How to Repair Damaged Rimsby John Kibilko
Most vehicle wheels are made of steel or aluminum. Aluminum is lighter, more attractive, won't rust, and offers better handling and performance than steel, but it's also more expensive. Steel wheels have an advantage in that, if bent, they usually can be straightened. And if you can't repair them, they're cheaper to replace. Surface damage to aluminum wheels can be more easily repaired. You can repair damage to both types of wheels yourself in a few steps.
Jack up your car and remove the wheel if you have a bent steel rim. Many auto repair shops (at least reputable ones) won't fix steel rims, noting that new replacement wheels are cheaper.
Depress the valve pin to remove air from the tire. Remove the valve stem using a valve-stem remover or a pair of pliers. Don't re-use the valve stem. Instead, buy a replacement.
Lay the tire/wheel flat on the ground. Step on each side of the outer edges of the tire. Bounce up and down, or even jump, to break the tire/wheel bead.
Remove the tire from the rim by inserting the handle-end of a pair of pliers. Don't use a screwdriver or similar sharp tool that can damage the innertube (unless you'll be replacing the tube anyway). Grease the pliers handle with Vaseline or another lubricant and scroll around the inside of the tire along the rim, popping the tire over the rim edge. Force the other edge of the tire over the same rim edge.
Inspect the damage. A steel rim bent at the outer edge---usually after hitting a pothole or curb---can be repaired fairly easily. Damage to the inner part of the wheel, near the hub, can be trickier, or even dangerous, to repair. Get a professional opinion about the degree of damage if you're unsure. Aluminum wheels, while they can be repaired, are prone to developing cracks if the bend is severe.
Place the wheel flat on a heat-resistant surface, such as a concrete garage floor, or secure the wheel in a vice. Using a propane torch or blowtorch, heat the damaged area of the rim. Again, this is a simple matter with steel wheels, but aluminum wheels can discolor when heated, especially alloy wheels containing magnesium. It's best to have a professional repair an aluminum wheel.
Heat the steel for about a minute. The rim will become a flat, almost flaky, color. Depending on the severity and location of the damage, use a hammer, channels locks or pliers to bend the edge of the rim back into shape. You might have to start with a hammer, get the rim close to its original shape, re-heat the rim, and then finish the process with pliers.
Let the rim cool, then sand the repaired area to remove burrs. Inspect the wheel for any cracks that may have developed during repair.
- Despite the booming aluminum- and custom-wheel aftermarket, steel wheels are making a comeback. Many low-end aluminum-wheel customers are turning to steel when replacements are needed due to lower cost and improvements in steel stamping techniques, which allow for more attractive steel-wheel models. (See References 3)
- Aluminum wheels that suffer surface damage, like rim scratches from curbs, can be fixed inexpensively with various home remedies. (See References 4)
Things You'll Need
- Valve stem remover
- Propane or blowtorch
- Sand paper or steel wool
- Fixing damaged aluminum wheels requires very specific heat, consistent hydraulic pressure and light vibrations under pressure. Cracks undetectable by the naked eye, such as those hidden by chrome or paint, will pop out and need to be filled and repaired.
John Kibilko has been writing professionally since 1979. He landed his first professional job with "The Dearborn Press" while still in college. He has since worked as a journalist for several Wayne County newspapers and in corporate communications. He has covered politics, health care, automotive news and police and sports beats. Kibilko earned a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Wayne State University.