How to Replace Hubcaps
You may not give much thought to your vehicle’s hubcaps. After all, these wheel coverings may seem to be more aesthetic than they are functional. That is not exactly true, though. Hubcaps are your wheel’s first line of defense from dust, grime, and precipitation, so it is important to have wheel covers that are in tip-top shape. If the hubcaps on your car, truck, or SUV have seen better days, it’s time to learn how to remove hubcap coverings from your vehicle and how to install new ones.
Do Hubcaps Serve a Purpose?
Your vehicle’s tires mount on a rim that attaches to a hub assembly. While tires, wheels, and other components are usually built to withstand considerable punishment, you do not want to weaken the integrity of your wheels by allowing dust or moisture to penetrate sensitive areas. Your vehicle’s hubcaps help deflect particles away from the wheel assembly. They also cover unattractive components, giving your vehicle a sleek and aesthetically pleasing appearance.
While hubcaps come in a variety of sizes and styles, they are all discs. Because they stick out a bit from the edge of your tire, they are prone to damage in curb scrapes, and if you drive on a very rough stretch of roadway, your hubcaps could potentially jiggle loose. Whether you have a damaged hub cap or a missing one, replacing your wheel cover should be a top priority.
What Types of Hubcaps Are There?
Car hubcaps typically come in three different styles. As such, before trying to remove or replace an existing wheel covering, you must know what you are dealing with. Here are the common types of hubcaps:
- Pop-on hubcaps: These hubcaps pop onto your wheel and secure in place with plastic clips.
- Screw-on hubcaps: These hubcaps have a plastic nut that screws onto your vehicle’s lug nuts.
- Bolt-on hubcaps: These hubcaps attach to your vehicle’s wheel using the same lug nuts that hold the wheel in place.
Because there is no standard style of hubcaps, you may need to do some work to determine which type your car has. Your vehicle’s owner’s manual is a good place to start. Simply check the tire and wheel section of the manual for more information. If that does not do the trick, you can examine the hubcaps. Pulling gently on the side of the hubcap may tell you whether you have bolt-on or pop-on wheel covers.
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How to Replace Each Type of Hubcap
Replacement for Pop-On Caps
If you have pop-on hubcaps, removing and replacing your wheel coverings is simple. Before you begin the project, make sure your car is parked on a flat surface and the motor is not running. Also, engage the parking brake and chock the wheels.
Then, simply work two wide-end flat screw drivers onto opposite sides of the hubcap. Work your way around the hubcap until the cover pops loose. Then, install the new cap by placing it over the wheel and pressing firmly on opposite sides. You may need to gently tap each new pop-on hubcap into place.
Replacement for Screw-On Caps
Screw-on caps have a plastic nut that attaches to your vehicle's existing lugs. Replacing this type of hubcap is also easy, as you only have to unscrew each plastic nut to remove the hub cap. Again, protect yourself by parking your car on a flat surface, engaging the parking brake, and chocking the wheels.
After you have removed the plastic components, simply put the new hubcap into place. Then, tighten each plastic nut. Do not use a power tool for this project though. Doing so may over-tighten nuts, causing them to track and fail.
If your vehicle has screw-on caps, you should realize that plastic nuts may work themselves loose over time. Because you do not want to lose your hubcaps, periodically check the tightness of the plastic nuts that hold each hubcap in place. If you notice looseness, hand tighten the nuts to keep your hubcaps secure.
Replacement for Bolt-On Caps
Replacing bolt-on hubcaps is a bit more involved than the other types of hubcaps. Still, if you have old, damaged, or unattractive wheel coverings, you need to know how to put on hubcaps on your vehicle. After preparing your vehicle to prevent rolling (flat surface, parking brake, wheel chocks), you are ready to begin.
First, pick a lug nut and use the wrench that came with your vehicle's jack to turn it counterclockwise. Do not completely remove the lug nut, though, Instead, only loosen it.
Then, move to the lug nut on the opposite side from the first lug nut you loosened and loosen it. After loosening opposite lug nuts all around the wheel, remove each lug nut one-by-one. Be sure not to loosen the plastic washers that are with each lug nut. Do not remove the tire.
After you have removed the lug nuts and washers, your hubcap should slide off the wheel. If you have built-up gunk, though, the hubcap may be a bit stuck. Therefore, you may have to use a flat screwdriver to work the hubcap loose. After the hubcap is off, you can slide the new hubcap onto the exposed lug nuts.
Once you have the new hubcap in place, you are ready to reattach the lug nuts. Start by screwing each nut into place with your hands. When doing so, be careful not to cross thread the nuts. If each nut does not screw onto the lug easily, you may not have the threads lined up quite right.
After hand tightening each lug nut, grab your lug wrench. Working in an opposite pattern, tighten each lug nut. Then, go around the wheel in a circular pattern to be sure each lug nut is firmly tightened. If you are replacing more than one hubcap, repeat the process on each wheel.
Now that you know how to remove hubcap coverings and how to install new ones, you are ready to start your project. Of course, you must choose the right caps for your application. By opting for high-quality components from a reliable manufacturer, you know your new wheel coverings are likely to look as great as they perform.
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Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.
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