Preventing Curb Rash

You've spent your free time and your hard-earned money customizing the look of your car, and the result is a stunner that draws a crowd no matter where you go. Or, perhaps you like the stock look and are just concerned with protecting that clean appearance.

A fender bender can ruin your day in an instant, but the ever-present danger facing your car sits at the four corners. Your car's rims can be the first indication to the keen-eyed observer of just how well an owner takes care of his or her car. Fortunately, the health and appearance of your rims are largely in your control.

The biggest threat to your car's rims is curb rash. Curbs and medians are lurking everywhere, waiting to take a bite out of your nice rims and tires. We'll discuss some tips to help you avoid these concrete demons and even take a look at a product that can provide some physical protection.

What Is Curb Rash?

With the trend toward larger rims and lower-profile tires, the bead and sidewall of your tire are now much less likely to stick out and protect your rims from side impacts. And even if they do, striking a curb or other road hazard at the wrong angle could push the tire out of the way. Your tire will flex and give, but your rim will not.

Several tire manufacturers offer tires that have an extra bit of rubber around the bead designed to provide rim protection. This design has its advantages and its drawbacks. In theory, at low speeds, these rim protector designs might work — but the real world is a much different game. A little extra rubber can only do so much against a cement curb.

Of course, this is all assuming your rims are compatible with this type of tire. Not every rim style can accommodate these tires. If you’re the proud owner of this type of rim, these innovative tire designs won't help you.

So, in the end, unless you have giant tires on your SUV or a truck specifically designed for superior off-road capabilities, your rims will be vulnerable to damage from side impacts by curbs and other hazards. Off-road tires have extra-large beads to wrap around the very edge of the rim and provide better protection, but if you have a vehicle equipped with such tires, you probably aren't reading this article to hear any helpful advice.

What's the Danger With Curb Rash?

So why is curb rash such a big deal? Perhaps your car has other visible battle scars, dents and bruises. Maybe your tires are mounted on black steel wheels and their appearance was nothing to brag about in the first place. Your wheels might be the least important or attractive aspect of your car's exterior, and you may not care about the appearance of your rims.

Curb rash is an eyesore, but there are important practical reasons to avoid, it as well.

First, if you hit a curb with your wheel, it’s impossible to guarantee your tire will escape that encounter uninjured. It’s more likely your tire took the first impact of the collision and your rim was damaged after the tire was deformed and pushed out of the way.

The sidewall of your tire is the weakest part, without the same steel-belt reinforcement protection the tread receives. It contains a layer of rubber, the adhesive compound keeping the ends of the steel belts in place, and the ends of the steel belts themselves, which are far weaker than the steel that hides under the tread. Its job is to compress between the rim and the tread to provide the shock absorbency that helps contribute to a comfy ride. It is not designed to survive a side impact — sharp, blunt or otherwise.

Wheel with curb rash

Have you ever hit a nasty pothole and then noticed a bubble in the sidewall of the tire? This means the steel cords have separated and the inner protective layer of the tire is compromised. The only thing holding air in the tire is that outer layer of rubber. Care to venture a guess how long that tire will maintain its structural integrity? You should be seeking a tire shop by the end of the week, if not the day.

If we haven't adequately communicated just how vulnerable the sidewalls of your tires are by now, it's possible we never will. Multiple impacts to the sidewall of a tire could create tears in the rubber, and a tire with a damaged sidewall is unrepairable. It would be a shame to toss the last 40,000 usable miles of your tire's tread because you slammed into a curb.

Beyond the health of your tires, the health of the rim itself is as important to your car's performance as any other part.

A severely damaged rim can be knocked out-of-round, making it impossible to balance the tire, and compromising the bead's seal on the rim. A tire and rim that aren't perfectly round will introduce noise and vibrations that will impact ride comfort and handling. Eventually, your rim will cause uneven tire wear, reducing the life of the tire and accelerating your timeline for replacement.

Of course, if you replace the tire without repairing or replacing the rim, your rim is just going to cause the same damage to the next tire.

Without a perfect bead seal, keeping air in your tire will be a constant, losing battle. Fixing a bent rim is a risky proposition. Most tire shops will be hesitant to commit to this repair, simply because they don't have the equipment to do it properly and can’t make any long-term guarantees. Once a rim is bent out-of-round, your choices are to deal with the side-effects of an imperfect repair or replace the rim altogether.

Because of your wheel’s design, curb rash concentrates on the outer rim of the wheel, where the tire bead makes contact with the rim. A damaged rim can also impede the tire bead's ability to seal on the rim, even if the rim is still perfectly round. The tire gets stretched over the outer rim during the tire mounting process, and a damaged rim could rip the tire bead during this very delicate process.

A ripped bead renders a tire useless before it’s ever even aired up. A good tire technician would spot the damage and sand it off before attempting to mount the tire, but it’s still a giant headache.

How Can You Prevent It?

The simple answer is to make sure you never hit any curbs. But life is rarely that straightforward.

In a particular type of suburb that exists in numerous areas of this fair country, one could drive a lifetime's worth of commutes and errand runs without ever encountering a situation that requires anything other than straight-on, pull-in parking. When parking in expansive lots with pull-in spaces, your exposure to curbs and the dangers of curb rash is minimal. Your car could reach a comfortable old age, and the rims will still look as pristine as the day you bought it — provided you’re cleaning your rims from brake dust and road dirt. You are keeping your rims clean, aren't you?

However, if you ever head into the city for a night on the town, you'll need to park on the street. Or, perhaps you have friends who live in a neighborhood with sidewalks and curbs. We think of parallel parking as a city phenomenon, but these days curbs are everywhere.

You can prevent curb rash by being aware of your surroundings at all times, but that goes without saying. Improving your parallel parking skills can keep your rims safe and clean.

Winter can also wreak havoc on your rims for a number of reasons. First, slippery roads can put your car on less sure footing, making it more likely you’ll lose control and strike a curb. In a perfect world, you would have a set of winter tires to put on your car to help provide adequate traction in the snow, sleet and ice.

If the budget allows, it would be even better for you to mount those tires on a second set of steel wheels. Those steel wheels don't have to look pretty, and they will bear the brunt of the salt and cinders used for road treatment during winter weather.

We also have a few aftermarket add-on options, because there’s a solution for everything these days. Wheel bands are an example of an aftermarket product that can be functional and provide your car with a unique touch of style at the same time.

Parallel parked cars on city street

Driving Tips

As the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. Likewise, the best protection against curb rash is to make sure your rims never come in contact with curbs at all — and that comes down to your skill as a driver.

Obviously, reading an article on the internet isn't going to make you a better driver, but we can at least give you some things to think about when you get behind the wheel.

Total Rim Health

Always drive with your eyes on the road. In addition to monitoring the other cars around, you want to keep your eyes on the road surface itself. We’ve already explained at great length what can happen if your car's rims get knocked out-of-round. We don't advocate driving like you're playing a game of “Mario Kart,” swerving and dodging every road hazard between you and the finish line, but keeping your head up and your eyes forward is the only way you’re going to avoid the biggest obstacles and keep your rims safe.

Parallel Parking

A thousand different websites will give you a hundred different techniques, a million tips and tricks and a serious case of information overload. Rather than add our few drops to the sea of parallel parking advice out on the internet, we'll share what we find to be the most important piece of advice: To properly place your car in three-dimensional space, you have to be able to see what you’re doing.

Modern cars may feature cameras to give you a 360-degree view of your car's perimeter. Take some time at your house, in your neighborhood or in your employee parking lot to understand what information that camera is giving you and how to accurately "see" the picture it’s showing you.

If you aren't lucky enough to own a brand-new car, learn how to use your mirrors properly. A quick downward mirror adjustment when you begin the parallel parking process can help you see where your wheels are relative to the curb you’re approaching.

Parallel parking may be difficult, but you’re only making it harder on yourself if you attempt to do it blindly. When you’ve finished parking, put your mirrors back up to their normal position, lest you forget to make that adjustment when you pull out of the space and back onto the road.

Don't Try to Take the Easy Way Out

If you aren't confident in your parallel parking skills, don't assume you can get into that parking spot by pulling in and attempting to correct it after the fact. That plan of attack never works out. Not only will you end up with a pretty terrible parking job, but you’re also likely to scrape your front right wheel on the curb on the way in trying to get close on the first shot.

If you hit the curb in the reverse portion of a parallel parking procedure, at least you’ll probably hit the curb with the meat of the tire and not the rim.

Physical Rim Protection Options

There have been several attempts in the past to create physical rim protection products, but thin, flimsy films and clear-coat sprays don't offer enough protection to actually save your rim's surface. Fortunately, there’s a product on the market that offers real, robust curb rash protection, taking the brunt of any encounter with a curb.

Wheel bands are made of plastic and correspond to the circumference of your rim's edge. Installing the wheel bands is as simple a DIY project as you'll find when it comes to working on your car's exterior appearance. They are applied to the rim using a sturdy, yet easily removable, adhesive.

Red wheel bands on white sedan

These wheel bands protrude from the bead of the tire and the edge of the rim far enough to provide the only point of contact with any curbs you may encounter. And if they do get scuffed up a little bit, it's simple enough to remove them and flip them around, exposing the unused side to get ready for round two.

These wheel bands come in all different colors, so they also provide you with options to upgrade the look of your car. You can order your wheel bands in a contrasting color to provide an accent on your car's wheels. If that color statement isn't your style, you can also order a color to match your rims and help them blend in.

Either way, they’ll provide real, effective curb protection.

Taking Action

Now it's time to take action in your fight against curb rash. Whether you plan to work on your parallel parking skills or you plan to pick up a set of wheel bands, we have all the resources necessary for you to take the next step.

Browse our selection of wheel bands and any other products you may have had your eye on. When it comes to your car's appearance, the details matter — and Rvinyl is here to help you get those details right.