How To Diagnose and Repair Problems with Your Imperial's Wheel Covers

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Tip from Sherwood:

I've read all the suggestions on the squeaky hubcaps... After losing several 64 Plymouth spinners years ago, I decided the proper and certain way to fix the problem is to: 1. Take a file and sharpen each point. They do dull and hence won't hold. 2. After filing, take a pliers and slightly bend each point set so as to make them fit tighter on the rim. And, if they tend to move so as to bend the valve stem after driving many miles, then I put a very small dab of epoxy or a small weld spot in a position that locks the hubcap within an 1/8 to 1/4" on each side of one set of points near the stem. That should cure all the problems as tape is a waste of time.

Tip from Chris about why hubcaps come off so easily when running on radial tires:


The problem (aside from the hubcap's weight and the fact they sit out 1/2" from the wheel) is that the wheel itself was not designed for the stresses imposed by the radials most of us use on out cars. The swiss-cheese design may be good for brake cooling, but they allow a way too much flex when wearing radials. If you want to run your '66 caps full time, a possible solution might be to install a set of solid '67 wheels. They would flex far less.

Tip from Bob about putting your hubcaps on:

Putting the hubcaps on my '66 (nearly the same) was hard until I found a very large (5 lbs+) rubber hammer at Home Depot. The extra mass really makes a difference.

Addition from Chris:

The rubber mallet is part of the always-in-the-trunk tool kit. I recommend it to anyone! Just be careful to hit the die-cast ribbed portion of the covers, not the more malleable edge.

And from Chris:

Congrats on keeping your caps on. Try keeping the similar wheel covers on a '66 Imperial! Not only do '66 Imperials have swiss cheese wheels that flex like crazy with radials, but the '66 version of the '66-'69 turbine vane hubcaps sits out an additional 1/2 inch from the wheel by virtue of its ring of cooling slots behind the cap. The inertia of all that weight hanging (and flexing) that far out from the hub means these girls toss their jewelry on a regular basis. I lost 3 hubcaps on a trip along the rough highways of Indiana! For daily driving I admit I've installed a set of nice '64 hubcaps. The deep dish design of these caps (as well as the '65's) seem to focus more weight closer to the hub and therefore they seem less prone to fly off. I now have a full back-up set of '66 caps, but only use them when driving around town or at car shows. No more high speed driving with the turbine vanes while I'm running radials!

Question from Canu:

My rear passenger hub cap keeps flying off like a top everytime I get past 20 mph. I have replaced it twice. Initially it seems to pop on tight enough, but sure enough I see it fly off the road in my rear view mirror or hear that sickening metal to pavement. I now travel around without it and it's embarrasing because without the cap the car looks incomplete and pitiful. Despite the gleaming paint and perfect chrome, without the cap, it looks like junk. What can I do to ensure this doesn't continue? I tried two of the other original caps and they do not fit snugly. I hate to mess with the rim itself and deal with balancing issues. I may just swap tires on the spare rim and hope it does the trick. What about the cap itself. I have only one spare left and need it to work. Is there any alterations to this cap I can do to ensure a tight grip?


From Paul:

If you have tried more than one wheel cover, the problem is probably with the rim. I know that you said that you don't want to mess with it, but if there is a problem with the rim, you should change it.

Also, on the wheel covers, make sure that all of the tension clips are adjusted properly, and that they are all there and tight. If any of the tension clips are bent, missing, or weak, the wheel cover will not stay on.

From Mark:

It's possible that your rim may be cracked or have a weld loose. The same thing happened to me on another make of car and I ended up running on the spare until I got the original rewelded.

Question from Frank:

I have an annoying little problem with the (factory) hubcaps of my '72 coupe. Especially at low speeds they make a loud clicking sound, one click every rotation. It sounds like an empty soda can being squeezed gently. I've tried switching the caps and have put oil and grease underneath, but no cure! Does anyone have a solution?


From Jay:

I too had this problem with my '66 after I had the tires or brakes serviced. It is annoying, but will go away after a while. I think that this clicking or squeaking sound is caused by the mounting "teeth" on the wheel cover to "walk" or "scrape" the on the wheel as the wheel turns and flexes. As time goes by, the pressure of these sharp "teeth" will wear a very very small dimple into the wheel preventing the teeth from scraping the wheel. If the wheel cover has been off recently it just needs time to "settle it's cranky-ass down." Don't use grease to quite the cranky covers. I'm sure you don't want you wheel covers (no matter how cranky they may be) to depart company and pass you going down the highway. Imperials may be fast, but their wheel covers are faster!

From Elijah:

I have always had the same noise on both my '71 Imperials. Someone earlier had suggested that switching from bias-ply to radial tires causes the wheels to flex ever-so slightly, which I suspect may be the culprit. Another possibility is that the hubcaps are slightly warped, which would cause them to wiggle a bit within the wheel.

From Don:

I've got the same problem with my '60 CDV. On one of the caps, I gently bent out each clip (?) that holds the cap to the wheel. I found that as I drove, the cap was, ever so slightly, turning. I noticed this as the air valve stem was no longer in the center of the hole in the cap. The one cap that I operated on no longer clicks or moves!

From Greg:

I have heard the suggestion of using duct tape on the wheel to prevent this. I can't confirm or deny where it works. 

From Dick:

I am not familiar with these particular caps. If the problem cannot be loose emblems (like, for instance, if it does not use them), then the covers are moving on the wheel as it flexes from the weight of the car. Sometimes this noise will go away if you line the grab surface of the wheel (where the paint is scratched off by the fingers on the cover) with one layer of masking tape. It will not show, and very likely will kill the noise.

Question from Allen:

I don't think this is a usual technical question for you guys! With summer here, I drive with the windows down sometimes [no working AC on my car, yet]. I hear this squeaking sound as the wheels rotate. I first thought it was the brakes, but have learned it is the hubcaps not being on exactly straight [they're old and not mint, so it is impossible to get them on any better - I have tried] I have put a little more air pressure in the tires and cut the sound down, but am wondering if there are any suggestions out there in IMPspace that any of you had tried to alleviate this concern.[ e.g. putting oil on the rim of the wheel] The squeaks kinda' clash with the deep growl/purr of the perfectly tuned 440.


From Dick:

Your wheels are flexing. Radial tires accentuate this problem. Some cars (like my 64 for instance) start to throw the wheel covers when you mount radials. Some wheels will actually fail with radials, if they were not designed for the extra stress. Your wheels should be safe with radials, since your car is a 69. The only cure for the noise that I know of is to line the retaining surface of the wheel with something. I use masking tape. It works like a charm, one time only (replace each time to take off the wheel cover).

From Chris:

Try lining the inner rim - where the caps attach - with a layer of black duct tape (or even two layers). This often cuts down on the noise - as well as giving extra bite to prevent the hubcaps from falling off the car.

From Leo:

A couple of thumps with a rubber mallet on the caps cured the squeak.

From Bob:

Have you tried removing both rear wheel covers (these are not "hub caps") and driving it over the same route? This would probably indicate if it was the wheel covers. On my '53 Olds 98 Holiday, I used a little masking tape over the tabs and that would stop it but only for a while.

Question from Donna:

I drive my '66 Imperial LeBaron a lot during the summer months and for some reason this year I have lost 2 hub caps. thanks to one of the imp club members I was able to replace them. My question is " is it possible to put some type of lock on the hubs so I don't lose them? I called a few places and they couldn't help me out. Has anyone ever put locks on them and if so how?


From Paul:

I would be trying to find out why they seem to be falling off. These cars are not prone to loosing wheel covers.

From Sherwood:

There are no hub cap locks to hold on hubcaps.

What you have to keep in mind is the the tines on the piece that grabs the rim have lost their bite. You need to do 2 things: 1. sharpen the points with a file and very slightly bend them (as a unit) in a way to get more bite to the rim.

This occurs because they have been removed and replaced so many times over the years plus the constant flexing of the rim causes the tines to wear and lose their bite.

From Dick:

In addition to the points that Sherwood makes, the thin spring steel from which the retainer tines are made cracks due to metal fatigue, thus making the tines much weaker than they were designed to be. You can see the cracks in the tine ring by close inspection. The only cure for this is to get better parts.

On my current 67 project, I took apart about 20 hubcaps that I've collected over the years for these cars (67-69, nearly identical to the 66's), and selected the best of each individual part for 4 of them, then reassembled them will all mint parts and they hang on just fine. This is even though I'm running Michelin (radial) tires and I live on a ranch with 2 miles of really rough un-graded dirt roads outside my gate each time I leave the house.

From Wayne:

I put a bead of silicone cement around my wheel rims before I put on my hub caps. The silicone will be pliable enough to allow removal of the hub caps next time I need to change a wheel. So far, I haven't lost a hub cap!

Additional question from Joran:

I have the same problem with wheel covers on my '72 LeBaron. It stopped after I moved the small balance weight (not sure if that's the name of it) to the inside of the wheels. But I have another problem with them I can't figure out. They make noise when I'm driving, like small birds are singing along the road. :-) How can I make it stop???

Reply from Tony:

One reason for strange noises and regular loss of wheel covers is having a bent wheel. This is not always obvious just by looking at it but a tire shop can check it for you.

Admittedly, I had this problem with a Cadillac but the principle is the same. Replacing the wheel solved the problem.

Reply from Joe:

Try to find out what wheel it is coming from .. If you can carefully jack up one wheel at a time and spin it by hand see which wheel it is .. Make sure you block the other wheel so the vehicle wont roll ....Then when you fine the chirping wheel , take off the wheel cover and see it it still makes the noise it may be a brake spring if its comming from the rear.. or the axle bearing .. If its coming from the front it could be your front wheel bearing or your disc pads ,if so equipped.

Question from Scott:

I hope that somebody out there can help me on this matter. My hubcaps creep around on the wheel rim. If I drive with them on for more than 150 miles the hubcaps will rotate to the point of almost cutting the valve stems off!! . I hope y'all can help out. I have tried bending the cleats, duct tape , and nothing to no avail yet.


From Dick:

I suspect you have already investigated this, but check to see that the retainer fingers have sharp enough lateral edges that they will dig into the wheel rim when they try to rotate. Are you sure you have the correct wheels on the car, that is that the raised bumps on the wheel cover retaining surface of the wheel line up with the location of the retainer fingers? If either the wheels or the covers are not original with each other, this is a common problem, for which the only cure I could recommend is to make the retainer fingers sharp and aggressive so they really dig into the paint on the wheel. My 69 Newport (OOPS! I mentioned a non-Imperial! I'll wash my mouth out with Fels-Naptha immediately!) had the same problem, but on only one wheel. I finally realized that it was the one non-original wheel on the car, found a correct one, problem gone.

From Ron:

Had a similar problem with my '66. IF the hubcaps are in good condition and not cracked or split in the tine area then I would check your inflation pressure. If you are running higher pressures than original spec's, this will cause the rim to flex and move the hubcap. Also, with the advent of radial tires, the flex and stress area has been moved to the bead area of the tire. I would also check to see if the rims are all the same number. they may look the same, but have a different dish depth to them. One of my 15'' wheels had a different depth, yet the hub cap would fit, but only for awhile, then it would pop off.

Question from John:

Has anyone noticed that the hubcaps for 67-69 Imperials are balanced?   I just got an NOS 69 hubcap today & it is marked "balance checked" on the inside. I also see that there are 2 small weights clipped to the edge. I never noticed these on most of these caps before. Over the years, I have lost many of these caps. They are very heavy & when they fall off, they seem as though they are jet propelled & travel for a considerable distance.


From Bob:

Believe it or not, a few years ago there was a long discussion of (a) do hubcaps actually go faster than the car that launches them? and (b) why? It's all in the archives! But what the heck, it's a long weekend and those of us saving gas should get back into it!

From Bill:

Yes, '68 wheel covers are balanced.  I have never noticed this on other cars, perhaps they were.  

Question from Craig:

Does anyone else have a problem with irritatingly squeaky hubcaps on their car?

My '67 came with all original hubcaps...and they squeaked. I had a blowout last year that destroyed one, so I purchased another set of caps so that I could salvage and then piece together the best set of 4, which was great.... but again they squeak and creak... I have added rubber washers to all the fittings that are bolted trying to get rid of this annoying noise, but they again are squeaking...


From Steve:

I have had luck in the past wrapping a single layer of duct tape around the sharp pieces that hold the hub caps on the wheel. Stops the squeak and no problem loosing the caps. This is a problem with several years of Mopars caused by radial tires and wheels that flex.

From Larry:

Our '67 had the same problem. We took the hubcaps apart & cleaned painted them. When we put them back together we coated the underside of each part with clear silicone. We also put silicone on all the threads as we reassembled them. this stopped all the noises, but we still had trouble with them coming off. We got some covers for an 80's imperial from a recycle yard for everyday driving, and just put the originals on for special events.

From Mark:

My hubcaps didn't squeak but popped after I got new tires. I took them off and wrapped tape around the outside prongs, and that stopped the popping.

However, I didn't do all the wheels and the rear ones popped for awhile. But finally, after the tires were "broken in" it stopped. I think it is just that the tires are new and stiff and are causing the wheels to flex slightly. You can try one layer of tape or just wait until it goes away, I guess.

Question from Mike:

I never thought about it, but those wheel covers are heavy enough to effect the wheel balance. I am getting new tires shortly, how or where could I get my wheel covers balanced ?


From Dick:

When you have your wheels balanced, the usual method is to let the tire store spin up the wheel and tire assembly off the car, and trust the brake drums and hubcaps to be close enough that the resulting vibration won't be too bad. On cars with extra heavy hubcaps and/or out of balance brake drums/rotors, you must have the wheels balanced with an "on the car" balancer to get true vibration free driving. These are somewhat hard to find these days, but they do exist, you just have to call around to the various alignment shops and ask if they can do "on the car" balancing. For those in the Southern California area, email me for the name of a shop in Oceanside which has both types of balancer ( and a very sharp alignment man!) To save having to go to this extra trouble more than once per car, I use the following procedure: I note the balance weight and positions required to balance the wheel and tire assembly off the car. Then I note the same information when the same wheel is balanced on the car. If there is any difference, I keep track of the difference in balance weight requirements as established by each balancing method, and mark the drums with the size and position of the compensating weight required to make an "off the car balanced" wheel and tire assembly run smooth on the car. It is also essential to mark the valve position, so you always get the same relation between the hubcap and the drum. >From that time forward, when I buy new tires, rotate the tires, or for any reason have my tires balanced by the normal off the car method, I then add the compensating weight myself when I remount the wheel on the car.

From John:

Apparently, this is the way they came from the factory. I can see how it would be easy to disturb the balance when taking them apart to clean or paint. The parts could be reassembled in a different relationship to each other. I'm not sure if this would affect the wheel balance or the hubcap itself. Perhaps enough that they are fighting to remove themselves from the wheel at the slightest jolt.

Question from Marcus:

My '67 covers rattle like crazy when going over bumps. Has anyone had this problem and is there a solution?

Reply from Chris:

Yes, I have. Almost sounds like bad wheel bearings. The trick is in the tightening. As you know, there are about 25 pieces of hardware (nuts, washers, etc.) that hold the die-cast finned piece and the die-cast "IMPERIAL" ring onto the stainless steel cover. There is also the little chromed metal ring that retains the innermost Lucite eagle medallion. Any of these could be loose, and even the tiny center medallion can make noise. Remove your wheel covers (this will be easier if you remove the fender skirts on '67 and later models and jack the rear of the car up a little), snug up everything on the wheel covers, and consider using a piece of double-stick foam tape to hold the center medallion to the wheel cover itself. Just be sure to choose your desired orientation of this piece. The "horizon" of the eagle should be with the valve hole at 6 o'clock. Likewise, your "IMPERIAL" ring should be symmetrical to this same horizon when installed. If you want to be that picky (by, hey, why not do it properly!)... When you reattach the little retainer ring for the center medallion, use a flat-blade screwdriver to carefully bend the tabs back snugly against the wheel cover. Then , snugly reinstalled your wheel covers and the noise will go away, unless of course it's something else.

Question from Karl:

I've misplaced the special tool that unlocks the wire wheel cover for the 81-83 Imperials. I would like to purchase one so that I may have a leaking tire checked.


From Mike:

I never had a key for mine---a squirt of WD 40 ---3 taps with a hammer---a flat blade screw driver to fit and out it comes.

From Dave:

I think a Chrysler dealer would be your best bet. They usually have a "kit" with several different "keys" in them, and they will let you find one that fits your car, and then order you a replacement. At least that's the way it was just a couple of years ago.

This page last updated October 12, 2004.  Send us your feedback, and come join the Imperial Mailing List - Online Car Club