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What are hubcaps for?
April 19, 2010 4:33 PM   Subscribe

What are hubcaps for?

Are they purely decorative, or do they serve some purpose? I'm wondering if I should replace the one I lost to a Chicago pothole.
posted by garlic to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
This article says they're decorative these days, and empathizes with your pothole pain.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:37 PM on April 19, 2010


Decorative only.
posted by amyms at 4:37 PM on April 19, 2010


They're purely decorative.
posted by The World Famous at 4:39 PM on April 19, 2010


They are for holding the lug nuts when you have to change a flat tire.
Plus they are decorative.
posted by SLC Mom at 4:45 PM on April 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Hubcaps are the doilies of the modern automobile.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:45 PM on April 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


They cover up an otherwise ugly part of a car (when there were really only steel wheels)...
posted by HuronBob at 5:00 PM on April 19, 2010


Explanation from my childhood: If a lug nut falls off while you're driving around, it will make lots of noise rattling around in the hubcap, vs silently failing and, eventually, a wheel falls off.

I guess it could have happened in the days before air-powered torsion wrenches.
posted by hexatron at 5:03 PM on April 19, 2010


Explanation from my childhood: If a lug nut falls off while you're driving around, it will make lots of noise rattling around in the hubcap, vs silently failing and, eventually, a wheel falls off.

Sounds like coming up for a reason for something when there really isn't one.
posted by delmoi at 5:05 PM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


For the fun and the fashion.
posted by stopgap at 5:08 PM on April 19, 2010


Hubcaps are used similar to what HuronBob says to cover up the black wheel that appears without the hub cap on. It adds a better appeal to the car versus looking at 4 black wheels which are unappealing to the color of the car.

Hubcaps are usually white/grey to match whatever color the car is and to blend with other cars. Also, hub caps usually offer the logo of the car maker, why would we need to get rid of that? :P

There's a reason alloy wheels are liked a lot more, they flow better and there's no cap to take care of.
posted by iNfo.Pump at 5:12 PM on April 19, 2010


*flow refers to design flow..
posted by iNfo.Pump at 5:13 PM on April 19, 2010


I so feel your pain with the potholes! What kind of car do you have? I kept losing mine to New Orleans potholes...I managed to snag a few used replacements here or there, but I was not about to start shelling out $50 a pop for crappy plastic! I went to an auto supply store and bought a set of generic after-market "wheel covers" (usually "hubcap" refers to the small kind you see on police cars) - $30 for 4. As long as they all match, nobody is going to notice that they're not the original ones for the car.
posted by radioamy at 5:19 PM on April 19, 2010


If a lug nut falls off while you're driving around, it will make lots of noise rattling around in the hubcap, vs silently failing

This happened to me.
posted by flabdablet at 5:22 PM on April 19, 2010


As long as they all match, nobody is going to notice that they're not the original ones for the car.

There was a guy at my school who offered a service of finding a replacement for just the one hubcap you lost. $10 for one hubcap, which took about 5 minutes of his time.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 5:34 PM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


They can provide a few functions. Savings in gas mileage can be seen with special types of wheel covers but I would guess that even the factory wheel cover would result in more savings than none.

Also here in Wisconsin and other northern states keeping winter road salt away from hubs, rotors and lug nuts is always beneficial. A season or two of brine on the wheels will make those lug nuts much harder to get off.
posted by JJ86 at 5:54 PM on April 19, 2010


I suppose (some designs) might offer some protection for the nuts & lugs from the elements. In snowy climates that could make a difference. I'm fairly sure most lug nuts are stainless, but the stems are probably just steel. A lot of people lose lug nuts over the course of ownership and substitute inferior, possibly non-stainless parts that could rust if they were exposed to the elements.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:03 PM on April 19, 2010


Hubcaps exist mainly to aggrivate the service professionals who occasionally rotate your tires.
posted by Jon-o at 7:09 PM on April 19, 2010


early caps were made to keep water, grit and grime out of the the greased bearings and off spindle of the wheel. if you had ever experienced the heat and insane breakage that occurs when a wheel bearing goes out, you would know why it's good to keep these things well greased and covered. The friction of dry bearings, or sand/dirt building up in a rapidly spinning part always leads to heat and the eventually rapid failure that is not fun. on most modern cars, they are almost always purely decorative. I've got center caps covering the castellated nuts on my '66 land rover. This keep junk out of my hub and axle shaft assemblies.
posted by Bohemia Mountain at 7:36 PM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


They're for propping up telephone poles.
posted by Askr at 8:17 PM on April 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Askr: "They're for propping up telephone poles."

Best comment of the day!

If your car is really a clunker, I wouldn't actually worry if they match. I drove an old station wagon in high school, and when I'd lose a hubcap I'd keep my eye out and usually find one on the side of the road.
posted by radioamy at 8:30 PM on April 19, 2010


I'm wondering if I should replace the one I lost to a Chicago pothole.

Secure each hubcap to its wheel with two grey cable ties, available from most car shops near the replacement hub caps. Put a tool to remove them near your spare wheel.
posted by Mike1024 at 12:33 AM on April 20, 2010


Nitpick...
You lost a wheel cover, not a hub cap. A hub cap is a small, well, cap, that fits over the end of the spindle (hub) that the wheel slips over. If you called into a parts counter and asked about a replacement hubcap, you'd get a quote for the latter.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:34 AM on April 20, 2010


They are a patriarchal plot to make women feel stupid. You see, I grew up with the big stainless hubcaps that came with your 1970's American land yachts. My father taught me how to get those hubcaps off with a pry bar and my mother taught me how to tighten lugnuts by jumping on the wrenchy thing, so I could impress mechanics.

I didn't get a flat tire, though, until the mid-90's. I coasted over to the side of the expressway, set the parking break, pulled the jack and associated gear out of the trunk, and set to with the pry bar.

Hubcap wouldn't come off. Hubcap appeared to be one with the wheel.

After 45 minutes of kneeling on hot asphalt trying to get that damned hubcap off, a very nice young couple stopped. I swallowed my pride and accepted their help. The man asked if I had my hubcap key.

I'd never heard of a hubcap key. He helped me to check my glove box, and, sure enough, there was a hubcap key.

The second shock to my feminist flat tire skills was when, after showing me how to unlock my hubcaps, he easily pried out the centre of the hub cap. I'd been working on the edge. I hadn't even noticed the little 4" cover in the middle of the wheel.

So, don't replace it, or you'll end up looking stupid in front of perfectly nice strangers who don't care at all about your gender/class/other group affiliation and who are just grateful to be able to help out a traveler.
posted by QIbHom at 10:58 AM on April 20, 2010


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