Lately a few people have asked me to make a detailed thread on refurbishing alloy wheels, so here goes.
As I have been successful with my refurb, I am going to explain the processes that I used. I am in no way a professional, but I got very good results, if your job doesn’t turn out well, this is not my fault, this is simply how I did my wheels.
A word of warning: I found that refurbishing my alloys was very time consuming, a lot of work went into my wheels, if you haven’t got the time it may be better to pay a professional. If your willing to have a go, best advice is not to rush, and perhaps read the whole thread first, before diving straight in.
Before starting the preparation stages I would advise you get someone to remove the tyre, it makes things much easier, and allows you to give the whole wheel a good clean. This however is not necessary, you can still do the refurb, just make sure you mask up the tyre where relevant. I am also re-spraying the insides of the alloy, this again does not have to be done, you can just do the face of the wheel if you wish. All products that I used can be purchased form Halfords.
Here’s a list of things you will need for the preparation stages:
Bucket and a sponge
Detergent (washing up liquid will do)
Wet and dry paper (I used from 120 to 600grit)
Filler (I used P38)
Spray filler 500ml
Flat head screw driver
Cloths (Microfiber preferably)
The preparation of the job is probably the hardest and most critical stage, good preparation will ensure a good final finish, so take your time.
Step 1: Cleaning
The first thing I did was to ensure the wheel was as clean as it could be, I simple used some warm water with some washing up liquid. Also, because I have removed the tyre, and I am spraying the insides of the wheel I removed any weights. I used a screw driver to prise them off, and then used some thinners to get rid of the sticky residue. (If you do this however the wheel will have to re-balanced before fitting back on the car) Don’t forget your centre caps, most MG Rovers have small 54mm caps with an aluminum backed emblem sticker, I prised this out with a screw driver as I was replacing them, (if you take them out they will bend and distort, mask them if you don’t want to buy new ones)
Step 2: Filing
You may or may not need to do this. For heavy curbing you probably will, while light curbing may only have scratched the paint. If you do have major damage, take a file and lightly file the curbing until it is flat (feels smooth, no major ups and downs). Don’t go mental here, you only need to use light pressure, don’t try and completely remove the curbing, or this will alter the shape of the wheel, remember the filler will fill in the deep marks.
Step 3: Sanding
Now comes the boring part, to ensure the paint sticks you will have to abrade the entire face of the wheel. Basically you want to achieve a matte finish, I used 400 grit for this part, with plenty of water and detergent to prevent the paper from clogging up (use 600 if you feel it is too aggressive). If your wheels are corroding under the paint causing bubble patches like mine, I would advise you to sand these sections back to bear metal; you may want to use a rougher paper for this. Spend a lot of time on the rim area as this will be the worst affected, I ended up with a lot of bare metal areas on the rim because of curbing and corroded areas. If you choose to do the insides as well, don’t forget to sand here also, if the insides a rarely cleaned they may be very dirty like mine. I had to literally sand away the dirt, the lowest grit paper I used here was 120, still with plenty of water. (Don’t forget the centre caps) The pics below are after I had filed, sanded and cleaned out the curbing damage.
Step 4: Filler
Before filling, make sure the wheel is clean; also make sure the curbing marks are free from black grime and dirt etc (as stated above), sand the dirt out if necessary. I cleaned the whole wheel with warm water and washing up liquid, I then rinsed and dried thoroughly with a microfiber cloth. When the wheel is completely dry you can then start filling the curbed marks. I used P38 body filler, but what you use is up to you, some people use chemical metal. Follow the manufactures instructions and allow the filler at least 24hrs before sanding. (btw P38 looks white not yellow like these pics, will update when doing my next alloy)
Step 5: Sanding
Once the filler is totally dry you can then start sanding. You are aiming to sand the filler back to match the shape of the rim. I used 400grit again using plenty of water, you may want to use a rougher paper at first, but be careful. Take you time here, run you thumb over the area regularly until it feels flat, (as if the damage was never there). Don’t worry if you have used too little filler or accidentally sanded too much, just repeat from step 4.
Step 6: Spray Filler
Before spray filling, make sure the wheel is clean. I again cleaned the whole wheel with warm water and detergent, and then rinsed and dried thoroughly with a microfiber cloth. Once the wheel is totally dry you can start spraying the spray filler. The aim here is to fill the small imperfections left from sanding the filler. There’s no need to do the whole wheel, I just did the rim. Follow the instructions on the can, I sprayed 3 coats, not too light but not too heavy, your not trying to make the finish smooth and glossy, just to fill any imperfections. Leave about 15 minutes between each coat. I also soaked the nozzle in thinners between coats. Once you have put on the final coat, the rim should look all one colour, you will soon see if there are any imperfections or deep scratches left. If the imperfections are bad then you may have to revert back to step 4, alternatively if they are minor they may sand out. (step 7 below)
Step 7: Sanding
Time to sand again, but before you do let the spray filler dry at least 24hrs. The aim here is to sand the spray filler flat, so there is no pit holes or scratches left. This basically means sanding back all the spray filler in some areas, but this is what it’s for. Try and do this evenly, (i.e. don’t sand in one place as it will create a low spot and this will show up in the paint). A good way to check your progress is to dry the area and check for the remaining low spots. If you need more spray filler, just repeat from step 6, it may seem tedious but the outcome fully depends on good prep work, painting over imperfections will be much more visible than they are now. Pic below shows spray filler sanded back, (note how in some areas I have burnt through, this doesn’t matter)
This is where the job gets interesting. After the long winded preparation stages you can now finally get down to spray painting.
Here's a list of things you will need for the painting stages:
Grey primer 500ml
Your choice of colour coat paint (silver in my case)
Clear Lacquer 500ml
Bucket and a sponge
Wet and dry paper (I used 800 grit)
Step 8: Priming
Before spraying the primer ensure the wheel is clean. I again cleaned the whole wheel, rinsed and dried thoroughly. (Note that I used grey primer, this is suitable for silver, grey and black colour coats, if you are spraying your wheels white, use a white primer). Once the wheel is completely dry, you can start spraying the primer. Follow the instructions on the can, I sprayed 3 light coats, allowing 15 minutes between each. I sprayed the inside of the alloy first and then did the face, don’t forget to spray the outer most edge of the rim, also try and get even coverage, especially in the hard to get places. (Don’t forget the centre caps) Note between each coat I soaked the nozzle in thinners.
Step 9: Sanding
Before sanding allow at least 24hrs for the paint to dry. The aim here is to achieve a consistently smooth base to paint over. For this I used 800 grit with plenty of water, its important that the whole wheel is sanded flat, any rough parts will show up in the colour coat, especially if it is metallic (speaking from experience). You don’t need to sand like mad, just ensure the surface feels smooth, do your best to get in the tight awkward areas but bear in mind the paint will be thinnest here, be very careful not to burn through the paint, this will also show through the colour coat. I personally didn’t bother sanding the insides of the wheels, but you can if you want a smooth finish. You cant see a difference in this pic but it felt a lot smoother.
Step 10: Colour coat
Before spraying the colour coat, ensure the wheel is clean. I again cleaned and dried the wheel before hand. Once the wheel is completely dry, you can start spraying the colour coat. For this I used Audi Aluminium silver colour match from Halfords, its up to you what you use, but I tried my best to get a lighter silver (they tend to be German car silvers), Halfords do special paints for wheels, available in 500ml but the silver one tends to give a darker finish compared to the colour match paint. I bought one as a test and ended up using it on the insides of the wheel only (this did work out cheaper so no loss here). Follow the instructions on the can, I sprayed 3 light coats, allowing 15 minutes between each. I sprayed the inside of the alloy first and then did the face, like before don’t forget to spray the outer most edge of the rim, also try and get even coverage, especially in the hard to get places. Do not try and make the coats glossy, a matte finish is what we are trying to achieve here. Once you have sprayed your last coat, make sure the entire wheel looks the same colour, if its not, just keep adding light coats until it is. Note between each coat I soaked the nozzle in thinners.
Step 11: Clear Lacquer
Finally we have reached the last process of spraying, before spraying lacquer allow at least 24hrs for the paint to dry. Do not sand the colour coat, if you do it will reduce the metallic sparkle of the paint, also don’t bother washing the wheel, just make sure there is no dust on the surface, I used a hair dryer to blow any dust off before spraying, (don’t touch the wheel as it may put oil onto the surface). Now you can start spraying the lacquer. Follow the instructions on the can, I sprayed 3 coats, the first one being the lightest, and slightly heavier for the next two. Do not try and make the coats glossy, this is the worst thing you can do, as 9 times out of 10 the paint will run and totally ruin the job, (if the paint does run, it will drag the colour coat with it, remember the paint will always dry with some orange peel anyway). I allowed 15 minutes between each coat, I sprayed the inside of the alloy first and then did the face, like before don’t forget to spray the outer most edge of the rim, also try and cover the awkward places as best as you can. (Don’t forget the centre caps) Note between each coat I soaked the nozzle in thinners. Note in the picture below some areas have orange peel, if you’re a totally novice sprayer your finish may have more peel to it, making it look very dull, don’t worry, we can sort this out when the paint has thoroughly dried.
This I’m afraid is another long process of sanding and polishing, but it’s so worth it, especially if your lacquer top coat is dull and matte looking. However if you have achieved a good enough finish that you are happy with, this process doesn’t have to be done. (Darker colour wheels may take more time and effort as they show up the scratches, in any case you may want to practice on a small area of the wheel first, before sanding and polishing the entire wheel.)
Here's a list of things you will need for the polishing stages:
Bucket and a sponge
Wet and dry paper (1500 grit +)
Polishing Compound of you choice
Wax or Sealant of your choice
Step 12: Sanding
Before starting the sanding and polishing process, I would advise you let the paint thoroughly dry, I left mine for 2 weeks as stated on the paint cans, seems a lot I know, but you may ruin the paint if it hasn’t fully hardened. I have heard people that wait less, but do so at your own risk. Once the paint has hardened, you can start to wet sand your wheel (yes sand). This may scare you at first, abrading your paint job, but trust me it works. For this I used 1500 grit paper, again using plenty of water with detergent. You are aiming to completely remove the orange peel from the lacquer here, be very careful not to burn through the paint, (especially at edges, sides of spokes, anywhere where paint may be thinner). If you have applied 3 coats of lacquer the paint should be thick enough to sand without burning through. When sanding, regularly dry the wheel to see how much paint you are taking off, the aim is to sand the surface until you can no longer see the low points (glossy spots). I didn’t bother doing the insides of the wheel, but you can if you really want to. (Don’t forget the centre caps) When you’re finished you should have a totally smooth matte looking finish. (for darker colours such as grey and black you may need to repeat the process with a higher grit paper, as scratches may be visible after compounding)
Step 13: Polishing Compound
Before polishing the wheel make sure its clean, warm water and detergent is all you need here to remove any sanding marks, then dry thoroughly. Its up to you what compound you use, I have been told that g3 compound is very good, but I used super resin polish which gave good results. Basically any fine compound or polish will be fine to use (liquid based with no grit particles). I used a microfiber cloth to work in the compound, you don’t need a lot of pressure, just rub in a circular motion until the compound goes transparent. (Some may vary, follow the instructions on the bottle), I did small areas at a time. You may or may not need to let the compound dry, depending on what you are using, wipe or buff off with a different clean cloth, you should now notice the paint has a deep gloss to it. Do this until the whole wheel looks shiny, it may take a while, but you will be amazed from the results. (don’t go mad you are still removing paint and may risk burning through) (darker wheels may take more polishing before a glossy finish is achieved) It should look something like this.
Step 14: Waxing
This is the last stage of the refurb, make sure the wheel is free from compound, wash and dry if necessary. There is nothing special about this step, it simple gives the paint some protection and will ensure a better finish for longer. Again its totally up to you what product you use, any car body wax will be fine, some people use “gtechniq wheel armour” which provides a better protective barrier. Following the instructions on the bottle, rub onto the surface of the wheel and then buff off, it may or may not increase the glossy finish, in my case it didn’t but the surface felt very slippery smooth after application. If you have bought new centre stickers you can put these on now, 4 brand new Rover emblems cost me ₤10 on eBay, they completed the new look of the wheel. After this you are finally finished, step back and admire you handy work.
If the tyre has been removed ask the garage to be very careful when putting it back on, I personally masked up the rim to ensure the tyre didn’t leave marks when going back on, (ask them to use plenty of lubricant) I also masked the spokes so no damage was caused when they balanced the wheel. Here’s mine after the tyre had been put back on. (Also if you used a metallic colour coat it should also give a good sparkle when sitting in the sun.)
I hope this thread will come in very useful for you, I have not yet found one that also covers the polishing stages, it’s very satisfying when finishing the job so have fun refurbishing.
Providing you do the job correctly, the repair should last a very long time. To increase the life time of the paint job, clean the wheels regularly and from time to time add a coat of wax, to protect the finish from brake dust. I personally don’t use any harsh chemicals on the wheels just in case it effects the finish, remember factory coated wheels would be baked. About a year ago, I refurbished a set of aftermarket AEZ alloys on my parents Renault, they still look ace today, here’s a pic.