How to Refinish Aluminum Wheels With Clear Coat

by William Zane

Alloy wheels are stronger than steel wheels, and most receive a clear coat on top of the paint of natural finish that protects the wheels and gives them a more glossy appearance. Over time, the clear coat on a set of wheels begins to flake, fade or become scratched, particularly if the wheels are not properly cared for.

Remove the wheels from the vehicle if they are still installed. Loosen the lug nuts with a lug wrench. Lift the vehicle with a floor jack, support it on jack stands and then remove the wheels.

Take the wheels and tires to a tire shop and have the tires removed from the wheels. Painting the wheels without the tires installed will produce better results since the tires will not have to be taped off while the wheels are painted. Skip steps 1 and 2 if there are no tires installed on the wheels.

Strip the existing paint and clear coat from the wheels with paint stripper. Spray on the stripper using an aerosol-type stripper, or apply it with a paint brush if using a gel-type stripper. Allow the stripper to soak into the paint until it bubbles up, then wipe it off with a rag. Repeat until all of the old clear coat, paint and primer is removed.

Mask off any areas on the wheel that are not going to be painted with masking tape. For example, the outer rim on some wheels is polished and not painted. Wipe the entire wheel down with mineral spirits and a clean dry rag until all residue and oils are removed from the wheel.

Apply a light dusting of primer to the wheel. Let the primer dry for a minute or so, and then apply a heavy coat. Hold the can eight to 10 inches from the wheel, and move it back and forth in a smooth motion. To avoid runs, do not hold the can in one area. Allow the primer to dry according to the directions, then apply one or two more coats.

Allow the primer to fully dry, which will be at least an hour so. Wet sand the primer with 220-grit and then 320-grit sandpaper. Use plenty of water. Dry the wheel with a clean, dry rag, then wipe it down again with the mineral spirits.

Spray on a light dusting of the color of your choice. Allow the paint to dry for a minute, then apply a solid coat, spraying smoothly back and forth to avoid runs. Apply two to three coats or as many as give full color coverage, allowing sufficient drying time between coats.

Allow the paint to dry fully. Wet sand the wheels with 220-grit, 320-grit, 400-grit and then 600-grit sandpaper. Ensure that they surface of the wheel is smooth in all areas. Wipe the wheel down with the mineral spirits and a clean, dry rag.

Apply two to three coats of clear coat, allowing sufficient drying time between coats. Allow the clear coat to dry overnight before attempting to reinstall the tires or reinstall the wheels back on the vehicle. Wash the wheels regularly with soap and water and a wheel brush to maintain the finish.

Tip

  • check For the best results, it is recommended to use one of the high-quality spray paints made specifically for painting alloy wheels. These are available at most large auto parts stores.

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About the Author

William Zane has been a freelance writer and photographer for over six years and specializes primarily in automotive-related subject matter among many other topics. He has attended the Academy of Art College in San Francisco, where he studied automotive design, and the University of New Mexico, where he studied journalism.