This guide goes through the steps required to refurbish wheels or repair minor cosmetic damage (kerb rash, stone chips etc). The same general techniques can be applied to any painted or powder coated wheels and if you’re patient and take your time, there’s no reason why you can’t achieve an excellent finish at home. Diamond cut wheels are not covered in this particular guide as specialist equipment is required, but we do cover split rims and polished wheels in a separate article. For pot hole or crash damage, get your wheels checked out by an expert – and if you’re in any doubt about their integrity, cut your losses and scrap them.
The refurbishment process
Taking a typically kerbed wheel as an example, the techniques used here will apply to nearly all cosmetic refurbishments. The refurb process can be broken down into the three main stages of preparing, repairing and painting which we’ll cover below.
Equipment you’ll need
You’ll need a regular primer, filler primer, colour coat and a clearcoat/lacquer. Rattle can paints can be used successfully but do bear in mind that they take a long time to cure fully. If you do use rattle cans, make sure you’ve got the time to allow full hardening of the paint to take place before using them on your vehicle. It’s also important to allow paints to dry fully between layers, as failing to do so will not only leave a finish susceptible to damage but the end finish may not last.
- Panel wipes or isopropyl alcohol
It’s vital that you’re always working with the cleanest possible surface for both finish and durability.
Ideally damage should be welded, but body filler or liquid metal is acceptable for DIY refurbishments.
- Wet and dry paper
Typically you’ll need grades from around 240 to 600 for the preparation stages, as well as finer grades if you want to achieve the best possible finish. A small file can also come in useful for smoothing out mangled metal or lots of excess filler, but this is not essential.
Be sure to follow all product instructions carefully (they’re there for a reason) and don’t cut corners to speed things up – this is not a job to be rushed.
Now that you’ve got everything you need, let’s begin…
As with any type of car body work or painting, preparation is key. Put the work in at the start and you’ll be rewarded at the end. Your refurb should ideally be carried out without tyres fitted but you can still manage if this isn’t an option.
- Inspect the damage to determine which products you’ll need for your repair and ensure that the wheel itself is structurally sound.
- If you’ve got a file this could be a good time to use it, but use it with caution to reshape or de-burr particularly bad areas.
- Move on to a reasonably coarse wet and dry paper (e.g. 240) to rough up the surface immediately surrounding the damaged area. This will allow the filler to properly bond.
After you’ve removed any flaking paint and rough/sharp metal edges, give the wheel a thorough clean with IPA to guarantee a dirt and grease free surface.
- Mix your filler to the manufacturer’s instructions and apply to the damaged area. Use as little as you can get away with and try to keep it within the damaged area only (you can always add more later if required).
- After the filler has hardened, you can start to reshape the profile of the rim. Obviously a coarser wet and dry paper will allow you to make swifter progress, but you run the risk of taking too much off at once. 320 would be a good starting point, moving up the grades as you get closer to a shape that you’re happy with.
- Reapply and repeat this stage as necessary until you’re happy with the shape of the rim. It’s worth taking your time to get this right, as any imperfections that remain will still be visible after paint.
Wipe the wheel down once again and inspect the surface. If it looks good now, it’s time to get the paint…
- It’s always a good idea to start with a filler primer as this will help to cover the most minor imperfections which remain from the previous stage. Spray this over the damaged area and wait for it to dry before adding multiple coats as required. Once the filler primer has completely dried, you can carefully sand it back with 600 grit wet and dry paper but don’t worry if any filler starts to show through from below. One of the benefits of using a filler primer is that you can easily identify high/low spots that may need more sanding or filling.
- Due to the strong orange colour of the filler primer, it’s a wise move to spray a coat of regular grey primer over the top so the wheel is ready to accept a colour coat. Rub the area down again with 800+ grit, ready to take the colour.
- Next, gradually layer up the colour. Apply thin layers to avoid runs until the colour is nice and solid with nothing showing through from the primer below. It may take multiple coats to achieve a satisfactory finish.
- If you do make a mess of things you can always sand back and repeat, but it’s important not to do this for your final coats (especially if the colour is metallic as it will dull the sparkle).
- When you have finished putting the colour coats on, allow the paint to fully dry – the longer the better.
- Once the colour has fully dried, it’s time to spray to lacquer. Like the colour coat, layer it up until you have an even glossy finish without any runs. When you’re happy with the lacquer you’ve sprayed, put the wheel aside and allow to dry completely.
Wet sanding, polishing and protecting
You may be happy with the finish you get after the lacquer fully hardens, but these additional steps will provide increased gloss, longevity and a surface that’s harder for dirt and brake dust to stick to…
- Wet sanding
The ripply “orange peel” effect happens in the drying process and the only way to get rid of it is to wet sand it flat. Some wheel designs may make this stage difficult and it is not always necessary, but for wheels with large spokes it’s definitely worthwhile. Use (at least) 1500 grit wet and dry with plenty of water and washing up liquid to try smooth out the imperfections – but be careful not to sand through the lacquer. This stage will dull the finish but the shine will come back after polishing.
To get rid of the marks left by the sanding stage you’ll need to start with a rubbing compound. Something like Farecla G3 will remove the marks left by 1500 grit wet and dry but we would also recommend this even if you skip the wet sanding stage. When you’ve managed to take the sanding marks out, follow this up with some regular car polish to leave the smoothest possible finish.
Don’t be tempted to run your wheels without any protection if you want them to stand the test of time. Protection comes in the form of waxes, sealants and coatings which all serve the purpose of resisting dirt and water. Not only will your wheels look better for longer when protected, but you should only ever have to use normal car and shampoo when it comes to cleaning. We try to avoid harsh wheel cleaners at all costs (even on factory finished wheels), but it’s even more important when using off-the-shelf paints which are not as tough as powdercoated finishes or 2k paints as used by professional body shops.