Hub caps can be the least noticed piece of equipment on a car. Or, their absence can be the most noticeable thing on a car.

Cars and trucks look natural when they've got all four hub caps, but look undressed when just one is missing.Sometimes, trying to replace a missing hub cap is not the most enjoyable experience. It's not always easy wading through a sea of old hub caps looking for one that matches. There always seems to be plenty of the "other guys" hub caps, but never the one you need.

Bill Brown, owner of Capitol Muffler Center, realized that a number of years ago and went about making the search easier.

How? First he has a large selection, "thousands of both new and used hub caps . . . many are very rare, such as some for the old Edsels, Packards, and the old wire wheels for the Cadillac." Next, he put them out in clear view so anyone and everyone can see them.

Right now he said the most popular hubs are for the 13-inch wheels. The reason is that many of the foreign cars didn't come with full covers and owners are finding that their cars look better with them . . . "They want to make the cars a little flashier. They want to dress up a car and find they can do it for not too much money."

Another popular thing is to buy hub caps that look like wheels for both cars and trucks. So, instead of paying up to $100 a wheel, they can buy a whole set of hub caps that look like the real thing for around $45.

Vehicle owners are also finding that it is less expensive to buy hub caps outside of a dealership. One type of hub cap, for example, when purchased through a dealer runs about $160. The same type of cap at his shop, said Brown, goes for between $35 and $60.