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No matter how well you look after your car, there is no way to prevent minor nicks and scratches from happening over time. Debris on the road or stones kicked up from passing transport trucks on the high-way are always going to be everpresent threats to a pristine finish. This is even more true when it comes to your wheels. Being closest to the action, they are in regular danger of getting nicked or scraped, especially in the Ottawa area, where we seem to have more pot than anywhere else in the world. And we don’t need to tell you how disappointing it is to see beautiful mags lose their lustre. 

Regular cleaning can help prevent stuck-on dirt from eating at the finish and makes it easier for potential hazards to slide right off without leaving a scratch. Nevertheless, a good wheel-cleaner won’t necessarily be enough to ensure your silvers stay as pristine as you’d like them to be. 

Fortunately, there are a couple of options for refinishing your wheels to their past glory. The best solution is always going to be to have them professionally refinished. Of course, if the damage is only minor, you’re looking for a project, and the curb rash hasn’t caused cracks, you may get by with a do-it-yourself remedy. Today we’re going to explore what’s involved in both options. However, if you suspect your wheels have taken damage that could cause structural problems, be sure to have them inspected by a professional. 

The Do-it-Yourself Option

Before you start

You want to begin by removing the wheels from the car and taking the tires off the rims. This gives you room to work without worrying about causing damage to the rubber. You also need to pull out the tire-stem and remove the wheel weight before you get going. 

Step-One: Clean the Wheel

You want to be sure you’ve removed all the dirt and grease from the wheel. These contaminants will cause you real problems if any is left behind and mixed with your filler compound. 

Use warm water mixed with dish soap and a towel for cleaning. However, if the grime is being stubborn, the abrasive end of a sponge will usually do the trick. Make sure you clean the inside and the outside of the wheel. Even if you’re not mending the inside portion, you don’t want to accidentally touch and spread grease while handling the rim. Remember, wheel grime is not your friend, make sure it’s all wholly removed before starting step two. There is also a wide range of heavy-duty wheel cleaners on the market if you find you need some extra power. In a pinch, a little bit of oven cleaner will even do the trick. 

Step-Two: Prep and Fill

Before you start this step, be sure the wheels are completely dry. You’re going to use a course 80-grit auto sandpaper for grinding out any deep scratches. You want to sand them down to the bare metal to ensure your filler can set properly. When you’re finished, clean the wheel with rubbing alcohol and a paper towel to make sure you’ve picked up all the remaining particles. 

Now you’re ready to use your metal-reinforced filler, most commonly known by the brand name Bondo. Follow the instructions for mixing the hardener solution into the amount you need to fill any scratches or mend the curb rash on your rims. Given that you’ve only got about five minutes before it hardens, you’re best to start with a small amount and mix more as you need. Next, using a combination of a squeegee and your fingers, work the filler into the scratches. Try to keep your application clean, as any that ends up around the gouges will need to be sanded off afterwards. When you’ve finished filling all the knicks and dents, allow the solution twenty minutes to dry thoroughly.

Step-Three: Sand the Wheel

Now that you have all the dings filled in, you need to file them down to a smooth surface. Again, start with the 80-grit paper and sand down the filler until you have a flat surface. Next, you’ll what to refine the finish with 320-grit sandpaper. This finner paper takes the little edges off left behind by the 80-grit. After the 320, you should be able to close your eyes, run your fingers along the surface and not detect where the problem areas were. Of course, after the sanding, clean the rim with rubbing alcohol to ensure that you’ve removed all the dust.

Step-Four: Paint the Wheel

When it comes to painting the wheels, we can break this step down into three smaller steps. First, start with a filler-primer (Bondo is the again, the industry-standard). Not only will this provide a solid base for your paint, but it will also fill in any imperfections left behind after the sanding. Start with a light, even coat and then give it ten minutes to dry. The second primer coat can then be a little heavier. Make sure you’re coming at the wheel from different angles to guarantee complete coverage. Finally, after another ten minutes, hit it one more time with primer coat three. This time, be thorough and ensure every bit of metal is completely covered and then let it sit for at least an hour. After the primer has dried, we have one more round of sanding. This time you’re going to use a 600-grit (ultra-fine) paper to give you a super-smooth, ready-to-paint surface. Be sure to feel all over the wheel with your fingers to see that no small imperfections remain. Any little bumps in the primer are going to be visible once the paint is applied. After you’re happy with the feel, rub the rim down one more time with some alcohol and a lint-free towel to make sure it’s dust-free. Now you’re ready for the basecoat. With metallic paints, you want to shake the can well and spray them on lightly. These paints are prone to running, and you want to ensure a nice even finish. It’s always better to do multiple light coats, giving each one ten minutes in between to dry. Finally, after allowing the last spray another half-hour to dry, you’re ready for the clearcoat. Be sure to buy a clear coat made for wheels. This finishing layer seals in the basecoat and provides protection from brake dust, heat, and scratches. Again, you want to do several light coats and ensure you’ve covered the entire wheel.

When you’ve finished the steps listed above, give your renewed wheels at least a day for the paint to cure properly before having the tires put back on. 

The Professional Finish Option

When it comes to refinishing wheels, so they look like they just arrived from the factory, there is no substitute for having them done in a professional facility. 

We start the same way, by removing the wheels from the vehicle and the tires for the rims. However, at this point you have an essential decision to make, what colour finish would you like your refinished wheels to be. You can choose from a variety of colour swatches that we keep at the shop. It’s always a tough choice, keep them the same, or go for something totally exotic. 

Next, we submerge the rims in a stripping solution. This over-night process removes the old layer of powder coating. It’s like completely resetting the wheels to their base construction.

After their night submerged, we move them to the shot-blasting machine. This removes any bits of paint that have stubbornly hung on.

Your wheels are now ready for touch-ups. We inspect every bit of the metal for damage and fill any dents with filler-wields to ensure a wholly restored surface. When the wields have cooled, we file the edges so they’re smooth to the touch and polish out any minor scuffs.

To prepare the rims for the next steps, we place them in a special oven to heat the metal. After warming them, we blast the wheels with air to clean off any loosened debris, and then it’s back in the oven for another twenty minutes. Now, they’re ready for the primer coat. Once it’s applied, they get another ten minutes in the oven to cure and then it’s time for the colour coating. Following this, it’s an added fifteen minutes in the oven to harden before we pull them out to apply the final lacquer finish. Of course, then they need a half an hour more in the over to make sure all the layers are fully hardened. It’s a busy day of baking!

Finally, before putting the rubber back on the wheels, we do one last inspection and remove any excess spray that may have built up in the bore and back of the hub, using a Dual Action Polisher. When that’s all finished, we’re ready for tires and getting them back on your car looking brand new. 

If you’re thinking you might like to freshen up your rims drop by or make an appointment to talk to one of our wheels experts. Call us at: 613-695-8866. We love to talk shop. Our team can advise you on the best do-it-yourself products or give you a quote to beautifully refinish your wheels in a professional shop in time for the sunny summer drives.