Can You Refinish Alloy Wheels?

If you’ve got a set of scratched up alloy wheels, we have good news for you: You can absolutely refinish your wheels.

However, before you begin, you should know that a) it’s not easy and b) there are other options available besides refinishing. Here’s what you need to know.

Fixing Curbed or Scratched Alloy Wheels – You Have Options

Curb damaged wheel

If your wheels are scratched, you have a few options:

  • You can replace the wheel, which is probably the most expensive option, but not necessarily. Sometimes, “take off” wheels can be found at the local junkyard or on Craigslist for a good price.
  • You can hire a professional to repair or refinish your wheel, which will cost anywhere from $75 to $150 (depending on your market).
  • You can do a DIY refinish or repair (more info on that below) for about $50 in supplies and a few hours of your time
  • You can hide the damage underneath a new set of RimBlades or RimSavers, with the added bonus of long-term protection from future damage

While each of these options has it’s pros and cons, we think that RimBlades and/or RimSavers should be on the list no matter what. Only RimBlades and RimSavers can protect your wheels from being damaged again in the future.

Also, regarding take-offs: Take-off rims are much easier to find for low cost, mass-market vehicles than for premium vehicles. Corvette or Porsche take-offs are hard to find – take-offs for a Hyundai Sonata? Not as hard to find.

Hiding The Damage

It might seem like a ‘shortcut’, but there’s no shame in hiding wheel scratches under a set of RimBlades or RimSavers. A lot of people buy black RimBlades or RimSavers for this exact purpose, as the black blends in pretty nicely with the tire and hides a LOT of rim damage. Here’s an example:

Hiding wheel damage with RimBlades

Black RimBlades were applied to this Morgan Aero 8, almost completely hiding substantial wheel damage.

If you don’t want to put a lot of time or money into a wheel repair/replacement (or at least don’t want to do it right now), consider just buying a set of RimBlades/RimSavers and calling it good.

DIY Refinish of Scratched Alloy Wheels

Depending on your budget, skill, and the type of damage, one of the following methods might work.

If You Have Light Scratches or Pitting…

If the scratches on your wheels aren’t too deep, you can try refinishing the entire wheel. Here’s a basic overview of the process:

  1. Cover your tires and valve system (or, better yet, remove the tires)
  2. Clean and degrease the wheel
  3. Strip the polyurethane coating and/or any paint off the entire wheel (aircraft stripper works great)
  4. Sand the entire wheel, including the areas between the spokes and inside the lug-nut holes. You want to do this to even out the surface as much as possible. Sanding only the damaged area will warp the wheel’s surface.
  5. Polish the wheel with aluminum polish until shiny (or, alternatively, prime and paint the wheels)
  6. Coat the wheels with clear paint. You can forego the paint and just wax your wheels, but we recommend using paint to add an extra layer of protection.

Obviously, you’re going to want to do all four wheels when you do this.

It’s a lot of work and definitely not for the faint of of heart. But, when it’s all over, you can really shine up an older set of alloys and give them a unique look.

Refinished wheels

There’s a great thread on Rennlist.com about wheel refinishing that’s worth a look if you plan to refinish your own wheels. This image is from that thread.

If You Have Deep Scratches …

Deep scratches (and heavy pitting) are hard to fix with a simple refinish process. Deep scratches or gouges require some sort of filler, and in these situations, a wheel repair kit is probably your best option. Most wheel repair kits contain paint thinner, sand paper, putty, primer, and paint. While it’s difficult for an inexperienced person to pull off a flawless repair with a wheel repair kit, someone with some paint and body experience won’t have too much trouble.

Most kits outline a process similar to this one:

  1. Remove and clean the wheel as thoroughly as possible
  2. Sand out the scratches and jagged edges in all the scratches with coarse sandpaper
  3. Apply filler (sometimes it’s bondo, sometimes it’s epoxy), let it dry, then sand some more
  4. Once the wheel surface is nice and smooth, clean it again, then mask off the tire and valve stem
  5. Spray three or four coats of primer on the sanded area, letting each coat dry
  6. Spray a couple of coats of paint on top of the primer, with drying time between each application*
  7. Finally, spray two light coats of clear coat over the paint, with drying time between each application

*Paint color matching is hard. Sometimes, you have to pick a color that doesn’t quite match and do your best to blend it in.

If this works, the wheel will look something between “OK” and “great.” Most people find it’s closer to “OK,” as they’re usually able to spot the damaged wheel after the repair is completed. Still, it’s the least expensive option if you’ve got the time.

If Budget Isn’t A Big Concern…

If money isn’t a big concern, you can mediablast (sandblast) the wheel and then either have the wheel chromed or powder coated. Powder coated wheels are available in just about any color you can imagine, and can look really cool with the right vehicle.

Powder coated

Check out these powder coated rims! Image via Wheels On

However, as we said, budget can’t be a concern here. Media blasting and then powder coating a wheel can cost several hundred dollars. Chrome plating is a bit more affordable, but still costs upwards of $250. These are per wheel prices.

The Wisdom Of Experience

When refinishing a wheel, quite a few things can go wrong (or, at least, “sub-optimal”). This means beginners should take their time and plan to put in some extra work as they gain skills.

If you don’t have the time to go methodically, and/or you don’t envision being happy with a DIY wheel refinish, it’s best to hire a professional. For most people this tends to be the best choice, and as a rules we don’t really recommend most wheel repair kits as a go-to solution for scratched or curbed wheels.

Still, once you’ve fixed a few wheels, it’s definitely going to get easier and faster.

Don’t Forget Protection!

Blue RimBlades

Last but not least, don’t forget to protect your newly refinished wheels. RimSavers offer the most protection, but RimBlades are an option too if you have a wheel that doesn’t work with RimSavers.

What’s your experience with alloy wheel damage? Tell us about it on Facebook!