spin and the bucket would catch all of the containments while cleaning the wheel.
I was on the hunt for the perfect metal bucket that a tire would fit in. I searched tractor supply stores, feed stores and hardware stores. Nothing I wanted was coming up, and some of it was pretty pricey. Then my wife called to inform me we needed dog food. I went to Walmart, was cruising around and saw an ice cooler for $30. Wait! Ice coolers are buckets! Then I found a portable table at Walmart, too. I stacked one on top of the other right in the middle of the aisle, and it all came together. I didn’t need a fancy metal feed bucket. I just needed two rollers and some nuts and bolts and this wheel cleaning station would take shape.
A quick search on Amazon scored me two rollers (available in multiple widths) that I could bolt into the ice cooler on some L brackets. A trip to the hardware store for nuts, bolts and brackets plus free shipping with Prime for my two rollers, and I was invested in this project for less than a hundred bucks. All that was left to do was bolt it all together and then clean some wheels.
The first step was to yank the lid off the ice cooler and throw it in the trash. I wouldn’t be needing that ever again. Next, I systematically measured how far apart I wanted the two rollers from each other and how high I wanted them up in the cooler once they were mounted to the L brackets. I made some marks and then got busy with the drill. I mounted four L brackets into the interior of the ice cooler and then mounted the rollers to the brackets. This project is the good kind of four letter word: E-A-S-Y.
Once everything was bolted together and tightened, I dropped a wheel onto the rollers and gave it a spin. It worked perfectly. I threw a few stickers on the cooler now known as the wheel washing station to signify what the contraption was. I can understand anyone being confused why there is a beer cooler with two rollers mounted to top. The station was starting to come together.
The cooler itself was done, but the working height was still too low. I would still be on my knees cleaning wheels (not what I was looking for). The portable adjustable height table from Walmart quickly solved all of that. The table has adjustable legs and the middle height was perfect once the ice cooler was placed on top. This height was optimal for me to clean wheels from a comfortable standing position.
Not only is the working position comfortable, but because the cooler itself will catch any dirt and grime coming off the wheel as it was cleaned, there was no need to be outside in the hot sun cleaning wheels and making a mess of the driveway. I could move the wheel washing station into a climate controlled shop or garage to do the dirty work. And as far as dirty work, cleaning wheels has never been easier. Spray a little Simple Green on the wheel and spin the wheel on the rollers while holding a rag inside. The wheel is clean in seconds. It works awesome!
I had my favorite play list going on Pandora (Katy Perry for shop time) and I was as happy as a clam to clean 10 different wheels before we made a run to Sanger Tire for some mounting and balancing. This is one of those tools you don’t know how you lived without before using it once. The nifty part about the wheel cleaning station is that it is portable. The table collapses for small storage and my cleaning supplies fit inside the cooler. When we head to the NASA Championships at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in September, we will bring this with us and it will be up and rollin’ in our Laguna garage.
This is a Toolshed Engineer project that checks all of the boxes. 1. It solves a problem. 2. It is inexpensive. 3. It is easy to build yourself. 4. When it is done, it can keep beers cold. Cheers and happy wheel cleaning!
Here’s a closeup of how the wheel sits on the rollers, which spin freely to facilitate wheel cleaning.