What are hubcaps for, other than breaking loose in a car chase during a police drama and rolling awkwardly down an alleyway? Hubcaps serve a number of different purposes on your car, some aesthetic, others functional, and while they’re not a crucial part of your automobile’s kit, there’s no reason to neglect them when maintaining your ride.
Protecting the Hub
The name “hubcap” reveals the original intention of their design: to provide a cover for the vehicle’s wheel hub, which is where the lug nuts attach to your car and hold the wheel in place. Exposure to heat, salt, dirt and moisture can cause corrosion that will make it harder to remove lug nuts, and in some cases can actually lead to hub damage and costly repairs. So what are hubcaps for? They snap over the hub and keep these hazards locked out.
Why do hubcaps tend to roll off Hollywood police cruisers with such regularity? Steel wheels are known to flex when a car is driven hard, and when that happens the mounting points for hubcaps can flex too, popping off the cover. Hard braking, hitting a pothole or a curb or turning sharply can all stress out a steel wheel to the point where it pops a hubcap.
Simply Put: They Look Better Than Steel
The least expensive wheels you can put on a car are made of steel, and they tend to be fairly homely in appearance. Often steel wheels are simply spray-painted black or silver, and don’t feature any sort of design to enhance the look of your car. What are hubcaps for in this case? In addition to protecting your hubs, they can expand to cover the entire wheel with a more attractive shape that in most cases mimics the look of an actual alloy rim.
Hubcaps are also inexpensive, which makes them cheaper to replace if they are damaged (as compared to a traditional rim). It is always an option have multiple sets, and you could invest in one set for summer and one for winter, with the latter dealing with salty road grime, and your summer set avoiding being tarnished.
With so much selection, there’s no reason to drive around with a missing cap any longer — find that fourth wheel cover and bring your car back to a like-new look.
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Photo courtesy of Freeimages
Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time. I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.